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Xavier can beat Creighton the same way they beat Butler

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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 06 Xavier at Butler
Get work, Kelan Martin.
Photo by Zach Bolinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I set out here to see what the loss of Martin Krampelj would mean to Creighton and thus to Xavier when the two teams faced off tomorrow. Krampelj is a 6’9”, 220-pound sophomore big man who was shooting 75% from inside the arc and was unquestionably the Bluejays’ best rebounder. Now he’s out for the year with a torn ACL.

In looking at the box score from the first time these two teams played, it doesn’t look like Krampelj had too much of an impact on the game. He went for 4 and 4 and only shot twice from the floor in 22 minutes.

The most noteworthy column in his stat line? Five personal fouls. His fellow big man Toby Hegner played 21 minutes, and he also fouled out. In that game, Kerem and Big Sean combined for 24 points on 11-17 shooting from inside the arc; Creighton’s big men couldn’t hold X’s.

Since Krampelj’s injury, Coach McDermott has moved 6’7” forward Ronnie Harrell into the starting lineup, pushing the rebounding-averse Hegner to center. That leaves the Jays frightfully thin on big men off the bench; they can call on 6’10” Fordham transfer Manny Suarez and that’s about it. For what it’s worth, Suarez played 5 minutes against Xavier, earned 2 fouls, and turned the ball over twice.

Against Butler, Xavier recognized the necessity of establishing and maintaining the post against a tough team. Kanter and O’Mara combined to go 14-16 from inside the arc score 36 points against an overmatched Butler front line. When one of them started to lose steam a bit, the other cycled in and kept the pressure on the Bulldogs.

The same strategy should be even more effective tomorrow. Creighton’s biggest healthy player is Toby Hegner, and he’s not a traditional post on either end. If Xavier gets him and his 46.8% three-point shooting in conference play into foul trouble, Creighton’s offense loses a big weapon and it’s questionable where they turn to fill the hole defensively.

Even a diminished Creighton is dangerous. Marcus Foster is one of the top offensive players in the league, Khyri Thomas has grown from defensive specialist to two-way threat, and they’re 6th in the nation in EFG% as a team. Xavier is going to need to leverage every advantage they can get, and the one they have in the paint could be decisive.