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

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Xavier can scarcely afford to drop another Big East game at home.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Creighton
Just this. All day.
Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

It is, in the alleged words of Yogi Berra, “getting late early” for the Xavier Musketeers. Xavier comes into a weekend tilt against Creighton at 1-2 in the Big East and having most recently been blown out at home by Seton Hall. The Musketeers were relying on a big performance on the conference slate to burnish their NCAA resume, but have dropped their first two shots at that. Xavier needs to start compiling wins, and do it fast.

The first of the Musketeers chances to grab a good win comes against Creighton. The Bluejays are something of a mirror to Xavier. They are also 1-2 in conference, they have also dropped a home game that would have been an excellent win, and they are also good on one side of the ball, mediocre at best on the other. Xavier is 41st in the KenPom, Creighton is 42nd. These are two desperate teams meeting up, and one is going to land at 1-3 and well down the conference table.

Team fingerprint

Offense is the side of the ball where the Jays excel. Creighton is the polar opposite of Xavier in that they care for the ball extremely well and knock down shots. The Bluejays don’t shoot as well as some of the teams Greg McDermott has had, but 36% from deep as a team and a 53.6% EFG speak to a team that still knocks down its share of shots. The Jays still eschew the offensive glass in favor of getting back on defense and hunting shots on the perimeter.

Defensively, Creighton struggles. This is in large part due to their inability to keep opponents off the offensive glass (26.4% OR) or turn them over (17.6%). The Jays do limit good three point looks, but can get gashed inside. They don’t block shots well and they are susceptible to quick ball movement. It is worth noting that in the last two conference games the Bluejays have held their opponents to just one point per possession. They have also lost both.

Players

Starters

Starting matchups
Marcus Zegarowski Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Sophomore Class Senior
6'2", 180 Measurements 6'4", 194
17.4/4.1/4.8 Game line 7.9/2.7/3.9
50/37.8/72 Shooting line 37.3/30.2/63.6
The straw that sitrs the drink for Creighton. Zegarowski is highest of the starters in usage, leads the team in assist rate, and is an accomplished shooter. The Bluejays are yet to win a game in which Zegarowski doesn't score double figures.
Ty-Shon Alexander Shooting Guard Paul Scruggs
Junior Class Junior
6'4", 195 Measurements 6'4", 196
15.9/6/1.9 Game line 14.5/4.1/2.5
43.2/39.8/85.1 Shooting line 50.6/33.8/77.8
Alexander is an excellent shooter from the line and leads the Jays as a defensive rebounder. He cares for the ball very well for a high usage guard and almost never comes out of the game.
Mitch Ballock Small Forward Naji Marshall
Junior Class Junior
6'5", 205 Measurements 6'7", 222
12.3/5.4/2.5 Game line 16.6/5.8/3.3
46.5/44.7/76.2 Shooting line 44.5/27.8/70.5
A shooter. The nationwide dip in offensive efficiency hasn't impacted Ballock at all, he's actually shooting the ball better than he did last year. He's generally a spot up shooter, but he can put the ball on the floor and score on occasion.
Damien Jefferson Power Forward Jason Carter
Junior Class Junior
6'5", 200 Measurements 6'8", 227
8.7/5.1/1.6 Game line 6.7/5.3/1.8
46.6/17.9/58.6 Shooting line 39.5/27.3/86.7
Jefferson is the rare Jay who isn't terribly effective on offense. He's not a great rebounder either, but for the way McDermott plays, he's the best fit. Expect Xavier to walk away from him on the ar.
Christian Bishop Center Tyrique Jones
Sophomore Class Senior
6'7", 205 Measurements 6'9", 239
8.9/5.9/0.7 Game line 13.2/10.1/1.2
57.1/100/58.8 Shooting line 52.4/0/60
From a matchup against a 7-2, to a team playing 6-7 Christian Bishop in the post. Bishop is a good rebounder for his size, and he's a pretty good interior scorer in his own right. Still, Tyrique must surely think he has an edge here.

Reserves

Basically absent. SEMo State transfer Denzel Mahoney came eligible at the semester break and has averaged 10 and 4 as an extremely high-usage wing. He was an excellent shooter at Southeast Missouri, but he has struggled to start out at Creighton, connecting on fewer than a quarter of his threes.

Senior big Kelvin Jones has played 18 minutes in conference play and freshman guard Shereef Mitchell has played 21. Now that I've dismissed them both, one will no doubt go for like 16 points.

Three questions:

- Does Xavier have a bench? Xavier’s bench played 37 minutes and compiled a 3/5/0 line against Seton Hall. That’s very close to horrible. The Musketeers may struggle to win games if they are seven or eight deep, they won’t sniff a win going five deep. Someone, anyone, from the bench has to be a consistent contributor. Bryce Moore’s knee has limited him, Zach Freemantle hasn’t had a solid game since before Christmas, Dontarius James cometed across the sky and then disappeared again, and KyKy Tandy is currently as predictable as mercury. One of those four has got to become a reliable threat.

- Can Xavier score? The offense wasn’t bad against Seton Hall, but it went in fits and starts. While Creighton does a good job taking away threes, Xavier doesn’t make those anyway. The Musketeers offense doesn’t have to be electric, just consistent.

- Can Xavier put together 40 minutes? Right now Xavier's limitations are less about what they can do and more about what they can do consistently. It's arguable that they haven't put together a complete game yet, coming closest in the Shootout and against TCU. Hiccups that can be absorbed against Missouri State have proven fatal as the season wears on. Until Xavier stops falling out of games for long stretches, this is going to be a concern.

Three keys

- Recover on defense. Creighton loves to get out and go off of both makes and misses, and they can reel off points in bunches if you don't make them attack five guys on defense. It's hard to build momentum if a team is answering your twos with quick threes, and it's easy to get buried if they're getting stops and scores in the blink of an eye. Xavier is already prone to the big run, and if they're as diligent in transition defense today as they were on baseline out of bounds against Seton Hall, they'll get killed.

- Dominate the possession battle. Creighton doesn't offensive rebound and doesn't force turnovers, and they're only a bit above average on the defensive glass. While their ball security is top notch, they still leave the door open for opponents to harvest extra possessions. Xavier isn't efficient enough on offense to be able to afford not taking advantage of that.

- Keep it out of crunch time. Xavier has looked like they're never out of games thanks to an ability to press teams into turnovers, but Creighton is top notch in terms of ball security. They also execute at a high level from the line. If Xavier finds themselves chasing back into a game, Creighton is well-equipped to keep them at arm's length.

This is a massive Big East matchup and you can hear about how we’ve got here, and how Xavier can get back into the hunt, on today’s pod.