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Xavier v. Creighton: preview, matchups, keys to the game

You can’t make the Final Four in January, but you can certainly narrow your chances of doing so. The season isn’t on the line for Xavier against Creighton, but Muskie fans can be forgiven for feeling like it might be.

NCAA Basketball: Creighton at Providence
I’ve always thought this guy was a heck of a coach. I’m kind of disappointed about how right I was.
Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

Last year, Xavier lost at the best and second-best non-Xavier teams in the Big East, but nobody freaked out because the games came two months apart. This year, Xavier has done the same thing, but they did so within the span of a week. After getting boat raced by Nova, the Muskies staggered out of the half against Butler and did just a hair less than they needed to to get the game back level, dropping to 3-2 in conference in the process.

Now X comes back home to lick its wounds and take on a really, really good Creighton team. The Bluejays’ only loss came against Nova on New Year’s Eve; their last loss to any other team was on March 22, 2016. Behind a top ten offense and just enough D, Greg McDermott’s squad is rolling. Both teams have, thanks to the great wisdom of the Big East scheduling, had a single day off to travel, recover, and prep for this one. While Xavier faced down top 15 Butler on the road, the Bluejays challenged themselves with Truman State, a Division II squad from the world renowned Great Lakes Valley Conference.

Team Fingerprint:

Creighton has a very unique take on offense. The Bluejays make no attempt to get to the line or rebound the ball at all. They’re 294th in the nation in offensive rebounding and 314th in free throw rate. How can a team that bad be sixth in the nation in offensive efficiency? They shoot 41.3% from behind the arc and 60.5% inside it. That makes their effective field goal 61%, second in the nation. They also take care of the ball very well and only possess it for about 14 seconds before they get a shot up. This offense is designed to blitz you.

On defense the ‘jays are marginal at defending three pointer and pretty mediocre at everything else. The only place they are truly bad is that they allow teams to crush them on the offensive glass, probably because they leak out in an attempt to run. They’re excellent in not fouling, allowing free throws on only 23% of opponent’s field goal attempts.

Starters:

Starting matchups
Maurice Watson Point Guard Edmond Sumner
Senior Class Sophomore
5'10", 175 Measurements 6'6", 186
13.4/2.7/8.8 Game line 15.7/4.3/4.6
.508/.484/.692 Shooting line .486/.270/.739
Watson is an exceptional point guard; he's 5th in the nation in assist rate, has a solid but unspectacular TO%, and can score from all three levels when called upon. His handle is so low and tight that he can be trouble for bigger guards to handle defensively. If he gets into the middle of the defense, Creighton is really tough to stop.
Marcus Foster Shooting Guard JP Macura
Junior Class Junior
6'3", 210 Measurements 6'5", 203
18.2/2.5/1.6 Game line 14.5/4.1/2.4
.504/.360/.725 Shooting line .421/.348/.846
The opposite of Watson in a lot of ways, Foster has a single-digit assist rate and rarely turns the ball over. If he has it, he's trying to score. Foster's calling card is an exceptional mid-range game; he hits almost 53% of his two-point jumpers. He's a good finisher and certainly not bashful from deep, but he really stands out when he's pulling up off the bounce.
Khyri Thomas Small Forward Malcom Bernard
Sophomore Class Senior
6'3", 205 Measurements 6'6", 202
12.1/5.6/2.6 Game line 6.2/4.2/1.6
.564/.417/.789 Shooting line .419/.404/.609
Thomas has the highest ORtg of anyone on Creighton thanks to decent assist skills and good ball control to go with his gaudy shooting line. He's by no means the focal point of the offense, but you can't leave him alone or he'll light you up.
Cole Huff Power Forward Trevon Bluiett
Senior Class Junior
6'8", 220 Measurements 6'6", 215
9.1/3.8/0.4 Game line 16.8/5.8/2.2
.477/.485/.889 Shooting line .402/.325/.788
The lone starter on this explosive team that doesn't average double figures, and all he does to make up for it is put up a borderline obscene shooting line that breaks out to a 61.4% EFG%. Huff isn't much of a rebounder, doesn't score from around the rim much, and is pretty much a catch-and-shoot guy from deep. He hits almost half his threes though, so there's that.
Justin Patton Center RaShid Gaston
Freshman Class Senior
7'0", 230 Measurements 6'9", 239
14.0/6.4/1.3 Game line 7.2/6.4/0.6
.737/.500/.479 Shooting line .591/.000/.487
This guy sucks at free throws. I just mention that because he's awesome at pretty much everything else. That three-point number is on only a handful of attempts, but he's murder near the basket (he shoots 85.2% at the rim), really athletic, and legitimately seven feet tall. He's got decent mid-range game and a little bit of a shimmy to his handle. He's not a great rebounder, but he protects the rim and does pretty much everything else. Stud.

Reserves:

Isaiah Zierden is the most recognizable face off the bench. In this, his senior season, he’s shooting 45% from deep and doing precious little else. At the other end of the spectrum from the 6-3 Zierden is 6-10 Toby Hegner, who also loves to stand outside and shoot. He makes 39% of his threes, but combines that with being effective in the paint, and being a solid defensive rebounder. Like most of Creighton’s players, he is very careful with the ball.

After that comes a veritable parade of bit players. Ken Pomeroy lists 14 players for the Jays who have featured enough to at least have a stat line on his site. The seven already listed will see the bulk of the time, but expect to see Martin Krampelj, a 6-9 center who is Creighton’s best rebounder. Tyler Clement will come in on occasiona to spell the guards, but his 46% turnover rate is anathema to McDermott. Finally, Ronnie Harrell also gets time at both forward spots.

Three questions:

#Myleswatch: Myles has been playing, but he’s not been playing well. He’s not made a field goal yet, his turnover rate is 29.7% (higher than his offensive rating), and he’s yet to manage an assist or grab an offensive board. This team may well be better with Myles later on, but his first two games have been shambolic.

- Can Xavier slow the pace? The Musketeers are going to have to fight the urge to run with the Bluejays. That means not jacking up the first good three pointer and having the discipline to look into the post for offense even after giving up a three on the other end.

- How effective can Ed be? According to Coach Mack, Sumner is playing through his injury today. Whoever’s genius idea it was to play games with one day of rest in between has done Xavier no favors in this department. That scheduling ridiculousness aside, Ed was brilliant in the last 12 minutes against Butler after being invisible for 28. Xavier needs a lot more brilliant today.

Three keys:

- FEED THE POST: Is Creighton’s defense very good inside? No. Do they prevent offensive rebounds well? No. Both of those were true against Nova and Butler as well, though, and Xavier managed to get their big men a combined 13 shots in those two games. For the love of everything holy, guys, hammer the ball inside today.

- Make some three pointers: Teams are slowly sagging off Xavier outside as they realize that the Musketeers are both bad at shooting and more than willing to keep doing it. Until they have a game where they are actually effective from behind the arc, this is going to remain a key.

- Get Trevon going: Back to back 2-10s from the floor are not going to do it for Xavier’s erstwhile leading scorer. Even more alarmingly, Trevon has transitioned from a forward with solid all around game to a not terribly convincing spot up shooter. If you see him get a layup off a drive early in the game, be excited.