Villanova coach Jay Wright vividly remembers his team's game at Butler last season because it opened the "new" Big East Conference schedule and marked the first visit by Wright and the Wildcats to legendary Hinkle Fieldhouse.
"My first thought is just an epic battle we played last year at Hinkle Fieldhouse, sold out, an overtime game, a great game that it was a thrill to be a part of as a coach," Wright said of the Cats' 76-73 win in Indianapolis.
The sixth-ranked Wildcats (12-0) and the Bulldogs (10-3) again will meet in their conference season opener Wednesday at the Pavilion. Wright expects the same type of close game against a team that has wins over a pair of ranked teams - North Carolina and Georgetown.
The Bulldogs, who were ranked for three weeks in the AP top 25, lead the Big East in points allowed at 56.2 per game. They are third in field-goal percentage defense (39.5) and second in three-point defense (28.1).
"I don't think we're as good as them defensively," Wright said. "We're close, we're getting there. But they have guys who are in the program another year and they're just so connected defensively. That's really what makes a good team defense."
Butler adeptly handled a rocky start to its preseason in October after coach Brandon Miller was granted an indefinite medical leave of absence. Assistant coach Chris Holtmann took over and credited "the character and leadership of our older guys" for keeping things smooth.
"From day one, they have kind of kept this thing together, Holtmann said. "They were able to take this in stride."
The Bulldogs also were helped by the return of 6-foot-4 junior guard Roosevelt Jones, who missed all of last season with a wrist injury. Jones averages 11.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 4.3 assists and has a calming influence on the court.
Villanova came out of the gate slowly in each of its last two games, trailing Syracuse by 43-31 at the half and NJIT by 44-41 over the same period. The Cats rallied to defeat the Orange in overtime and outscored NJIT by 51-23 in the second half.
After the Wildcats returned from Christmas break, Wright conducted a two-day minicamp.
"It's just attention to detail," he said. "I just thought in both of the first halves, we were just sloppy in our defensive assignments, a little bit sloppy in our offensive concepts. I don't want to make too big a deal out of it . . . [but] we just concentrated on what we do."
The Wildcats will be at full strength for Butler. Darrun Hilliard, who suffered a mild concussion against Syracuse and missed the NJIT game, was cleared and has practiced with the team.