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December 14, 2007

Butler vs. FSU should be defensive battle

Because most schools are in exams this week, the weekend slate is devoid of a game matching top-25 teams.

But that isn't to say there aren't a few matchups of intrigue. Impact freshmen James Anderson of Oklahoma State and DeJuan Blair of Pitt square off in Pittsburgh. Tougher-than-you-know Western Kentucky battles Tennessee as part of the Sun Belt Classic in Nashville. Louisville plays for the first time since its home loss to Dayton against young and hungry Purdue.

Our choice for Game of the Weekend, though, features Florida State (9-2) and Butler (8-1) (Saturday, 6 p.m. ET). It's the second half of a doubleheader with the Louisville-Purdue game at the Wooden Tradition event at Conseco Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The Seminoles are riding a six-game winning streak, while the Bulldogs are coming off their first loss, a 43-42 heartbreaker at Horizon League rival Wright State.

FSU is winning because of its defense. The Seminoles have yielded just 53.2 points per game during the streak, and they rank 32nd nationally in scoring defense (59.2). As good as that is, Butler is better: The Bulldogs rank sixth, surrendering 54.3 points per game.

Butler normally is much more efficient offensively than it was in the loss to Wright State. The Bulldogs shot only 32 percent against the Raiders. They were averaging 11 3-pointers per game and shooting 41.8 percent from beyond the arc before they hit only 7-of-21 against the Raiders.

Can Butler bounce back? Or will FSU's defense keep the Bulldogs on a slide? Here's a closer look:

Game of the Week: FSU (9-2) vs. No. 18 Butler (8-1) in Indianapolis
Florida State's Toney Douglas vs. Butler's Mike Green
EDGE: Butler Douglas, a 6-foot-1 junior, is part of a four-deep guard rotation. He is averaging 12.7 points and leads the team with 2.7 steals per game. He hasn't shot the ball particularly well from the outside (26.2 percent from 3-point range), but that hasn't kept him from launching 42 3-point attempts. Green, a 6-1 senior, leads the Bulldogs in assists (5.0 per game), is third in scoring (13.7) and second in rebounding (5.1).
Jason Rich vs. A.J. Graves
EDGE: Butler Rich, a 6-3 senior, is averaging 9.8 points and is second on the Seminoles in rebounding (4.6). He gives coach Leonard Hamilton another floor leader, and he's a solid defender. But he'll have his hands full with Graves, a 6-1 senior who is a perpetual motion machine on offense. He'll come off screens and catch-and-shoot or create, and he is the Bulldogs' leading scorer (15.4 points per game).
Isaiah Swann vs. Julian Betko
EDGE: Florida State Swann, a 6-2 senior, is averaging a team-leading 15.1 points and has emerged as the Seminoles' ring leader. He's shooting a sizzling 51 percent from the floor, including 49.3 percent from 3-point range. He also has a 2-1 assist-to-turnover ratio. Betko, a 6-5 senior, is a decent outside shooter (38.7 percent from 3-point range) but is strictly a role player.
Julian Vaughn vs. Drew Streicher
EDGE: Butler Vaughn, a 6-10 freshman, is averaging a modest 4.5 points and 2.4 rebounds in only 15 minutes per game. Expect to see several players rotate into the frontcourt in this spot. The Bulldogs counter with Streicher, a 6-7 senior who has started every game and averages 5.4 points and 2.2 rebounds. He'll play a lot of minutes and make good decisions with the ball.
Uche Echefu vs. Matt Howard
EDGE: Butler Echefu, a 6-9 junior, is a rapidly improving player. He's averaging 10.3 points and a team-leading 6.0 rebounds. Howard, a 6-7 freshman, is a former Rivals.com four-star prospect who has started the past two games for the injured Pete Campbell. Howard is averaging 11.2 points and 5.8 rebounds.
EDGE: Florida State FSU has a couple of major contributors on the bench in 6-3 senior guard Ralph Mims (8.9 points) and 6-8 sophomore forward Ryan Reid (5.3 points, 4.4 rebounds). Each is averaging more than 20 minutes per game. Without Campbell, the Bulldogs' second-leading scorer, the bench for Butler is wafer thin. Both Green and Graves average more than 35 minutes per game.
EDGE: Florida State FSU's Hamilton signed a contract extension right before the start of the season, a move that didn't look so great after consecutive losses to Cleveland State and USF. But the Seminoles have bounced back by playing tough man-to-man defense and using their depth. Give Hamilton credit for keeping a bevy of talented guards happy and in the rotation. First-year coach Brad Stevens is steeped in the Butler way, but he really hasn't had much of a chance to prove himself. Losing so early in Horizon League play doesn't help.
WINNER: Butler Points will be at a premium in a game between hard-nosed defensive teams. FSU has limited opponents to 22.1-percent shooting from behind the arc during its six-game winning streak. Butler typically can shoot better than that from long range with its eyes closed. The Seminoles will be eager to prove they can take down another ranked team (they upset Florida 65-51 in Gainesville on Nov. 23). The Bulldogs will be eager to prove they're much better than the team that scored just 42 points against Wright State. If Butler loses, it almost assuredly will be knocked out of the top 25. FSU could assume the spot. Sorry, Seminoles.

Butler 63, FSU 59

Bob McClellan is the college basketball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at bmcclellan@rivals.com.

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