SCOUTING XAVIER-CREIGHTON!! NCAA KNOCK-OUT GAME!!
Andy Mac Williams,
Maybe neither Xavier nor Creighton make the NCAA Tournament Field of 68, but it's pretty certain the loser of Thursday afternoon's 2:30PM EDT BIG EAST Tournament Quarterfinal is headed to the NIT or home for the off-season. The BE's two hottest teams go head to head at MSG w/ FS1 televising. Odds are the winner will have to gear up for Friday night's first Semi-final and beat #1 Seed Villanova or the winner of Wednesday's Butler-Providence play-in game to move into NCAA at large position. Three wins in NYC mean an automatic NCAA trip. Xavier's won 6 of 7 after sitting 10th at 3-8 a month ago to finish tied for 3rd at 9-9 w/ Creighton, Seton Hall, and Georgetown. Creighton lost 4 in a row from February 6th through 17th before ripping off 5 wins to end the regular season. This one should be close. KenPom has it 74-71 Blue Jays. XU and CU split their two regular season tilts.
The Muskies lost badly 76-54 in Omaha on Feb 3rd then launched their strong finish February 13th at Cintas taking the Blue Jays out 64-61 in overtime. XU hopes to have Top scorer and 2nd Team All BIG EAST selection Naji Marshall available. He missed the St Johns game last Saturday w/ a sprained ankle. Creighton starting guard Davion Mintz collided head to head w/ DePaul's Max Strus Saturday and left the floor. He is expected to play. Marshall is a game time decision. Tyrique practiced full go Tuesday at Cintas and should be ready also after bumping a knee in the home win over St Johns.
Creighton owns the better overall record at 18-13 compared to Xavier's 17-14. XU got the #4 Seed and the right to wear the white uniforms because they beat Villanova so CU gets the #5 Seed and they're designated the road team. The Jays have a 54 NET(3rd best in the BIG EAST behind certain NCAA teams Villanova and Marquette) while the Muskies are a questionable 71 NET.
Unfortunately, Creighton would not be a Quadrant 1 caliber "W" if XU beats them Thursday. Teams are Quad 1 only 1-50 on neutral floors like MSG. Villanova Friday night would be a BIG OLD QUAD 1 upset for either XU or CU. Creighton is 2-0 vs Xavier in BE Tourney games(wins in 2014 and 2017). X overall has faired better than CU in NYC(7-5 in 5 trips to MSG-always winning at least one game and making the Semis.) Xavier lost to Villanova in the 2015 Finals(Dee Davis-Matt Stainbrook).
Creighton likes to play quickly and LET IT FLY as in plenty of three pointers from many different shooters. The Blue Jays turned the season around when they started playing match-up zone defense half court and began aggressively jump trapping enemy guards and posts. X was surprised by that new tactic in Omaha and turned the ball over an alarming fatal 19 times. X adjusted well when Creighton showed up at Cintas. The Muskies have controlled tempo-played half court-fed the two BIGS Tyrique Jones and Zach Hankins-played patient offense and cranked out stingy defense allowing just 65PPG over the last 7 games.
Travis Steele says 11 turnovers is the magic number. If X takes care of the ball and keeps give-aways at 11 or less, it's a very good thing. The Muskies have much more post season experience than a young Creighton team(28 total games for the CORE 4 including 12 BIG EAST games and 16 in the NCAAs).
CU has more depth and their Senior transfers Kaleb Joseph(Syracuse) and Connor Cashaw(Rice) have played much better lately. Xavier got terrific efforts from their 3 grad transfers on Senior Night vs St Johns. Ryan Welage scored 19. Zach Hankins played huge minutes(12 points-8 boards-3 blocks). Kyle Castlin played 32 minutes(12 points-6 rebounds).
Coach Greg McDermott now starts Frosh Marcus Zegarowski at PG(10.5PPG-4 assists) and he's been excellent after recovering from a hand injury. CU is 8-4 in games Zegarowski has started. Davian Mintz(10PPG-4 assists) is PG 1A. Soph Mitch Ballock had the game of his life Saturday vs DePaul(39 points-tying a BIG EAST record w/ 11 made 3 pointers). Ballock is a dangerous lefty shooter obviously.
Martin Krampelj may be the fastest post player in the league(14PPG-7 rebounds). He has always befuddled Xavier. Their Top scorer is wing Ty-shon Alexander(16PPG). X has the size edge inside and has to pound it at Krampelj making him work on defense. It's a classic contrast of styles game Xavier has been winning lately. In March most of the time half court w/ great guard play wins.
X needs to keep the score in the 60s or low 70s-not give Creighton easy fast break buckets and run multi-pass patient offense. A Naji Marshall contribution would help.
Two wins in NYC and Xavier is in the thick of NCAA at large consideration. Three wins nets the automatic and a 10 or better NCAA w/ potentially 2 Quad 1 wins over Villanova and Marquette or Seton Hall. I like XU's chances!!