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

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You can fit a lot of people in Creighton's arena, which makes sense, because what else are you going to do in Omaha?

Big East Basketball Tournament - Quarterfinals
Greg McDermott actually is a good coach.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

It's still possible that pretty much anything could happen in the Big East standings. The team in last still isn't doomed to a sub-.500 finish; the team leading could still end up playing on the first day in MSG. Despite how early it is, though, this is a big game in the standings.

The league is breaking down into tiers. Up top are Nova (of course) and Seton Hall, running away from the rest of the league with an aggregate 13-1 record. At the other end are DePaul, St. John's, and Georgetown, sharing 5 wins in 22 times out among them. Butler, Creighton, Marquette, and Providence comprise the middle level with four wins each. A win today would give Creighton sole possession of third, half a game up on Butler.

Xavier, you'll notice, is missing from that list. A win today puts the Muskies on 3-4 in conference, squarely in what would be a five-team middle pack separated by a single game and pulling clear of the bottom three. A loss would have X swamped with the dregs of the conference, fighting it out to play in home uniforms while the teams with aspirations of making the tournament without an auto bid have a night off.

Team fingerprint

Creighton lives off of the best offense in the league. They shoot the ball really well from inside and outside of the arc and don't turn it over much. They get to the line fairly frequently and convert well from there, too. Offensive rebounding is their only weak point on that end, but I suppose it's not a pertinent skill when the ball just usually goes in.

The defense is more of a mixed bag, particularly inside the arc, where they're last in the league. They also don't force turnovers or defend the glass particularly well. They are solid defending beyond the arc and doing very well in not fouling, but it all adds up to a slightly below average product in their 7 league games.

Personnel

Starters

Starting matchups
Marcus Zegarowski Point Guard Quentin Goodin
Sophomore Class Senior
6'2", 180 Measurements 6'4", 194
16.4/3.6/5.1 Game line 6.8/2.6/4
46.6/39.5/74.6 Shooting line 32.3/25/62.2
Zegarowski is steady. He does a little bit of everything and does it all passingly well. Almost the prototype point guard. Whether it's Q, Tandy, or Scruggs guarding him, they'll have their hands full.
Ty-Shon Alexander Shooting Guard Paul Scruggs
Junior Class Junior
6'4", 195 Measurements 6'4", 196
16.1/5.7/2 Game line 14.2/4.3/2.8
43.3/38.6/84.8 Shooting line 49.3/35.9/71.9
If Zegarowski is the firm hand on the tiller, Alexander is the necessary counterbalance. He can erupt at any time, but is also prone to games like his last, when he took only four field goals. He's nails at the line and gets himself there a lot.
Mitch Ballock Small Forward Naji Marshall
Junior Class Junior
6'5", 205 Measurements 6'7", 222
12.9/5.6/2.5 Game line 16.8/5.7/3.4
45.7/44.9/78.8 Shooting line 44.3/29.7/72.8
This guy. Ballock can really shoot it, something he relishes demonstrating against Xavier. The last game between these teams was close until he heated up.
Damien Jefferson Power Forward Jason Carter
Junior Class Junior
6'5", 200 Measurements 6'8", 227
8.8/5.3/1.4 Game line 7.3/5.3/1.7
49.6/16.7/63.9 Shooting line 42/27.8/82.9
Jefferson is a reasonably skilled big in the body of a small forward. He can get his around the rim, but it will be interesting to see if Xavier tries to isolate him on Carter or Freemantle defensively.
Christian Bishop Center Tyrique Jones
Sophomore Class Senior
6'7", 205 Measurements 6'9", 239
8.9/5.8/1 Game line 13.4/9.7/1.1
58.7/100/56.7 Shooting line 53/0/61.6
Bishop is a great offensive rebounder who throws shots on the other end and thrives on scraps. That he got free to get downhill at Xavier's defense in the last matchup epitomized how the second half went wrong.

Reserves

Denzel Mahoney is first off the bench for the Jays. He gets his 12 points on decent outside shooting, great free throw shooting, and offensive rebounding. At 6-5, 225 he’s mildly undersized, but he’ll go inside and work. Someone who will not is reserve guard Shereef Mitchell. Mitchell’s reticence to go inside is a factor of weight only 155 pounds and not some great gift for outside play, because he hasn’t made a three all year. Neither has Kelvin Jones, but it is somewhat more forgivable in a 6-11 glass cleaning big. Jones also averages over eight fouls per 40 minutes.

Three questions

-Is Xavier's defense going to show up? The game against Georgetown was a return to form for a Xavier defense that has been struggling since the start of Big East play. The keenly observant will remember that this Creighton team bombed X off their own court behind 1.17 PPP and 39% shooting from deep a couple weeks ago. Today presents an opportunity for the Muskies to show that shutting down Georgetown wasn't just a one-off.

-Is Quentin Goodin available? Q picked up a knock in warmups against Georgetown and wasn't able to play at all that game. Conspiracy theorists speculated that the knee injury was just cover for a benching, but Xavier's leader in assists hasn't practiced the last two days and is a game time decision in Omaha. For everything he hasn't been this year, X misses his defense and leadership when he isn't on the floor.

-Can Xavier dictate matchups? Creighton doesn't have anyone bigger than 6'7" averaging more than 10 minutes per game in conference play. Xavier started four dudes at least that height against Georgetown last game. Either Xavier's bigs will dominate to the point at which Creighton has to adjust, or Creighton's smaller guys will drag X all over the court. Which of those happens will likely determine the outcome of the game.

Three keys

-Jason Carter. Everyone's favorite one-man (soccer) team went for 8 and 7 on 3-9 shooting against Creighton at Cintas, which was kind of... okay. He dropped 11 and 10 on Georgetown and was merciless in exploiting mismatches when the Hoyas' three was guarding him. If he finds himself alone against Mitch Ballock today, he needs to take him down to the post and steal his lunch money until Creighton is forced to adjust or Carter goes for 40.

-Rebounding. Xavier somehow lost both ends of the glass against these guys last time they played. That can't happen today. Tyrique Jones has to come out with business on his mind to set the tone, but it has to be a hang rebounding effort. Second chances for a team that shoots like Creighton will kill Xavier.

-Keep the pace slow. The Jays aren't playing seven seconds or less basketball, but they like to get out and go. That style doesn't favor Xavier, who can defend in the half court and should be playing inside-out on offense, especially against a much smaller team. Quick shots, long rebounds, and a dang track meet are harbingers of potential problems for X. This one needs to be played in as few possessions as possible.

For some discussion on what this game means both to the bubble and in the Big East, give our Dispatches a listen.