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Xavier v. Creighton: Preview

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Every bubble team in the nation is cheering for every other bubble team to start picking up bad losses, and Xavier desperately needs to avoid one tomorrow against the Bluejays.

This is Ricky Kreklow. Guard him.
This is Ricky Kreklow. Guard him.
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

I'm not sure you guys remember, but Creighton beat Xavier this year. If that hadn't happen, this weekend's game against the Bluejays wouldn't look quite as big as it does. It did happen though, and Xavier can ill afford another loss of that (lack of) quality.

That was Creighton's second big conference win in three games, as they had also just knocked off St. John's. Since beating Xavier, they have gone 2-4 with their only wins coming over Marquette and DePaul. Qualification for any sort of postseason is a bygone dream for Creighton, but don't expect them to roll over and let Xavier have the win; they were a missed Will Artino layup away from taking Villanova to overtime on Tuesday and they play in one of the largest and loudest arenas in the nation.

Team fingerprint:
Creighton's offense is based on sharing the basketball and shooting tons of threes, and they are in the top 40 in the nation in both assist rate and 3PA%. They're also fourth in the conference in OReb%, but other than that their offense has been sputtering in conference play. They're 9th in the league in EFG%, 8th in TO%, 9th in 2P%, and 9th in getting to the free throw line. They shoot 33.5% from deep which, combined with the sheer volume of three-point shots they take, gives them a puncher's chance against any team that lets them get hot.

Here are categories in which Creighton's defense ranks 10th out of 10 in the Big East: EFG%, TO%, 3P%, block%, and steal%. They're actually a very good defensive rebounding team and do a good job at keeping teams off of the free throw line. When you're last in the league in two of the four factors though, you're going to have a rough go of it more often than not.

Starters:

Starting matchups
Austin Chatman Point guard Dee Davis
Senior Class Senior
6'0", 175 Measurements 6'0", 170
11.4/3.4/3.6 Game line 8.5/2.4/6.2
.364/.309/.806 Shooting line .388/.317/.699
Creighton has run out 10 different starting lineups this year and Chatman is the only player to have featured in all of them. He is a good shooter from the left elbow and left corner but has had trouble from the right side of the floor and at the rim. He leads the team in assist rate but has seen his TO% jump to 20.9% in conference play.
James Milliken Shooting guard Myles Davis
Junior Class Sophomore
6'2", 180 Measurements 6'2", 195
8.6/2.6/1.8 Game line 11.1/2.4/2.3
.376/.347/.786 Shooting line .401/.394/.876
Milliken is not much of a driver and not much of a scorer from anywhere inside the arc. What he can do is knock down corner threes, shooting 35% from the right corner and 44% from the left corner. Beyond that, he's second on the team in assist rate in conference and basically never turns the ball over.
Ricky Kreklow Small forward Remy Abell
Senior Class Junior
6'7", 195 Measurements 6'4", 195
7.6/3.1/1.4 Game line 8.7/2.2/1.4
.449/.409/.709 Shooting line .494/.413/.750
Kreklow bombed Xavier out of the game in the Cintas Center and will gladly do the same in this one if given half a chance. He loves the three from both corners, and it loves him right back. That's the whole scouting report: don't let this guy get free in a corner. Hopefully the Muskies learned from last time because they can't really afford to let him take warm-up threes all first half again.
Toby Hegner Power forward Trevon Bluiett
Freshman Class Freshman
6'10", 225 Measurements 6'6", 215
7.0/3.5/0.8 Game line 12.3/4.5/1.9
.412/.358/.833 Shooting line .448/.345/.761
It's every Xavier fan's worst nightmare: a big man who shoots the three. Hegner is 21-56 (37.5%) from deep in conference play and only 9-21 (42.9%) from inside it. He shoots his threes most frequently from the left wing and both corners, but he's hitting more than half of the ones he takes from straight on. He's also a solid rebounder at both ends of the floor.
Geoffrey Groselle Center Matt Stainbrook
Junior Class Senior
7'0", 240 Measurements 6'10", 270
5.3/2.6/0.3 Game line 11.6/6.7/2.5
.639/.000/.697 Shooting line .606/.333/.775
Since jumping back into the starting lineup 5 games ago, Groselle is averaging 8.4/5.0/1.2 and shooting 19-31/0-0/4-5. He's not a versatile offensive threat, but he knows his strengths and doesn't stray from them. He's also a very good offensive rebounder despite being mediocre on the defensive glass.

Reserves:
Devin Brooks is a 6'2" senior combo guard who leads the team in usage rate and assist rate and is second in DReb%. He usually pushes Chatman to a more shooting guard role when he comes into the game; he puts up 7.9/4.9/3.0 on .350/.239/.756 shooting. Avery Dingman is a 6'6" wing who is a very good defensive rebounder and shot blocker for his size, though he's not going to blow your doors off offensively. Big man Will Artino leads the team in OReb% (11.8%), DReb% (22.9%), and missed layups to send games against Villanova to OT (1). All three of these guys have started at least 15 games this year.

Three questions:
-Can Xavier handle a road finisher? This is the final home game of the season for Creighton, it's Senior Day, and they're averaging 17,066 in attendance this year. Couple that with the close call against Villanova on Tuesday and you've got a recipe for a raucous home crowd itching to end a frustrating season on a high note. Xavier, you might have heard, has not been great on the road this year.

-Can Myles get his legs back under him? Coming down the stretch last year, Myles faded like cut grass. He's been much better this season, but that odometer is getting high again and he is coming off of a sub-par week. Was that just a couple of bad games, or is he wearing down again? Or did he just need the mental and physical break of a week off before the final push of the year? Xavier needs a solid Myles if they want to do anything in the NCAA tournament.

-Larry and Brandon? Yes, that's a question. These two teams played 45 minutes at Cintas and those two guys combined for 4 of them. LAJ in particular has looked good in his recent playing time as an aggressive change of pace to Dee's more languid pulling of the strings. Having one of these guys come out and hold serve for 5-8 minutes while Dee recharges his batteries would be a really good look.

Three keys:
-Get Jalen going. Reynolds had 17 and 8 and 3 blocks last time out against Creighton, and they frankly don't have anyone who can keep him from doing that again. Only his own shortcomings (i.e., he didn't appear to have read the scouting report, then he fouled out) kept him from getting more, and it will be the same again Saturday. Xavier should go to their monster big man early and often.

-Guard the corner three. Ricky Kreklow loves it. James Milliken loves it. Creighton is shooting 37% from the right corner and a scalding 45% from the left corner, and nearly 20% of their total shots come from those two places. Xavier cannot be caught out of position when the Bluejays roll the ball down into either corner.

-Work inside-out. Xavier's three-point shooting is 9th in the conference, but their two-point percentage is first. Creighton is last in the conference in shot-blocking and 6th in defensive 2P%. Xavier has a tendency to work the ball around the perimeter to a frustrating extent, but they should be looking to Stainbrook and Reynolds on both posts and Trevon flashing to the foul line and the short corners all day Saturday.