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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Thursday, February 21, 2013 at 8:55 PM

This week’s amazing college basketball slate has already featured the matchup of the year in the Big 10 (Indiana at Michigan State), and the Big 12 (Kansas at Oklahoma State). Friday brings the most important game this season in the resurgent Atlantic 10 when surprise leader Saint Louis visits #15 Butler in blockbuster that features TWO potential Dance darkhorses capable of going very deep.

Even though you may not be used to watching college basketball on Friday Nights, we strongly encourage fans and sports bettors alike to check out this showdown that will be televised on ESPNU at 7 p.m. ET. You already know what well-coached Butler is capable of doing in the NCAA Tournament. This year’s team has played giant-killer AGAIN with victories over Indiana and Gonzaga. Those two could end up as #1 seeds this year…yet each has lost to Butler this season.

Many respected analysts see Saint Louis as another Butler!

Well coached. Smart. Hungry. Ready to make a statement the same way Butler was when they first shocked the world by reaching the Finals of the NCAA’s.

As we run this game through our gauntlet of indicator stats, you’ll see that current methodologies are having trouble determining which is the better team right now. Butler ranks #15 in the AP poll, thanks largely to those big non-conference wins over Indiana and Gonzaga. Saint Louis actually ranks better in the computers because they’ve been more steady even without big time scalps. And, those computers sure liked the Billikens’ rout of respected Virginia Commonwealth earlier this week!

It’s going to have the feel of at least a Sweet 16 battle. Let’s see if we can determine the best expectation for how it will all play out…


Saint Louis: 20-5 (9-2 in the Atlantic 10)

Butler: 22-5 (9-3 in the Atlantic 10)

That’s a half-game lead for the Billikens in the standings. This will be the only meeting in the regular season between these teams. That means tonight’s game is HUGE because of its tie-breaker role. Saint Louis will basically clinch the A10 with a win tonight, having already knocked off VCU. Butler goes back to controlling its own destiny with a victory.


Saint Louis: #24 with Sagarin, #28 with Pomeroy

Butler: #42 with Sagarin, #50 with Pomeroy

Note how both Jeff Sagarin of USA Today and college basketball guru give a clear and significant edge to the Billikens. Not just a few spots. Saint Louis is 18 spots better with Sagarin, and 22 spots better with Pomeroy, even though Butler has wins over Indiana and Gonzaga! That tells you a lot about Butler’s disappointments elsewhere on its schedule. And, it tells you how solid Saint Louis has been all season. Note that both of these approaches factor in victory margins. Saint Louis has the largest average victory margin in the A10 by a good bit. Butler’s tendency to play to the level of its opponent is scary when they’re a favorite, but lethal when they’re a dog against a top team.


Saint Louis: #130 with Sagarin, #141 with Pomeroy

Butler: #53 with Sagarin, #64 with Pomeroy

This is where Butler’s big scalps show up. Saint Louis didn’t challenge themselves outside of the conference. Butler likes being on TV…and likes knocking people off on TV! Butler will be more battle-tested going into March, a characteristic that’s served them very well in recent seasons. If there’s reason to be skeptical about Saint Louis next month…it will concern this topic. Are the Billikens ready to perform under the spotlight?


Saint Louis: 3-1

Butler: 4-3

You don’t often see us praising a 4-3 mark over a 3-1 mark because of the percentages. But, volume matters in a stat like this because you learn so much about yourself when confronted with your biggest challenges. Butler isn’t afraid of anybody, and is capable of beating the very best teams in the nation on a neutral floor. Saint Louis has only played four top 50 opponents this season. That’s going to matter if they see a few of them in a row on neutral courts next month.


Saint Louis: projected #9 seed

Butler: projected #5 seed

Lunardi of ESPN tends to respect the AP rankings…and the obsolete RPI when arranging teams on his brackets. The RPI doesn’t look at victory margin averages…which means Butler’s wins over Indiana and Gonzaga grade out huge…but their close wins over bad teams don’t create much of a penalty. Let’s compare Lunardi’s projections to their computer equivalents:

Lunardi: Butler #5, Saint Louis #9

Sagarin: Saint Louis #6, Butler #10

Pomeroy: Saint Louis #7, Butler #12

Big differences there. You avid fans know that #5 plays #12 in the first round. Lunardi would have Butler as the favorite, Pomeroy as the dog in that kind of matchup right now. The seeding committee is going to have some issues pegging these teams properly, which is about the hundredth reason Friday’s game is so important!


Saint Louis: #51

Butler: #49

Moving to the chess match now…we have a dead heat on offense. The margin for error is such when you’re studying more than 300 teams that a difference of two spots is meaningless. These teams have the exact same caliber of offense.


Saint Louis: #28

Butler: #62

Saint Louis gets the nod here…and it’s no minor difference considering how even the offenses were. The tie-breaker is on defense…and defense wins championships! Butler gets a lot of credit for their defense because they play low scoring games. Don’t confuse a slow pace with guarding people. Pomeroy’s numbers adjust for strength of schedule and pace. Butler falls down into a real danger zone in terms of tournaments with a ranking that poor (a great number on a scale of 300 isn’t so great when you’re talking about the best 50 overall teams). Saint Louis forces turnover and denies scoring opportunities. The computers love Saint Louis because they have the better defense.


Saint Louis: #256

Butler: #249

Possibly a huge factor that these teams play the same tempo. Butler creates defensive illusions at slow tempos. Saint Louis legitimately disrupts people at that same tempo…which is why they have the better defensive grading. Both teams are comfortable with a slow game…which means Butler won’t be taking Saint Louis out of its comfort zone (as they did the faster teams from Indiana and Gonzaga).


These are the two big questions handicappers will be dealing with when trying to pick the straight up and ATS winner in this very important game:

*How many points is the Saint Louis defensive advantage worth?

*How many points is home court advantage worth for Butler?

Get those figured out, and you can compare your projection to the Vegas number. Because of the light Friday schedule (relative to other basketball nights), JIM HURLEY isn’t going to give you any hints about a side or total play in this one. It’s one of a few games under serious consideration for big play status. Other possibilities:

North Dakota State at Akron in a Bracket Buster game

Houston at Brooklyn in the NBA

Portland at the LA Lakers

San Antonio at Golden State

You can purchase Friday’s bankroll builders right here at the website with your credit card. Every dollar you win this weekend will multiply itself over several times between now and the tournaments. If you have any questions about March Madness or full season NBA packages, call us in the office at 1-800-323-4453. Great rates are still available

Back with you tomorrow to look at Georgetown/Syracuse in the Big East. We may have room to talk about some other games too in Saturday showcase coverage…like Missouri/Kentucky in ESPN’s “GameDay” spot and a couple of bracketbusters. Saturday’s are always HUGE!

The most exciting week of college basketball so far is only going to get better. Don’t sit on the sidelines…GET IN THE GAME WITH JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!

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