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Big East Tournament Preview: Xavier v. Creighton

Xavier has survived and advanced for one day. Their reward for that is the nation's best offensive team coming off a thrashing of DePaul. The Big East final awaits the winner.

Coach Mack will need to have more plans in his pocket to win this one.
Coach Mack will need to have more plans in his pocket to win this one.

The quick turnaround between games and the fact that Joel and I have jobs that require us to be awake means that the coverage of the Big East tournament will be a bit different from the recap rotation of the regular season. First things first here:

It seems like Xavier is probably in the field of 68 after earning a berth to the Big East semifinals. And yes, that's as definite as I am comfortable being right now. One way X could absolutely lock up a bid would be to beat the Creighton Bluejays tomorrow night at 9:30 to make their way into the conference final.

Creighton waits in the semis in large part because they were playing DePaul to get there, but also because Doug McDermott went ahead and had himself an entire game in just the first half of the 7pm quarterfinal. McDermott had 27 at the half and, while the Blue Demons did close to within ten in the second half, the game was never really in doubt. That enabled some of the Jays to rest, and only McDermott and Austin Chatman played over 30 minutes.

Xavier and Creighton split their season series this year, with each team holding serve at home. The first game was a barn-burner out in Omaha that wasn't settled until the last minute. In the second game Xavier did well to hold a solid lead into the last minute and then salted the game away at the line. Despite Creighton's penchant for bombing away from deep, Xavier has managed to make both games close. Both of those were regular season games though, and this one now comes loaded with the pressure of being a Big East semifinal and also being the final piece to Xavier's tournament puzzle.

Three questions:

- How much effort to expend on McDermott? Xavier is not going to stop the man that the mainstream media seems to be calling Dougie Buckets. He's simply going to score. That said, resigning yourself to just trying to stop his teammates could lead to Doug getting 45 like he did on his senior night or 27 like he did in one half tonight. Xavier can't afford to just let him go off, but trying to completely shut him down is probably wasted energy. So, what to do? Coach Mack threw a wrinkle at Creighton in the game at the Cintas when he put Matt Stainbrook on 48 year old point guard Grant Gibbs. That probably won't work again, but neither will a standard defense.

- Where does Stainbrook fit? Xavier needed Matt to come back against Marquette to add his weight to the tussle with Davante Gardner. Matt, with the nearly permanent smile of a man clearly relishing a physical battle, was vital in the time when Jalen Reynolds wasn't tossing Gardner around like a rag doll. Against Creighton, though, Stainbrook will have to greatly test the MCL by moving out onto the perimeter. The Bluejays frequently play with all five spread around the arc, which would leave Stainbrook very vulnerable to someone putting the ball on the floor. Of course, that means that Creighton faces a dilemma when they are on defense, because Stainbrook is too strong for any forward they have. The Stain Train was crucial against the Golden Eagles, will he be against the Bluejays?

- Can Xavier repeat that defensive effort? Yes, Marquette shot 57% from the floor, but they only got off 11 threes, only grabbed six offensive boards, and turned the ball over 15 times. No matter who Xavier ran out there, the commitment to defense did not waver. James Farr's stat line wasn't impressive, but his defense was as good as it has ever been. Myles Davis was good, Jalen Reynolds was immense, Dee Davis harassed Jake Thomas into a 1-2 shooting night, and Semaj was everywhere out top. All of that has to repeated again less than 24 hours after what has to have been a draining win. Now, however, the other team is several notches better on offense.

Keys to the game:

  • Don't let McDermott go off: 25 is probably acceptable, 30 is a danger zone, and more than that and Creighton's big gun is running the game. It's completely ridiculous that "limiting" someone to 25 might be a good thing, but that's the reality of the situation.
  • Survive the barrage: Creighton lifted 34 threes the last time these two teams met. That astronomical number is made more palatable by the fact that they only made ten. Xavier's defense and Creighton's offense are a perfect storm of three point opportunities for the Bluejays. It may take riding their luck again, but Xavier has to try something to contain shooters.
  • Crush the defensive glass: Xavier lost to Villanova in the last regular season game in large part because the Wildcats turned offensive rebounds into three pointers. The last time these two teams met, the Bluejays grabbed 11 offensive boards. That 30% rate is much higher than Creighton's season average and allowing it again would be flirting with disaster.
  • Isaiah Philmore: The less famous of Xavier's bespectacled bigs went for 10/6/2 and worked himself ragged against Marquette. When Philmore can create points for himself a couple times a game, it opens the offense for everyone else.
  • Enjoy being the big draw again: The PAC 12 games may start later, but once again Xavier is the big game in primetime. People will tune in to see Doug McDermott and get to see our boys, too. This one doesn't apply to the players so much as the fans. We're the big time now.