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Xavier @ Creighton: Preview, matchups, keys to the game

Xavier heads to Creighton looking to arrest a slide before it becomes something more.

The best in game coach in the Big East
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Xavier isn’t doing terribly well right now. While there is no shame in losing to Marquette and Providence, there is also no such thing as a good loss. The fact that these losses don’t blight the resume is cold comfort when they both very much count towards Xavier’s 4-4 record in conference play. And, when it comes to resume, another big chance is always just around the bend in the Big East.

This particular chance to both get better and pick up another Q1 win comes at Creighton. The Bluejays are a mixed bag this year. They have hammered and been hammered by Villanova. They thumped St. John’s and then turned around and dropped a game against Butler by 17. The Jays need to start grabbing good wins in order to get themselves into tournament contention.

Team fingerprint:

Creighton is still turning the ball over at an alarming rate. Their 23.5% rate is worst in the league since conference play started. On offense they are elite in the paint and pretty poor elsewhere. They’ll get on the glass and play slowly like all the best Creighton teams, but the shooting just isn’t there like it usually is. To that end, the Jays are 5-39 from deep in their last two games.

The defense, on the other hand, has been excellent. Creighton is second in defensive efficiency in Big East play. They aren’t forcing turnovers, but they are tops in the conference in three point defense (I’m sure that won’t be a problem). In everything other than turnovers, they are good. Ryan Kalkbrenner will throw shots, everyone else will make them difficult. This isn’t a team that is easy to score on right now. Even in the Butler loss they only allowed 1.04 points per possession.

Personnel

Starters

Ryan Nembhard Point Guard Paul Scruggs
Freshman Class Senior
6'0" 167 Measurements 6'5", 198
11.2/3.2/4.3 Game line 11.2/8.2/2.6
39.1/27.7/75 Shooting line 48.2/34.2/69.7
Nembhard has been in a tailspin since Xavier last saw him, scoring 14 points on 7-30 from the floor and sporting an A:TO of 11:7 during that time. He has also been fouling a ton. When he is going well, he can be a dangerous scorer ho still struggles with turnovers at times, but he has been anything but his best for the past two weeks.
Alex O'Connell Shooting Guard Nate Johnson
Senior Class Senior
6'6" 185 Measurements 6'4", 192
12.9/5.4/1.7 Game line 8.9/2.1/1.8
49.2/37.9/88 Shooting line 40.9/36.8/76.9
O'Connell needs to hit threes to be effective, but his EFG% is the highest in the Big East, meaning he usually does. He does almost all of his damage from deep off of catch and shoot situations and is extremely good at the line. Basically, it is Mitch Ballock all over again.
Arthur Kaluma Small Forward Colby Jones
Freshman Class Sophomore
6'7", 220 Measurements 6'6", 207
9.1/4.6/1.2 Game line 11.4/4.6/4.2
48.2/28.3/52.8 Shooting line 40/30.6/73.1
Kaluma trails only O'Connell in EFG% in Big East play, although he gets his shots in almost the opposite way. Kaluma is absolutely devestating at the rim, shooting 72% there, with less than half of his chances assisted. He has also shot the three well in conference play, leading to his two best scoring performances of his college career in the past three games. The drawbacks are his astronomical turnover rate and the fact that he does not do a lot on the glass.
Ryan Hawkins Power Forward Zach Freemantle
Senior Class Junior
6'7" 222 Measurements 6'9" 220
12.9/7.5/1.3 Game line 8.5/5/1.5
42.9/36.8/82.1 Shooting line 43.6/16.7/76
This is Hawkins' only year of D-I eligibility and he is making the most of it, leading Creighton in scoring. His will rounded scoring game is hampered somewhat by his fascination with 2 point jumpers which are a) worth fewer points than a three when they go in and b) go in much less frequently than his threes. He assists baskets at the same rate as Creighton's center, although he does sport the lowest turnover rate of their regulars.
Ryan Kalkbrenner Center Jack Nunge
Senior Class Junior
7'1 256 Measurements 7'0" 245
12.1/7.1/1 Game line 12.5/7.2/0.7
68.2/0/69.5 Shooting line 52.7/28.9/77.6
Kalkbrenner is not a priority in Crieghton's offense, but when he gets the ball he is very good at converting around the rim. He blocks a ton of shots, rebounds well on offense and not as well on defense, and almost never gets into foul trouble. He is going to make life miserable for the opposing bigs at both ends of the floor and posted 18 and 10 with 6 blocks against DePaul last weekend.

Reserves

Creighton gets only 25% of their minutes from the bench, which is 302nd in the nation. Trey Alexander is a freshman guard who is the first off the bench in minutes and scores well inside the arc. He struggles with turnovers, but has shown a knack for getting himself to the line. Keyshawn Feazell is a big who is much more of a threat to face up and shoot a jumper than Kalkbrenner, with his attempts split about evenly between at the rim and mid range. His not nearly the disruptive force Kalkbrenner is on defense, unless you count fouling nearly 4 times as often. Rati Andronikashvili is the backup at the point and, unlike Nembhard, almost never shoots. He does take after Nembhard in the turnover category, but did have a 6 assist performance against Marquette.

Three questions:

- Can Xavier get Nate Johnson going? Adam Kunkel is a solid three point shooter and Colby Jones is passable, but other than that, Xavier lacks shooting. Johnson is 4-19 in the last four games and cannot seem to get it going. Coach Steele said that he needs slightly cleaner looks off rotation and then to see one drop. Hopefully that’s all it takes. Nate had similar stretch last year that he broke out of with back to back 4-6 games.

- How will the new lineup work? Expect to see Nunge and Freemantle starting together again. That lineup was mildly successful for stretches in the last game on offense but left Xavier some defensive issues when Freemantle got pulled away from the basket. This game that means that Zach draws either Kaluma or Hawkins to start. Watch to see of McDermott moves one of them outside in isolation.

- Who can provide a spark? There is no question that Xavier has been starting slowly recently. The Musketeers starting lineup isn’t likely to change, so someone out there has to get things going. Adam Kunkel will bring energy off the bench, but Dwon Odom and Jerome Hunter need to find a way to contribute. Mostly, someone needs to get this thing going.

Three keys:

- Stretch the defense: Xavier can win this game if they can make layups. (What a weird thing to type.) To do that they need to space the defense out. To do that, they need to make some three pointers and use the athleticism of Nunge and Freemantle to move Kalkbrenner away from the rim. If Xavier cannot knock down shots, they are in trouble.

- Capitalize on turnovers: Creighton both plays slowly and turns the ball over a lot. X needs to turn those run out opportunities into points so they don’t have to face the Bluejays very good defense once it gets set. Score some easy points and the half court struggles won’t be as pronounced.

- Get Jerome Hunter and Adam Kunkel involved: Both players had good games against the Jays the last time out because they pose tough matchups for Creighton. Hunter is too strong for any of the various forwards that the Jays have if the have to come out and respect his shot. (He was 2-3 beyond the arc in the last meeting.) Kunkel is too quick for that same set of players if Trey Alexander doesn’t find his way on to the floor. Xavier’s bench depth should serve them in good stead here.