Butler can feel somewhat comfortable about its standing in the ever-fluid at-large discussion because it convincingly avoided a season sweep to Creighton on Tuesday night.
The Bulldogs lost at CU on Jan. 23, losing 72-64. It was the back end of the only two-game losing streak Chris Holtmann’s team has endured this season. Butler was facing its second two-game skid on Tuesday night after falling 74-57 last weekend vs. No. 5 Xavier.
So Butler’s 88-75 victory over Creighton was vital. Had Creighton won, not only would the Bluejays have leapfrogged the Bulldogs in the at-large pecking order, Butler probably would have been out of Wednesday morning NCAA tournament mocks. Instead, the split with CU means Butler is now 18-7, gets back to .500 in league play (7-7) and is facing a huge opportunity and even bigger challenge with a game at league kingpin Villanova on Saturday.
Creighton is 17-10 and still ahead of Butler in the conference standings at 8-6. The Jays are still alive and in the mix here, but because Butler’s nonconference output was so much better, there’s little doubt that CU is now a notch below — for now — in the Big East’s hierarchy of NCAA tournament hopefuls.
The 88 points allowed were the most by Creighton this season. Butler’s now had 80 or more in four of its last five. BU had five players reach double digits, including Austin Etherington, who came off the bench to score 17, shooting 4 for 5 from behind the arc. Kelan Martin, who is Butler’s most talented all-around player, had 21 to lead the Dawgs.
Mo Watson Jr. showed up again for the Bluejays. The reigning CBS Sports national player of the week led his team with 22. But Greg McDermott’s team shot 42 percent from the field and had 11 turnovers to Butler’s six.
At this point, Villanova and Xavier are the only NCAA tournament locks from the Big East. Providence is just about there. Butler is just below PC, then Creighton, Seton Hall and Georgetown are all still fighting to pick up the wins. It’s going to be a pretty interesting final stretch in this league.