This is a big one. I know that because all of them that are left are big ones. In lesser conferences teams scramble to make sure they grab the big wins they need and avoid trap losses. In the Big East, Xavier faces KenPom tier A or B teams the rest of the way. (If the RPI is your thing, DePaul and Georgetown don’t fare so well). Regardless of how you look at it, a team very much in the mix for a #1 seed doesn’t play meaningless games.
And Creighton wouldn’t be meaningless even if Xavier were aiming to settle for a lower seed. The trip to Omaha is one of the most difficult in the conference, and the way the Jays are playing doesn’t make it easier. Since Martin Krampelj went down, Creighton is 3-2. Those losses, however, came at Providence and at Villanova. In amongst the three wins is one at St. John’s that is suddenly looking much better.
Creighton doesn’t get to the line or the glass much on offense, because they are determined to shoot you to death. The Bluejays are sixth in the nation in effective field goal percentage and third in the nation in two point field goal percentage. Throw in 38.1% from behind the arc and 76.8% at the line and you have a team that can fill it up in a hurry. The Jays make themselves all the more dangerous by rarely turning the ball over.
Defensively, the Jays focus on one shot possessions and not sending teams to the line. They aren’t great on stopping teams from shooting well against them, they allow a 49.1% EFG%, but they are so effective at what they do well that their defense is 64th in the nation. Also, they play Bemidji St three days after they play X. I have no idea why.
- Forward Martin Krampelj is out for the year, having suffered an ACL tear against Seton Hall. Creighton dearly misses his 11.9/8.1/1.2 on .671/.261/.623 shooting.
- Concomitant to Krampelj’s loss is Creighton’s burning a redshirt on forward Jacob Epperson. He has played 35 minutes in three games and is averaging 3 points and 3 boards.
- The Bluejays don’t dribble into threes; 88% of their threes as a team are catch-and-shoot, and only Marcus Foster has assists on fewer than 75% of his makes from deep.
- The older I get, the less the opening ceremonies of the Olympics interest me; I don’t need human interest pieces and symbolism, I just want to see people ski jump and stuff.
|Davion Mintz||Point Guard||Quentin Goodin|
|6'3", 180||Measurements||6'4", 190|
|Mintz would be a pass-first point guard, but he doesn't really even handle the ball that much. He leads the team in assist rate and doesn't get into ball security trouble. He's a fairly anonymous offensive player; he's averaging 13 PPG against Georgetown and 4.6 PPG against every other Big East team.|
|Marcus Foster||Shooting Guard||J.P. Macura|
|6'3", 205||Measurements||6'5", 203|
|This dude is spending a ton of time with the ball in his hands down the stretch, and he's making the most of it. He has only been held under 20 in two games in the new year - one of which was at Xavier. He's posting a 60.5% EFG% in Big East play, 5th in the conference; he basically scores it like a guy who only shoots layups, but he's splashing from all over the court. Creighton looks to him to key the offense.|
|Khyri Thomas||Small Forward||Trevon Bluiett|
|6'3", 210||Measurements||6'6", 202|
|Thomas was a top-notch defender from the time he stepped on campus, but he's continuing to grow into an offensive threat as well. He's shooting over 60% from inside the arc in conference play to go with his perpetual threat from beyond the arc. He's all catch and shoot from beyond the arc, but he'll dribble into a nasty pull-up game or get all the way to the rim - where he's a sensational finisher - off the bounce.|
|Ronnie Harrell Jr.||Power Forward||Naji Marshall|
|6'7", 200||Measurements||6'7", 218|
|Recently deputized as a starter after coming off the bench all year, Harrell is struggling to find his feet as a member of the starting five. He dropped 18/5/4 in his last game off the bench but is averaging just 5.2 PPG in 5 games as a starter. He doesn't shoot often, but he's efficient when he does. He's the best rebounder remaining on the Creighton roster.|
|Toby Hegner||Center||Kerem Kanter|
|6'10", 240||Measurements||6'10", 240|
|Like that lady humps song by the Black-Eyed Peas, Toby Hegner gets the people going. Particularly, he does so by catching the ball somewhere beyond the arc and then shooting it. He has shot exactly as many threes as twos this year, which more or less sums up his role in the offense. He's not a great rebounder on either end and he can be prone to foul trouble.|
Xavier fans will remember freshman forward Mitch Ballock, who matched a career high with 4 threes at Cintas. He’s generally that basic dude, spending a lot of time outside trying to get shots up on his way to 6.5/2.5/1.7 a game. He shoots twice as often from deep as he does from inside the arc and doesn’t really board.
Kaleb Joseph has been in and out of the lineup due to injury problems. He’s a junior guard who has been an effective scorer when healthy, but he can’t seem to stay game fit. He dropped a dozen on Nova in 9 minutes but didn’t play the next game against DePaul.
Ty-Shon Alexander is good for 5.5/2/2 per game and is fairly efficient as a scorer and distributor. You’ll also probably see Manny Suarez and Jacob Epperson, a couple of seldom-used big men pressed into service by Krampelj’s injury.
- Has Trevon turned a corner on the road? Trevon is generally far better at home, but Butler brought out the best in him and he went 7-15 from the floor for 26/5/3. For Xavier to advance this year, they need their senior Wooden Award candidate to bring his best, regardless of the venue.
- Whose offense carries the day? As good as Creighton’s offense is, and it’s very good, Xavier’s is even better. Down on the other end, both defenses are mediocre for top tier teams, but Creighton’s is better. It would be possible to recast this question as who can get stops, but this game will really come down to which offense operates at its peak for 40 minutes.
- What on earth is wrong with JP Macura? Since his one man obliteration of Seton Hall, JP is averaging 7.7/4/2.3 on 31.8% from the floor and 10% from behind the arc. In that stretch JP has nearly as many turnovers (14) as he does rebounds (16). Maybe he’s injured, maybe he misses his girlfriend, or maybe he’s just tired, but something isn’t right with JP.
- Get second chances: Creighton is excellent at keeping teams off the glass and they don’t turn the ball over enough to make a lot of fast break points possible. Xavier isn’t going to gamble on defense, especially not a team that will kill them from deep if rotations are off, so offensive rebounding is the best option to steal points.
- Get to the line: Xavier has scored 22% of their points on the season from the free throw line and gets there on 41.6% of their field goal attempts. Much as with rebounding though, Creighton is elite at not fouling. There will be openings from behind the arc, the Jays aren’t great at stifling them, but Xavier can’t turn into just a jumpshooting team.
- Dominate inside: Xavier’s bigs were excellent against Butler. There’s no reason they shouldn’t be again against a Creighton team deprived of their only post man who truly played like one. Toby Hegner, Manny Suarez, and Jacob Epperson aren’t a front line that should be stopping Kanter, O’Mara, and, hopefully, Tyrique Jones.