Xavier arrives on Senior Night with the Big East season decided. No matter what happens here, the Musketeers have sewn up second place and a first round bye in the upcoming conference tournament. Creighton will take in the honoring of Remy Abell, James Farr, and Kevin Coker in a state of desperation. The Bluejays had an excellent chance to pick up a win they vitally needed at Providence but couldn't get over the hump late in the game. They basically need to win the Big East tournament to get in, but two wins over Xavier could give them just enough of an at-large resume to sneak in under perfect conditions.
It would be two wins over Xavier because the Musketeers put up their very worst effort of the season on the road in Omaha. The offense managed a truly staggering .76 points per possession and the defense let Mo Watson go for 32/7/5 in a game deciding effort. Trevon Bluiett, Remy Abell, Myles Davis, and Edmond Sumner combined for 14 points on 4-31 from the floor. The team shot 1-21 from behind the arc and only 13-20 from the line. In short, it was a terrible game.
Creighton's offense isn't terribly good but for one factor: they shoot the ball inside exceedingly well. 52.3% of their two point attempts fall in conference play, 54% on the year. That stands in marked contrast to their shooting from behind the arc, where they are knocking down only 31.1% in Big East play. The Jays do take care of the ball well, but they don't grab it when they miss. Where Seton Hall beat Xavier by attacking the offensive glass relentlessly, Creighton picks up less than a quarter of their misses.
On the other end, the Bluejays are just as stingy with the offensive rebounds. They don't force a great deal of turnovers, but they rode their shooting defense to the 41st best efficiency in the nation. Essentially, Doug McDermott's boys prefer to stay in their shell, make you miss without fouling, and then grab the rebound. The Musketeers did gash them for a 30.8% offensive rebounding rate last meeting, but they didn't turn that into very many points.
|Watson, you may recall from the last time these two teams played, is half a dozen kinds of nasty. He's neither particularly large nor a particularly great shooter, but he's a shifty driver and an excellent finisher at the rim. He excels at collapsing defenses to distribute. A groin injury hobbled him against Providence; it will be interesting to see if he is full go against Xavier.
|Zierden is a spot-up shooter and a darned effective one. More than three quarters of his shots come from behind the arc, and he has hit multiple threes in a dozen conference games this year. His usage is fairly limited otherwise, but he can catch fire and shoot Creighton through a game.
|Do you need a guard who never boards, rarely makes any decisive passes, and doesn't have much of a statistical footprint on defense? James Milliken is your guy! Milliken is a good shooter with a decent pull-up game, but he's not much for getting all the way to the rim. He protects the ball well and spends a lot of time on the floor just not making mistakes at either end.
|A stretch four out of the Ethan Wragge mold, Hegner has fallen on hard times in conference play. After shooting 43.8% from deep in non-conference play, he's just 17-62 (27.4%) in conference. He remains a good defensive rebounder who doesn't turn the ball over much, but he has basically no offensive value if he's not jarring threes.
|Groselle lives at the rim and is a monster there, shooting 77.2% on layups and dunks. He gets to the line pretty well, but he's not going to kill you from the stripe. He's a very good defensive center and a solid rebounder on both ends of the floor. He turns the ball over an alarming amount for a post player, which really detracts from his efficiency. Most of his biggest games on the year have come against garbage teams, for whatever that's worth.
Junior big man Cole Huff had been starting, but he has come off the bench for the last dozen games. He's a borderline dominant defensive rebounder and a really good mid-range jump shooter on the offensive end; he averages 10.4/4.7/0.6 with a .415/.343/.783 shooting line on the year. When he's on the floor, he's looking to get shots up. Not so fellow junior forward Zach Hanson. He flies to the offensive glass, and one in every five shots he puts up is a stickback. His averages of 7/3.2/0.1 are pedestrian but efficient thanks to a .669/.000/.714 shooting line.
The lone reserve guard of note is 6'3" freshman Khyri Thomas. He shot the eyes out of the ball in non-conference play, but he's only shooting .305/.208/.364 in Big East play. He's not a great ball distributor, but he might be called on for more minutes at the two if one of Creighton's more experienced guards has to take some of the load off of Watson at the point. Junior Malik Albert is technically a point guard, but he's getting fewer than five minutes per game in conference and has only appeared in 12 Big East games. If Watson can't go or is hobbled, Coach McDermott will have some tough choices to make.
Get on the offensive glass- Seven of the Bluejays 12 losses have come when they allow opponents to get over that 25% season average they allow on the glass. While that doesn't seem terribly impressive, the Jays are only 6-6 when opponents get 29% of their misses. The more chances that Creighton allows on the offensive glass, the more likely they are to lose.
Don't go 1-21 again- Xavier's defense wasn't actually that bad against the Bluejays last time. Creighton didn't even manage a point per possession. Xavier's offense, on the other hand, was an abomination. While X just kept missing, the Jays just backed inside and made Jalems Farrnolds work that much harder to score. Creighton's defense will look world beating again if Xavier doesn't knock down some outside shots.
Don't get hurt- Honestly, the result of this game only matters in that no one wants to watch a loss on Senior Day or go into the conference tournament on a two game loser. What is much more pressing is that Xavier goes into the postseason with all cylinders firing. If that means deploying a walk-on to follow Ed around and make sure he doesn't land on anything too hard, so be it. A win here solidifies Xavier as a two seed, losing a key player is the nightmare scenario.