Andy Mack: Scouting Creighton
By Andy Mac Williams, 2/27/2021

Xavier TEAM 99 Update-Friday Feb. 26-Scouting Creighton( 17-5 overall, 13-4 BIG EAST-2nd behind 10-2 Villanova, #13 AP Top 25, #11 Coaches' Poll, #20 NET) vs Xavier(12-5 overall, 5-5 BE, 5th, #58 NET). "LET IT FLY" Blue Jays are rolling w/ 4 straight wins-giving up just 60PPG in that span and winning by 15PPG. CU has won 7 of last 8. They are 7-1 BE road games(lone loss at Butler Jan. 16 70-66 in OT). 7-2 overall on ROAD. The other loss 77-73 at Kansas (Phoog Allen Fieldhouse-Bill Self-perpetual B12 Champ except for this season). Muskies are reeling (lost 3 of last 4-allowing 85PPG in the losses recently-starting guard Nate Johnson question mark?? for Creighton w/ leg injury-DNP Wed. at PC-NET sliding precariously out onto the NCAA bubble at #58). XU gave CU a strong run in Omaha Dec 23rd losing 66-61(Adam Kunkel almost tied it late to force OT). Since then Xavier is 4-5 w/ multiple COVID pauses.

Travis Steele on Creighton: "I watched their entire DePaul game(77-53 CU win in Omaha Wed.). They are playing their best basketball. Zegarowki is healthy now and moving well-playing like BE Player of Year candidate. They are a prolific 3 point shooting team and they play really fast. We defended them pretty well in Game#1-contesting their 3s and getting back against their transition. We sorta have to re-invent ourselves now late in this odd season. Nate is a big part and we don't know his status. I used to think we could run w/ Creighton. Now we need to slow it some and reverse the ball and not take quick shots. We have to guard 3 point line and get back against their transition. They are going to make some circus shots, but we need to limit them to tough "2s" and contested "3s".

Steele on Muskies' mindset: "It's that time of the year when guys start thinking What's Next? We are preaching-STAY IN THE PRESENT! We have a lot to play for(NCAA BID and BET 1st Round Bye). We feel down right now but we will feel absolutely great again if we win Saturday. We are not that far off, but we have to stay motivated and push through this. We need more from everybody. Some players are "opting out" around the country. That's not right. This is the best time of the year."

Xavier-Creighton 2021 reminds me of CU at XU 2014 1st year New BIG EAST. Creighton sailed into Cintas on March 1 rated #9 AP w/ POY Doug McDermott, Ethan Wragge etc. X needed a marquee win and got it 75-69 salvaging an NCAA berth. History can repeat itself.

I agree w/ Travis that XU is not that far off from playing well plus it's Senior Night Saturday vs Creighton(5 PM-BIG FOX). Four Muskie seniors will be recognized(No SRO crowd-no families on the floor courtesy of COVID). Grad transfers Nate Johnson and Bryan Griffin have fit well into the rotation( Johnson as a starter and top 3 point sniper- Griffin as 1st BIG off the bench). Jason Carter is a two year starter after transferring from Ohio U. Paul Scruggs is a 4 year Muskie and 3 year starter-headed for a PRO career eventually. Steele recruited Scruggs as an assistant.

"I first saw Paul as an 8th grader. He was a Center then. He was the same size as now. I'm proud of him. He is a warrior and leader."

My thoughts on Scruggs. He injured a knee at Prolific Prep and arrived at XU in 2017 still rehabbing. Paul struggled early especially in a T-Giving Tourney loss to Arizona State. He slowly earned more time on a stacked NCAA #2 Seed team. I sat near his mom and sister in regular season finale at DePaul and Scruggs just took off in a game had to win to win BE title outright. Some of the veterans were laboring. At BET in NYC Paul was best Muskie on the floor in OT Semi-final loss to Providence. Scruggs has started every game when healthy Sophomore, Junior and now Senior year.

His stats have progressed especially this season w/ his great assist numbers and assist to turnover ratio off the charts. When Paul was hurt late last year, XU went 0-3 to finish the season before COVID shut down. X beats Butler at Cintas w/ Scruggs available and they never play that nasty BET play-in game vs DePaul-Marquette has to. Scruggs is 3-1 vs UC in the Crosstown Shootout(MVP last December in Clifton).

I'm dreaming of a 5th Shootout for Paul next season at Cintas (or does Coach Brannen want to play that at Armory Fieldhouse??). Scruggs would be 1st XU player to beat Bearcats 4 times and he'd threaten 2,000 career points. That's just Andy Mac ruminating but all 4 Seniors could technically return w/ the bonus year of eligibility NCAA has granted as I understand it?? Here's my vote(if I had one) for Paul Scruggs-1st team BIG EAST and Honorable Mention All-American. Hard worker-leads NCAA in floor burns(unofficial Stat)-always getting better.

Back to Creighton-Xavier. Jays are a handful Their team defense is much improved(#40 KenPom in defensive efficiency). CU is very experienced-starting 3 Seniors and 2 Juniors now w/ a deep 4 man bench-adding 7 foot Frosh Ryan Kalkbrenner, Memphis transfer Antwan Jones, Duke transfer Alex O'Connell and Sophomore PG Shereef Mitchell. Blue Jays still "Let it Fly"(11 made "3s"/ game at 37% but they defend now w/ vigor-get back well on transition "D" and don't get toasted on the glass. 5 starters are IRON MEN. Marcus Zegarowski is a primo PG now healthy(Pre-season BE POY). X has to slow him(Maybe Dwon Odom can be a factor? He defended PC PG David Duke well> Odom did not play vs Creighton in Omaha-COVID).

Shooting guard is lefty Senior Mitch Ballock(unlimited range-seldom forces shots-capable of 30+ anytime if needed). Most improved is versatile SF Damion Jefferson(12PPG-6 boards-now shoots "3s"-great mid-range game-defends-ball hawks-only flaw is FT%). PF is Denzell Mahoney-streak scorer-nasty streak also. Top 4 all 32 minutes+/game. % man is 6-7 Junior Christian Bishop-rebounds-runs the floor-beat PC w/ dunk at buzzer-very springy and crafty.

Creighton is stalking Villanova for BIG EAST Title and possibly NCAA 1 or 2 Seed. CU plays at Villanova Wednesday. X can beat CU w/ a focused full 40 minute effort(something we have not seen since Oklahoma in December). Blue Jays have games where they brick "3s" and where they get exposed by patient grind it offense and tough rebounding effort. It would be nice if Nate Johnson is available?

Hopefully, Travis can use his bench more than at PC (just 6 guys played significant minutes). It's almost a "must" to play the bench because Creighton will play quickly. Steele can't trust bench guys unless they defend better (not be minus players). Pure scorers-one trick ponies who only shoot are a liability in a BIG BOY league like BIG EAST.

HUGE NET Quad 1 chance for Xavier. Mix in Senior Night-some defensive urgency and make some shots and I see an upset.

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