There aren’t any secrets in a conference tournament, and even less so in a conference that plays the double round robin like the Big East. Xavier knows what Creighton is going to try to do. Creighton knows what Xavier is going to try to do. Nobody made any deadline deals; all the personnel is still the same.
Well, kind of. In the first game these two teams played, Creighton lost Mo Watson to the knee injury that ended his season before a sexual assault case got the chance to. In that same game, Ed Sumner played 35 minutes and posted an ORtg of 86. Neither of those two guys will be playing tonight. Other than that, both teams are largely unchanged since the Big East season began.
The first game was a grinding, defensive affair that Creighton won because Xavier could not execute on offense. The second game was an absolute shootout that Xavier took because they were able to drop 1.22 points per possession in spite of (or because of) Quentin Goodin taking 17 shots. What’s going to determine the third game between these teams? Here’s what I’m looking for.
Keys to the game:
-Pound the post. In Xavier’s win, Tyrique Jones and RaShid Gaston overmatched Creighton’s front line to the tune of a combined 11-12/0-0/1-2 shooting line. Jones in particular was a savage, going 8-8 from the floor and posting a 201 ORtg. He may be a bit limited tonight - though he didn’t look it last night - but Sean O’Mara and his silken footwork will be barely 24 hours off of going buck nasty on Butler when the ball goes up tonight. Xavier is 226th in the nation in three-point percentage; the ball needs to live in the paint.
-Protect the ball. Xavier turned the ball over 17 times (TO rate 22.3%) in the loss. Obviously, it’s hard to bounce back from that, as X demonstrated in giving away a bunch of ground to Butler last night by turning it over 7 times in 8 trips down the floor. Q is going to have his loose moments at the point; what Xavier really needs to do is limit turnovers from the wings. If that happens, the Muskies should be okay in the ball security department.
-Distribute the load. What did we do down the stretch last night? Saddle up Tre. Could they hold him?
They could not. This is a well Xavier can keep going to, but Tre is working with a gimpy ankle and has played 38, 39, 38, 38, 38, and 40 minutes in the six games since he has returned. The dude’s a warrior, but a couple of buckets from Kaiser Gates or another 12/10/4 from Mal would certainly be a welcome sight.
That’s it, sports fans. KenPom gives Xavier a 39% chance of winning this one, just a hair up from the 35% he gave the Muskies last night. Xavier is all but a lock for the NCAA tournament at this point, but another win over Creighton would put a little more polish on the resume and set up a chance for a potentially huge win over Nova or Seton Hall. Like Coach Mack told the team in the last huddle last night, this is fun; this is what we play for.