You guys remember last time Xavier played Creighton, right? The teams combined for nearly 200 points as a barrage of hot shooting and little effective defense provided an open and fan-friendly game in Omaha. Now they square off at Cintas this Saturday, and the stakes are more clear for each team. We caught up with the Creighton experts at White and Blue review to get their take on some of our most ardent questions.
Banners: Creighton loves to shoot the three and Xavier loves to surrender it. I'll put the over/under on Bluejays attempted threes at 30. What do you take and why?
W&BR: I'll take Creighton and the under on three-pointers. After surprising a lot of teams in the first go around of Big East play and the barrage of three-pointers that pretty much gave a fat lip to a majority of the opponents, teams have really started to tighten down on the Bluejays shooting from downtown.
In the non-conference and leading up to the first matchup with Villanova, Creighton made more than 10 three pointers in 15 of 19 games. In the past 8 games, the Bluejays have only made 10 or more three-pointers in one game. Opponents have really started to lock down the three-point line, but Creighton has still been very effective from long range hitting when needed. The team mantra of finding a better shot than the one available has worked effectively, showing they don't live and die by the three-point shot. There is probably no way Creighton gets to 30 attempts from the three-point line on Saturday unless they are really far behind toward the end of the game.
Banners: Creighton is one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the league and one of the best defensive. Do they just not go to the offensive glass? What makes them so effective on the other end?
W&BR: As a team, Creighton is shooting 50% from the field. When you shoot like that then you don't need offensive rebounds. On the other end of the court, they try to force the opponent to a one and done crashing players to the boards. After the loss of Gregory Echenique to graduation, Creighton knew they would need more help from the guards on the boards. It is really noticeable when guard Devin Brooks averages more rebounds per game (4.0) than one of the taller players on the team, Will Artino (3.7). Creighton does a great job on team defense and communicate really well on switches and hedging screens.
Banners: Currently the Bluejays are seen as a #3 seed in the tournament. In your eyes, what would it take to move up to a #2 before selection Sunday?
W&BR: There has been a lot of talk on local radio this week on how high up Creighton can go. With a perfect storm there is a thought that Creighton could actually garner a #1 seed if they were to win out the regular season and the Big East tournament. But a lot would have to happen for that. Realistically, I think Creighton would need to win out to get a #2 seed. Between Creighton and Villanova, depending how things play out with the regular season and conference tournament, the one who survives will earn a 2-seed. The other will get a 3-seed. I have a hard time personally seeing them higher than a 3-seed just because I haven't even seen them that high of a seed during my lifetime (still can't even fathom a 3-seed) so I can't believe it would happen.
Banners: There is no questioning Doug McDermott's POTY candidacy, but what is this team's identity heading into next year moving on from the best player in the program's history?
W&BR: I think it all depends on how successful Creighton is in the postseason. The Bluejays returned to the dance over the past two seasons and have won a game in the tournament, but have been unsuccessful garnering that sweet 16 appearance. There are many who think if the Bluejays don't get to the sweet 16 or father this season, will they ever? Four big seniors will be gone (McDermott, Wragge, Gibbs, Manigat)and replacing four starters won't be easy. For myself, I am not thinking about next season right now. I'm enjoying this one too much and realizing that we may never see a player like Doug McDermott in a Bluejay uniform for a long time. But if you need an answer, the identity heading into next year will be the legacy of what Doug McDermott and this senior class brought to this team to raise the program to new heights and ushering a new era for Creighton basketball in the Big East. Despite a young team, the program will look to reload and not rebuild.
Banners: Ethan Wragge basically bombed Xavier out of the game last time these two played, hitting three ridiculously deep threes on his way to 5-10 from beyond the arc. Have teams shown any way to keep Wragge out of the game, or do you just have to hope he hits a rare cold spell?
W&BR: Since Villanova's outburst, teams have stuck to Wragge like glue doing whatever they can to keep him from being able to launch a shot. But with Creighton you have to pick your poison. Teams that choose to stick to Wragge can't cover Doug McDermott one-on-one and in most cases he has made teams pay. When they choose to start paying more attention to McDermott, he and the rest of the Bluejays know that is the time to get the ball to Wragge. Wragge is still shooting 50% from three and has shot 9-of-12 over the past 3 games, including dropping 6 bombs against Marquette. But he also extends the defense and has no qualms shooting from 35 feet if needed.
Banners: People know Doug McDermott because he may well be the player of the year, Ethan Wragge because he looks like a lumberjack and shoots exclusively 25-foot jump shots, and Grant Gibbs because he's 47 years old and still in college. Who have been some of the unsung pieces of Creighton's season so far?
W&BR: You have to give credit to the other two starters Austin Chatman and Jahenns Manigat. Chatman has done a wonderful job running the offense this season and has really been an unsung hero with his 2.78 to 1 assist to turnover ratio. Over the past 9 games, he has had a 4/1 ratio. He also scores when he needs to with a consistent 7 to 8 points a game. Manigat, dubbed the Canadian RedBull, brings constant energy to the team. He also becomes the third part of the 3-headed monster from behind the arc when teams are focused on stopping McDermott and Wragge. He has hit dagger three-pointers all season and provides his own 7 to 8 points a game.
A bad but good thing about Grant Gibbs being out for a month was an opportunity to get some better contributions and experience from Will Artino, Avery Dingman and Isaiah Zierden. One of them will come off the bench and have a good night, the key is finding the right one.
Banners: What does Xavier have to do to come away from this game with a win? What is your prediction for the result?
W&BR: Xavier will have a huge crowd that will give them an extra 6-7 points. Standing room only for the first time in Cintas Center history is a big compliment to what this matchup means. I have enjoyed all of the matchups between these two teams over the years, but also remember the big letdowns on the road including the Kyle Korver/David West battle years ago.
The Musketeers will need to force Creighton to take bad shots. It is as simple as that. The Bluejays have been able to pass up the okay shot for the better shot most of the season. But if Xavier forces them to take the okay shot, they can walk away the winners. The back of my mind says that Xavier will pull off the win and solidify their spot in the NCAA Tournament, but my gut says that Creighton eats up these big crowds and challenges presented to them. Creighton will pull off the win 82-78.
There you have it. We also answered some questions for them, and we'll be back later to look at that exchange.