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

Xavier harvested zero wins in a recent two-game road swing. Can a return to Cintas get things back on track for the Muskies?

Xavier v Creighton
He can’t hurt you anymore.
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Xavier used to be 15-1 and riding high in the Big East, but a two-game road trip brought back two losses and a host of question for the Muskies. There are worse things in the basketball world than being 15-3 and in KenPom’s top 20, but you’d hope this is more of a blip on the radar than a turn of the tide for Xavier.

Creighton, on the other hand, is piping hot. They started the conference season with a loss at Seton Hall but have since ripped off four straight, albeit mostly against the bottom half of the league.

Today’s game represents a big opportunity for both teams: Xavier needs to get back on stride, while Creighton could really use a true marquee win in the early going of conference play.

Team fingerprint

Guess what? Creighton is excellent on offense. Creighton is always excellent on offense. This is largely due to the coaching of Greg McDermott, who currently has the 16th most efficient offensive team in the nation. The Bluejays have an EFG% of 59.9%, good for third in the nation, shoot 61.6% inside the arc, and shoot 38.5% behind the arc. The Jays also take great care of the ball, but they get next to no offensive rebounds and rarely visit the line.

Defensively, Creighton is sneaky good. Their defensive efficiency is 41st in the nation (to compare, Xavier’s is 69th [not nice]). The Jays don’t force turnovers, don’t steal the ball, and don’t block shots. What they do is absolutely seal the offensive glass, preventing teams from gathering more than 21.7% of their misses. That’s an elite number. The Jays don’t foul much at all, and can be had inside, but they keep teams shooting a lower percentage from behind the arc than all but six teams in the nation.


  • Creighton has one guy who gets less than 80% his threes off of catch-and-shoot situations. That’s Marcus Foster, who gets 79.2% of his off catch-and-shoot.
  • Only one Bluejay with enough attempts to qualify is ranked in the top 400 in free throw rate, and that’s Ronnie Harrell.


Starting matchups
Davion Mintz Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Sophomore Class Sophomore
6'3", 180 Measurements 6'4", 190
6.3/2.7/2.9 Game line 7.9/2.8/5.4
0.484/0.481/0.694 Shooting line 0.413/0.13/0.867
Seven Bluejays have more FGA than Mintz, who generally only shoots as a last resort. He's an excellent shooter with an EFG% of 76.1% in conference, but his job mostly consists of protecting and distributing the ball, and he's doing quite well in both respects.
Marcus Foster Shooting Guard J.P. Macura
Senior Class Senior
6'3", 205 Measurements 6'5", 203
19/3.2/3 Game line 12.6/4.1/3.1
0.504/0.432/0.73 Shooting line 0.468/0.349/0.857
Foster is a handful. He's an astounding scorer who finishes at almost 70% at the rim and hits over 40% from mid-range and beyond the arc. He's a strong, physical guard who can create his own shot at all three levels. The only hole in his offensive game is an inability to get to the line. He's 1-1 on free throws in conference play.
Khyri Thomas Small Forward Trevon Bluiett
Junior Class Senior
6'3", 210 Measurements 6'6", 202
14.9/4.2/3.1 Game line 18.9/5.6/2.7
0.503/0.378/0.85 Shooting line 0.447/0.41/0.825
Thomas has a more than respectable offensive output, but his bread and meat is locking down opponents. He's an imposingly long and agile perimeter defender; opponents just have bad games against him. He doesn't score with the same volume as Foster, but he's statistically a tick better at the rim and in mid-range and a step down from behind the arc. I wish he were a senior.
Toby Hegner Power Forward Kaiser Gates
Senior Class Junior
6'10", 240 Measurements 6'8", 228
9.6/2.5/1.1 Game line 8.5/5.1/1
0.545/0.425/0.808 Shooting line 0.42/0.429/0.8
Hegner is a flex four who can really step out and shoot it. He was 4-5 against Xavier from deep last year, which is weird, because it feels like he hit about a dozen. If someone is going to drop an infuriating monster game, my money's on him. He rebounds about like Quentin Goodin, but he'll block the occasional shot and is a good scorer around the rim. Also, he's shooting 50% from deep in conference play.
Martin Krampelj Center Tyrique Jones
Sophomore Class Sophomore
6'9", 220 Measurements 6'9", 237
12.8/8.5/1.4 Game line 9/5.7/0.6
0.669/0.286/0.623 Shooting line 0.67/0/0.571
The Slovenian Montrezl Harrell, as he is known in Omaha, is probably the best rebounder in the conference, with OReb%/Dreb% of 10.9%/36.4% in Big East play. If it comes off the rim, he's a threat to grab it. He also gets buckets, provided he's within touching range of the rim. His 28.6% mark from three looks good compared to the 7.7% he shoots from mid-range.


Three guys; let’s meet ‘em. Ronnie Harrell is a 6’7”, 200-pound PF who is good for 7.2/7.1/2.5 per game. He boards like a fiend on the defensive end and has just enough range to make you respect his jumper, but he’s not looking for his shot out there at all.

Ty-Shon Alexander is a freshman reserve guard averaging 6.8/2.2/2.5. He’s a superb finisher who has also hit 20 threes on the year. He can create his own shot about as well as anyone on the team, but he has been plagued with turnover problems of late. My man has played 97 Big East minutes and been called for 1 foul.

Mitch Ballock rounds out the bench for Creighton by being kind of halfway between Alexander and Harrell. He’s a 6’5” freshman who will play both forward positions and is averaging 6.9/2.8/1.9 on the year. His strengths are having a respectable hair/beard combo without looking silly, not getting in the way, and splashing catch-and-shoot threes. I’m sure I’ll be sick of him by the time he graduates.

Three questions

- Blip or pit? They say form is temporary but class is permanent. That argues that Trevon Bluiett and the Musketeers will emerge from the hole they’ve buried themselves in since conference play started. On the other hand, time is shortening on a Xavier team that hasn’t looked good in nearly a month.

- Can Xavier survive without some threes? No team in the Big East is better at defending the arc than Creighton, no team is worse in the Big East at shooting the three than Xavier. As good as Xavier’s bigs are and as mediocre as Creighton’s interior defense is, the Musketeers should throw the ball inside early and often. At some point though, they’ll have to make a three...right?

- Can the Musketeers string together stops? As explored earlier this week, Xavier’s defense hasn’t been good recently. While the Musketeers defense hasn’t been horrendous, it’s going to take more than mediocre to slow down Creighton.

Three keys

- Someone step up: Trevon doesn’t have it right now. Either he needs to find it, and he very well may, he shoots .477/.430/.909 at home, or someone else must get rolling. Xavier’s plan until Naji Marshall took off against Villanova was apparently to look at one another and pray for the best. That won’t get it done.

- Slow Creighton down on offense: The Jays spend 14.7 seconds per possession on the offensive end. That’s even notably faster than Xavier’s pace. The Musketeers are going to have score at a ridiculous pace to keep up with that. A better idea might be slowing down the Jays. The 1-3-1 seems like it would accomplish that, but the Jays have the offensive wherewithal to cut it to pieces if they get rolling.

- Win: Win ugly, win pretty, win by some subtle cheating if necessary, but win. Xavier needs to not let this slide turn into the six game skid from last year.