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

The Bluejays visit the Cintas as Xavier gets another chance to play spoiler.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Creighton Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

The last time these teams met the game was over as a contest within ten minutes. Xavier came in with a plan of switching every screen and Creighton came in with a far better plan and completely eviscerated Xavier’s defense. Martin Krampelj shot 11 times, made eight of them, and scored 23. Xavier dead cat bounced to within eight in the second half, but it was done and dusted before the away team knew what happened.

Xavier has played only one game since then and it didn’t go terribly well either. Creighton has also lost two on the trot since that last meeting and cannot afford to lose another game except perhaps to Marquette. When these teams met in the middle of last February they were both tournament locks, now Xavier is certainly not going and the Jays are hanging on the very edge of the bubble. The Big East could be a two bid league this year.

Team Fingerprint

Nothing has changed since ten days ago. Creighton still shoots the ball extremely well, doesn’t get on the offensive glass, and turns the ball over more than their coach would like. They are going to shoot the three well and shoot it often. As they demonstrated the last time, they can also run a pick and roll or a high low pin down to get mismatches in the post as well.

On defense the Jays are highly susceptible to teams that shoot the three pointer well. Where in the past McDermott’s teams have played at least serviceable defense to go with their elite offense, this year’s Creighton squad is playing defense that most people would consider bad if we hadn’t spent all season watching Xavier. The only thing the Bluejays do even passingly well is keep their opponents off the foul line. Beyond that, they can be had from pretty much anywhere.

Players

Starters

Starting matchups
Davion Mintz Point Guard Paul Scruggs
Junior Class Sophomore
6'3", 185 Measurements 6'3", 200
9.9/3.3/3 Game line 13/4.9/3.3
43.5/37.3/75 Shooting line 48.9/44.2/80.4
Mintz isn't a pure point guard, but there really isn't one on the Creighton roster. He can get his shot if it comes to him and he has solid but not spectacular ball security numbers. He dribbles into most of his shots and is more of a threat from deep than he is pulling up or at the rim.
Kaleb Joseph Shooting Guard Kyle Castlin
Senior Class Senior
6'3", 185 Measurements 6'4", 193
4.2/1.4/1.3 Game line 4.7/3.5/0.8
43.5/43.2/66.7 Shooting line 39.6/26.2/73.2
The last game of his freshman year, he got 25 minutes for Syracuse in the ACC tournament loss to NC State. He started 30 games that year. By halfway through his sophomore year, he was a ghost. Now he's a senior who is starting because Marcus Zegarowski is hurt. He's a catch-and-shoot threat from three, but he rarely gets the extended run he needs to really make an impact.
Ty-Shon Alexander Small Forward Naji Marshall
Sophomore Class Sophomore
6'4", 195 Measurements 6'7", 222
16.7/3.6/2.6 Game line 13.4/6.7/3.3
42.7/39.7/76.8 Shooting line 40.2/24.2/73.5
Only seven players in the league take a higher percentage of their team's shots that Alexander does. His efficiency has fallen off since non-con play, but he's still putting up baskets in bunches. His struggles have been largely in shot selection, and his three-point percentage has fallen from over 40% in non-conference play to 34% in BE games. Xavier held him to 7 on 3-8 shooting at Creighton.
Mitch Ballock Power Forward Tyrique Jones
Sophomore Class Junior
6'5", 205 Measurements 6'9" 235
10.3/4/3.5 Game line 10.9/7.3/0.7
44.4/43.8/78.1 Shooting line 60/0/67
This guy. If you could draw up the kind of player that has gouged X for years, it would be him. Undersized stretch four, doesn't appear to be an overwhelming force, dead-eye shooter from three. He's third in the conference with a 43.9% mark from deep, and he's 6-13 against Xavier in 3 career games. Doesn't turn the ball over, decent distributor, doesn't board.
Martin Krampelj Center Zach Hankins
Junior Class Senior
6'9", 235 Measurements 6'11", 245
12.5/6.6/0.6 Game line 9.8/4.8/0.9
59.4/34.2/64.5 Shooting line 69.4/0/58.5
Xavier made this guy look like George frickin' Mikan last time out. He went for 23/6/2 with 4 steals and a block on 8-11/0-1/7-7 shooting. On a team known for three-point shooting and playing only one big, he got whatever he wanted in the paint. It was frankly embarrassing to watch. With all that said, he's a really good player who boards on both ends and protects the paint on defense. His 66% from two-point range is second in the conference. Zach Hankins is first at 68%.

Reserves

Marcus Zegarowski is a lethal freshman guard who broke his hand against Xavier and has been out ever since. He’s still practicing in a hard cast and probably won’t feature in this game. If he does, just know that he’s a really good shooter and Creighton’s best ball distributor.

Rice grad transfer Connor Cranshaw has gotten sparse playing time, but he played 40 minutes against Nova last week. He hasn’t done much to draw a scouting report from, but he’s a career 36% three-point shooter. He’ll get some looks spelling the wing players.

Big man depth comes in the form of Christian Bishop, Damien Jefferson, and Sam Froling. They’re all good defensive rebounders and no threat from three. Bishop gets the most minutes; he’s 20-27 from inside the arc in conference play and a solid offensive rebounder.

Three questions:

- Can Xavier score? Creighton’s defense isn’t good. DePaul’s isn’t either, though, and the Musketeers only managed .9 points per possession against them. Recently, Xavier’s offense has gotten progressively worse since the last time it managed 1.2 points per possession against Georgetown on January 9th. Creighton is going to score tonight, X will have to score with them to have a chance.

- What does Travis Steele have planned? All credit to Xavier’s coach, he tried to switch up his defensive look the last time these teams met. Unfortunately, trying and succeeding are different things and Steele’s attempt backfired spectacularly. Xavier can’t play straight up like they normally do or they’ll get torched behind the arc, they also can’t switch every screen or Krampelj will reprise his Olajuwan impression. That leaves the coaching staff in a bit of a bind.

- Can the Musketeers fight the fatigue? It must be tempting for opponents to just ran Xavier, knowing that they will tire late. In the last meeting between these teams, X scored nine points in the last 10 minutes. Against DePaul it was a 21-5 run in the last five minutes that did for the Muskies. Somehow, maybe by playing the bench, Coach Steele has to combat the impending collapse.

Three keys:

- Feed the ball inside: This just in, Xavier cannot shoot the three. What they can do is throw the ball to two of the most effective bigs in the conference. Teams shoot 53.6% against the Jays inside the arc. They can be had by Jones and especially Hankins if Xavier has the discipline to repost after initial offense.

- Get on the offensive glass: Creighton isn’t going to push a great deal and they don’t defensively rebound all that well. Xavier has the best offensive rebounder in the nation, a top 100 offensive rebounder in Hankins, and guards in Scruggs and Castlin who can get to the glass as well. Naji Marshall’s bizarrely low 2.8% rate is down four percent from last year. The Jays represent a chance to remedy that and pick up easy points.

- Fight: The Twitter masses with little ability to read the game love to scream about effort every time X loses. Generally this year, the effort has been there, but there’s no denying there was some quit in the team against DePaul. If that happens here again it bodes ill both for this game, and for Travis Steele as coach.