December 28, 2007 11:46 am ET by Kyle Whelliston
Butler (Horizon) at Southern Illinois (Missouri Valley)
The SIU Arena - Carbondale, IL
9:00 PM EST
This weekend is the official start of the Valley season, but we've got a little bit of nonconference business to take care of. We have the ESPN-mandated return game of last season's premier BracketBusters matchup between two then-ranked squads and eventual Sweet 16 participants. And it's going down in the Dawg Pound... tonight!
There's not much we can say about Butler we haven't already in this space, but it still seems like they're the most anonymous ranked team in America. There are reasons for that, of course... over the summer, the Bulldogs lost their leader to Iowa and their power forward to graduation, and folks are still just getting to know new head coach Brad Stevens and freshman PF Matt Howard, who's averaging double figures (11.5 ppg) with two 12-rebound games. And there are those holdover guards that even a few casual fans can name, A.J. Graves and Mike Green, who give the team 31.5 ppg combined. It's just nice to see that Butler is a name that poll voters know now.
Southern Illinois is not a ranked team right now, and there are reasons for that, too. The Salukis have shot below 40 percent on four separate occasions, and they are a very average 5-5 due to their sporadic offense. The defense? Rarely fails, forcing opponents into turnovers on a whopping 28 percent of their possessions. But the real difference between last year's Sweet Salukis and this .500 team is rebounding. Only 11 teams in Division I get fewer boards per contest (25.3) in 2007-08, and until the Kansas game last year, SIU was undefeated when they won the rebounding battle. For a squad that has a slim margin for error on offense, a few extra caroms would really help.
Lots of great storylines in this one. Will Butler's injury returnee Pete Campbell return to form after two slow games? Was SIU's 88-point outburst last weekend a sign things have turned around, or a statement about Western Kentucky's defense? Can the "Dawgzooka" shoot hot dogs as wella s t-shirts? If you have ESPNU, you can join in the fun as well.
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