After a long holiday layoff, Butler begins a stretch of four Horizon League games in eight days with a home matchup Saturday against new conference rival Valparaiso.
The No. 16 Bulldogs (12-1, 1-1) have had the last week off after A.J. Graves made a last-second 3-pointer Dec. 28 to give them a 57-55 victory at Southern Illinois. The win enabled Butler to close out its regular-season non-conference schedule with a perfect 11-0 record.This is the first matchup between these schools as league rivals since Butler won an Indiana Collegiate Conference matchup on Feb. 20, 1978. The teams have met twice in non-conference games over the past three seasons with the Bulldogs winning both contests, including a 60-47 victory at Valparaiso on Nov. 29, 2006.As they enter the heart of their conference schedule, the Bulldogs will look for better shooting from Graves.The senior guard leads the Butler with 16.3 points per game, but has shot only 34.7 percent from the field over the last six games as opposing defenses have focused on him. He made 3 of 11 shots and finished with 10 points against the Salukis.Graves has been terrific at Hinkle Fieldhouse, though, averaging 20.3 points in three games there -- all wins for the Bulldogs.Matt Howard, third on Butler with 11.8 points per game, had 15 points -- including a 7-for-8 effort at the free-throw line -- and five rebounds against Southern Illinois. The freshman forward has been a strong addition to the lineup over the last six games, averaging 12.8 points and 6.0 boards. He's averaging 15.7 points in the Bulldogs' three home games, including a career-high 23 on Dec. 1 in a 65-46 win over Ohio State.After facing the Crusaders (11-3, 2-0), Butler visits Loyola on Monday before returning home Thursday to face Wisconsin-Green Bay. The Bulldogs close out their busy stretch next Saturday when they host Wisconsin-Milwaukee.Butler has won 26 of its last 28 games at Hinkle Fieldhouse.Valparaiso appears to have adjusted fine to the Horizon League, winning its first two conference games after moving from the Summit League. The Crusaders and Cleveland State are the only two unbeaten teams remaining in the conference.Valparaiso closed out its non-conference schedule with a 93-46 win against overmatched Division II school Indiana Wesleyan on Wednesday as five Crusaders -- including three reserves -- scored in double-digits.The victory came after the Crusaders lost consecutive games, including a 90-58 defeat to top-ranked North Carolina on Sunday.Senior guard Jarryd Loyd has been strong in the last two games, scoring a career-high 24 points against the Tar Heels and following it up with 19 points and nine assists Wednesday. Despite being used exclusively off the bench, Loyd leads Valparaiso with 11.7 points and 3.4 assists per game.The Crusaders have lost 20 consecutive games against ranked opponents since beating then-No. 13 Mississippi 70-69 in the first round of the NCAA tournament on March 13, 1998.