Only six miles separate Butler and Providence High Schools along Highway 51, but so far this season the Bulldogs and Panthers boys' basketball teams have been going in opposite directions.
Butler (5-2, 3-0) is in first-place in the Southwestern 4A, led by the dynamic backcourt trio of Marcus Burton, Anthony Stitt and Jalen White, who average more than 50 points per game.
Providence (2-8, 0-3), which won the regular-season SW4A title in 2009, has struggled to find its identity early this season after losing six of its top eight players from last year. The Panthers, who have struggled to find consistent scoring, have been led by senior guard Chauncey Concepcion (15 ppg).
The last time the Bulldogs and Panthers met was in the 2009 SW4A Tournament final, where Burton's desperation 40-foot heave gave Butler a 35-33 win and the league title after struggling most of the regular season.
This time Butler is the heavy favorite, especially when they can get out and run.
Providence will try to slow the pace and keep undersized Butler in a half-court game.
The Bulldogs have three of the SW4A and state's best guards in Burton, Stitt and White and will look to get the ball in their hands. All three can play point or on the wing and are a threat from nearly anywhere on the floor.
Butler also has depth in the backcourt, with freshman Matthew Fisher-Davis, Riley Ferguson and Jeremy Page capable of scoring in bunches with three-pointers.
The Bulldogs' only weakness is inside, where they lack size this season.
Zach Ferguson and Channing Stribbling, who both played key roles on the state-champion football team, are still getting their basketball legs under them but are the team's best options down low.
Butler's backcourt is one of the better groups in the state and the Bulldogs should have little trouble running against Providence. If the Bulldogs establish pace early, it will be a mismatch.
After establishing itself as one of the better teams in the SW4A in the past few years, Providence is in a rebuilding mode this year, with most of its key players from last year gone.
Concepcion has been the Panthers' most consistent threat outside, while Robby Van Lanen (11 ppg) and Davenport (8 ppg) have been solid inside where they could exploit a smaller Butler team.
Providence averages only 45 points per contest while Butler scores 77 points per game. If the Panthers can keep the game at a crawl, they might have a chance in the final quarter. If not, Butler will win easily.
Like the boys' team, the Butler girls' basketball squad comes into the Providence game atop the SW4A.
But the Butler girls, the defending 4A state champions, have been on a different plane than their opponents, averaging 80 points per game while giving up only 26 on their way to a perfect 9-0 start.
After a dismal 0-5 start, Providence has started to find itself, including three straight conference wins against Independence, Rocky River and South Meck.
But while both teams are tied for first, this game likely will illustrate just how much better Butler is than the rest of the league.
All-American guard/forward Cierra Burdick has been the catalyst for Butler. The 6-foot-3 senior, who has signed with Tennessee, averages 21 points, 16 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 steals and 5 blocks per game.
Burdick has a lot of help in point guard Aaliyah Kilpatrick (16 ppg) and Jaymee Fisher-Davis (14 ppg), who have found their roles after transferring from East Meck due to redistricting.
Butler, which scores almost twice what the Panthers (44 ppg) do per game, has too much firepower for Providence, and anything less than a blowout would be a surprise.
After losing their first five games, the Panthers have made big strides, winning their first three SW4A games. Sophomore forwards Casey Rieger (11 ppg, 9 rpg) and Emily Franklin (6 ppg, 9 rpg), who both also star on the volleyball team, have been a big reason why.
But junior guards Elena Covert (9 ppg) and Alyson King (7 ppg) also have played key roles in the Panthers' improvement.
Providence has gotten a lot better since the season started, but they aren't ready for No. 1 Butler just yet.
This story went to print before Butler-Ardrey Kell and Myers Park-Providence boys' and girls' basketball games Jan. 4.