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No. 11 Villanova survives Butler in the Bulldog’s Big East opener

Dec 31, 2013, 10:28 PM EDT

Villanova v Butler Getty Images

Hinkle Fieldhouse almost claimed another victim.

No. 11 Villanova did everything they could to give the game away against Butler. They allowed the Bulldogs to erase a second half deficit in the final minutes, tying the game and forcing overtime on a Kellen Dunham jumper with 25 seconds left.

In the extra frame, Villanova took a five point lead but then proceeded to miss five-out-of-six free throws, turn the ball over up one with 19 seconds left and then give up an offensive rebound to Khyle Marshall with just 9.5 seconds left in the game. Butler had a chance to win the game, but they were out of timeouts and couldn’t get the ball inbounds against the Villanova defense.

And that was that.

The Wildcats escaped — yes, escaped is the word to use here — with a 76-73 win in overtime.

What that should tell you, more than anything, is that the Butler team that we all wrote off when Brad Stevens left and Roosevelt Jones injured his wrist is going to be a problem this season.

The Bulldogs probably don’t have enough pieces to make a real push at winning the Big East. But Kellen Dunham has emerged into one of the nation’s best pure scorers. He’s more than just a jump-shooter this season. He’s not averaging 18.5 points this season by accident. Khyle Marshall has gotten better as well, and there’s enough rebounding, scoring and Butler Gumption (patent pending) on the rest of the roster for this group to be a thorn in the side of each and every other Big East member.

Can they make the NCAA tournament?

Well, it’s going to be tough. The Bulldogs didn’t pick up a marquee non-conference win, losing to Oklahoma State and LSU. Villanova is far-and-away the best win that can be earned in league play and Butler just lost to them at home. As competitive as the Big East is going to be this season, I’m not sure how many at-large bids the league will produce.

In other words, Butler is sitting in a hole that’s going to be tough to dig themselves out of.

But that says less about how good this team is than how much they are going to regret losing to Villanova, Oklahoma State and LSU by a combined six points.

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