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 (6-2, 3-0 through Dec. 28) is in first-place in the Southwestern 4A, led by the dynamic backcourt trio of Marcus Burton, Anthony Stitt and Jalen White.
Providence (2-9, 0-3 through Dec. 28), 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 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.
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.
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 the team's best options down low.
After establishing itself as one of the better teams in the SW4A in the past few years, Providence is rebuilding this year.
Senior guard Chauncey 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.
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 10-0 (through Dec. 28) start.
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 East Meck transfers point guard Aaliyah Kilpatrick (16 ppg) and Jaymee Fisher-Davis (14 ppg).
Butler, which scores almost twice what the Panthers (44 ppg) do per game, has too much firepower for Providence.
After losing their first five games, the Panthers (5-6, 3-0 through Dec. 28) 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.
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.