Make no mistake, these are not last year's Creighton Blue Jays. Since the 10th of December, this iteration of the Jays has won two games. Things have recently gone from bad to worse as shooting guard Isaiah Zierden, the team's most efficient scorer, was lost for the season with a torn MCL. A starting lineup that is now five seniors strong is playing through a season that must seem like a nightmare after last year's run that landed them a four seed in the NCAA tournament.
The malaise has only deepened since conference play. In the Big East, Creighton is 1-9 and has only beaten a slumping St. John's. An early season victory over Oklahoma has been erased by a loss to North Texas. Xavier, meanwhile, sits at 5-5 in the Big East and is in desperate need of some breathing room away from the bubble. A huge road win against Georgetown was slightly sullied by a loss to Seton Hall, but Xavier is trending in the right direction.
In conference play there is no worse offense than Creighton's. A 94.2 offensive efficiency comes from a 42% shooting mark from inside the arc and and having 16.3% of their shots blocked. The Blue Jays add to that by turning the ball over on nearly 20% of their possessions and rarely getting to the free throw line. A 30% mark from behind the arc isn't stellar, but it doesn't always take stellar to trouble the Musketeers.
Creighton doesn't exactly make up for their offensive failings on the defensive end. The Blue Jays are the penultimate team in the Big East in defensive efficiency rating, trailing only the Red Storm of St. John's. No team in conference play allows a higher effective field goal percentage or three point percentage, or turns opponents over fewer times. Creighton is only allowing 29% of opponent's shots to be turned into offensive rebounds, slightly better than average in the conference.
|Both of these guys would rather move the ball than shoot it, and both are suffering subpar shooting seasons. Chatman has been in double figures only twice in conference play.
|Brooks field goal percentage is down 12% from last year, but that hasn't kept him from being Creighton's highest usage player. Myles is trending almost the complete opposite way for Xavier.
|Dingman has started the last two games but plays less than 20 minutes per contest. He's taken more threes than twos and shoots respectably from deep. Remy is losing time recently but remains Xavier's lone decent defender.
|Kreklow actually plays more like a guard than a forward, but so does Dingman. It will be interesting to see have Xavier matches up. Kreklow is probably the best shooter who has started for the Jays recently.
|Artino's block rate of 3.5% is respectable and his OR% and DR% are both in the top 200 nationally. However, he plays only 16 miuntes per game and lacks any real offensive ability. Stainbrook's girth will pose an interesting matchup situation.
Freshman Toby Hegner is Creighton's most efficient offensive player with the loss of Zierden. A 6-10 big man, Hegner plays more than half the available minutes and gets 8.3/3.6/.9 off the bench. James Milliken is a 6-2 junior guard who also plays more than some starters and gets 8.1/2.8/1.6. Milliken will frequently appear in place of Dingman, but doesn't start for reason's best known to the coach. Zach Hanson is the only other bench player who plays even a quarter of the game and has a line of 5.2/3.0/.2. He may see extra time this game as his size (6-9, 240) will help the Blue Jays matchups.
- What lineup will see the most time? Xavier has been playing a lot of four over one recently, but still starting with a more standard lineup. Creighton essentially starts four guards, so this may be a chance for Coach Mack to go with Trevon Bluiett at the four from the opening jump. On the other hand, the rebounding prowess of James Farr or Jalen Reynolds could be extremely useful if either of them can stay close to either Kreklow or Dingman.
- Will some threes fall? Over the last three games, Xavier is 9-48 from deep. That sterling number has come with two wins and a loss, but it's hard to imagine any team being successful while shooting 18% from deep. Creighton has allowed a 40.1% mark from three point in conference play. This is a chance for Xavier to get right.
- Can Xavier get a convincing win? Xavier's recent wins have come from second half comebacks for the most part. DePaul led at the half, Marquette was a four point game, Georgetown came to within seven in the second half, and the home win over Seton Hall wasn't decided until a late run. Not since the turn of the year has Xavier won a game at a canter. Creighton is objectively awful right now. This game should not be close.
- Shut down the arc: Creighton doesn't shoot a great percentage (33.2%) from deep, but they take 45% of their shots from behind the arc. The Blue Jays are going to chuck it, and they will pose a problem if they get hot. It will be especially incumbent upon the second big man to close down on Creighton's smaller players.
- Win on the glass: Creighton keeps team off the offensive glass very well, but doesn't get after their own abundant misses all that well. All told, they stand in the middle of the Big East. Xavier is a more extreme version of the Blue Jays, really closing down the defensive glass and rebounding their own misses very poorly. The Musketeers can create massive size problems for Creighton if they so choose. If so, rebounds should be there for the taking.
- Get the walk ons in: If not the walk ons, this should at least be a game where Larry Austin Jr., Brandon Randolph, and Sean O'Mara can get some time on the floor. Again, Creighton is bad. Xavier should win this game handily and, in doing so, get the main rotation players some well earned rest.