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

Xavier takes on Creighton in a game that carries massive bubble implications.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 07 Creighton at Providence
It’s a clean look
Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s hard to overstate the importance of this game. Xavier has a decent resume right now that lacks the top end punch to overcome the losses to Oakland and Delaware. Thankfully, Xavier plays in the Big East. That means the chance to burnish a resume is almost always just a game away. That also means those chances come in the form of teams that generated a lot of preseason buzz.

Creighton is 19th in the NET, 19th in the AP poll, 18th in the coaches poll, and 18th in KenPom. If that all sounds like a really good team, that’s because it is. This is a Q1 opportunity, but it’s just a shade off being as hard as they come. Since these teams last met in a road game that Xavier fumbled, the Jays have beaten DePaul and dropped two games by a total of five points over 85 minutes of basketball.

Team fingerprint

Let’s start with the defense: it’s weird. Creighton is full on the worst in the nation at forcing turnovers. They make the other team cough it up on just 10.8% of their possessions, worst by even 1.4% from the second worst team. They don’t get steals, they don’t get non-steal turnovers. In exchange, they clamp down on shooters, especially two point shooters, and are best in the nation in not sending opponents to the line. They also don’t allow offensive rebounds. Creighton will let you have the ball, they just won’t let you do anything with it.

Offensively the Bluejays are fifth in the nation in effective field goal percentage on the back of being the third best two point shooting team. They’ll also bomb away from outside, where they are also really good. They aren’t great on the glass and they don’t get to the line, but between shooting so well and not really turning the ball over, they are 21st nationally in offensive efficiency.

Players

Starters

Starting matchups
Steven Ashworth Point Guard Dayvion McKnight
Senior Class Senior
6'1", 170 Measurements 6'0", 188
10.4/2.8/3.8 Game line 11.6/3.6/5
41.2/37.9/93 Shooting line 46.1/36.4/82.5
Ashworth only made two shots in the Omaha leg of this matchup, but he spent considerable energy chasing Quincy Olivari all over the floor. The Muskies have to shake him loose to get Quincy some shots, but it should be noted that he's in a rich vein of form on the offensive end. For all Dayvion has done for Xavier as a transfer guard, Ashworth has been almost his equal for Creighton. Also, don't send this dude to the line.
Trey Alexander Shooting Guard Quincy Olivari
Junior Class Senior
6'4", 190 Measurements 6'3", 200
17.2/6/4.7 Game line 18.9/5.3/1.8
44.8/30.2/81.3 Shooting line 44.1/45/83.6
Alexander's three-point range has completely deserted him this year, but he's shooting over 50% on two-point jumpers and at the rim. He's incredibly effective off the bounce at both of those levels. He's a solid rebounder and has excellent ball security and distribution skills. Despite his increased reliance on slashing, he's not getting to the line as much this year as he did in the past. Dude's a complete workhorse, sitting second in the league in minutes percentage.
Baylor Scheierman Small Forward Desmond Claude
Senior Class Sophomore
6'7", 205 Measurements 6'6", 203
18.6/8.4/3.6 Game line 16/4.6/3.6
44.9/37.7/83.7 Shooting line 41.1/21.7/77.6
Dude's a complete workhorse, sitting first in the conference in minutes percentage. He's a dangerous three-level scorer, though he rarely settles for the mid-range. He shoots a comical 67% at the rim, the kind of number you'd expect from a good post player. He's a good rebounder and a strong lad, but he doesn't have the defensive mobility to stay in front of Des Claude for 40 minutes.
Mason Miller Power Forward Gytis Nemeiksa
Sophomore Class Senior
6'9", 190 Measurements 6'7", 220
6/4/0.5 Game line 6.3/5/1
47.7/43.2/75 Shooting line 45.3/35/65.2
Miller was 19-32 from deep in the non-con; he's 13-42 (31%) in Big East play. He can still hurt you from behind the arc, but he's definitely in a bit of a slump. He doesn't contribute a whole lot else aside from the occasional solid rebounding game. For what it's worth, the last three he hit was against Xavier. Depending on how Sean Miller wants to approach the matchup here, we may see a heavy dose of Dailyn Swain.
Ryan Kalkbrenner Center Abou Ousmane
Senior Class Senior
7'1", 270 Measurements 6'10", 240
16.5/7.6/1.3 Game line 7.5/6.7/1.1
62.5/27/69.3 Shooting line 49.3/25/47.1
I'm a big "Ryan Kalkbrenner's skill set is 'tall'" truther, but he does tall really well. He has a decent mid-range shot, but he's almost unstoppable at the rim. He can be victimized by mobile post men (like Josh Oduro) or stretch bigs (like Jack Nunge), which you'll note are two descriptions that don't apply to Abou Ousmane. He's excellent in drop coverage on high ball action and, if allowed to roam the lane, anchors a really tough defensive look for Creighton.

Reserves

Very few. They get about 20% of their minutes off the bench, one of the thinnest groups in the nation. The biggest piece is Francisco Farabello, who gets 23 minutes a game and gives back 4.2/2.7/1.7 for the investment. He has an incredibly low usage rate and no stats that pop off the page, but he has a knack for putitng himself in the right place at the right time. He’s shooting over 40% from deep, just in case you think he can be completely left to his own devices based on his minimal usage rate.

Isaac Traudt and Fredrick King are a pair of 6’10” big men that provide the bulk of the remaining bench minutes. Traudt is shooting 42% from deep on decent volume but doesn’t board much. King is shooting 65% on 46 shots at the rim, 0% on 7 shots away from it, and eats glass at both ends. Nobody else averages more that 5 minutes per game.

Three questions:

- Can Abou Ousmane avoid foul trouble? Abou played 22 minutes in the first meeting and racked up four fouls. He was instrumental in Xavier’s win against Villanova because he stayed on the floor. Kalkbrenner is a huge test for him, but Xavier needs their center to stay on the floor.

- Can X find room for shooters? Creighton really limits three point attempts and is second best in the nation in defense A/FGM rate. Quincy Olivari, especially, thrives off catch and shoot threes. Coach Miller will need to scheme he and Trey Green some room to shoot. A secondary question here is how much space the Jays will give Des Claude. They may be willing to trade the chance he gets hot in order to keep him off that right hand.

- Who has the legs? Xavier faded in the first meeting after leading three quarters of the way through the game. Creighton gets basically nothing from their bench and just played a high intensity overtime game against Providence. This could be a chance for X to stretch the legs.

Three keys

- Keep Ashworth and Scheierman in check. You aren’t going to completely stop either of them, but the first game changed when Scheierman started finding way too much space. He and Ashworth are both capable of getting scorching hot in a matter of seconds. Ashworth is 15-24 from behind the arc in his last three games and very nearly beat Providence.

- Run. Creighton is a lot of things, but they aren’t fast. Pushing the pace doesn’t just play to Xavier’s strengths, it directly impacts one of Creighton’s weaknesses. Kalkbrenner isn’t outrunning anyone in the full court. Make him try all game long.

-Send Des at Kalkbrenner. Last time these two teams played, Des shot 0-5 from behind the arc. Last time Creighton played, Josh Oduro sonned the erstwhile conference defensive POY to the tune of 32/12/3. Creighton’s defense hinges on running opponents off the arc and straight at their big man, and the teams that beat them find a way to exploit that. Abou Ousmane, for all he is, is not a guy you can throw the ball to on the post against Kalkbrenner or trust to move him from the paint with shooting range. There’s not a perimeter defender on the Bluejays that can hold Des. Climbing Kalkbrenner is a tall order, but it might be what Xavier needs from Des to land a crucial Q1 win.