Game Preview: Creighton vs. Xavier

Eric Francis

Three teams in the BIG EAST are undefeated in conference play. After Sunday, just two will remain.

Teams: Creighton (13-2; 3-0) vs. Xavier (13-3; 3-0)

Day: Sunday, Jan. 12

Time: 3:00 PM ET

Location: CenturyLink Center Omaha; Omaha, Neb.

TV: CBS Sports Network

Radio: 1620 KZON-AM (Creighton) or 700 WLW/550 WKRC (Xavier)

Creighton Storylines

Off the heels of an 81-62 victory over the DePaul Blue Demons, Creighton stands with an unblemished 3-0 record in BIG EAST Conference play. To say that the Bluejays are adjusting well to their new conference would be an understatement. Thus far, Creighton is scoring an average of 72.3 points per game. But, perhaps more importantly they are winning big. Their average margin of victory in these three conference games is 16.67 points, including their 19-point victory against DePaul.

But, the Bluejays will be traveling along the BIG EAST road a little less heavier than expected. Grant Gibbs sustained a dislocated kneecap in the Tuesday evening matchup with DePaul. His diagnosis is going to keep him out of the lineup for the next four-to-six weeks. Gibbs' numbers may not jump out of the page at you, but there is no denying that the loss will be felt. Presumably over the next month and a half, the Bluejays will be missing a player who contributes in just about every facet.

It has been suspected that Creighton's Avery Dingman may be the next in line to jump into the starting lineup. As it stands, Dingman's contributions have not quite measured a lot on the richter scale. He has been used in a very limited role, accounting for just 12.9 percent of Creighton's possessions on the season. But, lately he has been showing some flashes. This includes a 16-point outburst against DePaul last Tuesday evening. The Bluejays will need everything that they can muster from Dingman going forward if they want to succeed. That starts with this game on Sunday afternoon.

Xavier Storylines

When scouting Xavier, one thing that sticks out is their ability to limit their opponents in offensive rebounding. The Musketeers are allowing just 27.1 percent of rebounds by their opponents to be brought down on the offensive side of the glass. This percentage puts them 31st in the country in that department. This could prove to continue, as the Bluejays are corralling just 32.0 percent of rebounds offensively, which is a mark that stands right near the Division 1 average of 31.7 percent.

Semaj Christon stands as the most significant contributor for the Musketeers this season. And for good reason. The sophomore guard is scoring 15.6 points per game and is shooting 46.6 percent on the season. Both those numbers are increases from his freshman year, when the Cincinnati native scored 15.2 points per game at a 44.4 percent clip. And those are not the only departments that Christon has improved in, either. His eFG%, TS%, Off. Rebounding%, and FT Rate have all made the leap.

But perhaps the most important leap that Christon has taken has been in the 3-point department. Last year, Christon simply did not have it from the perimeter. On 28 attempts, he only converted seven, for a less than stellar mark of 25.0 percent. This season, however, the sophomore guard has improved tenfold. He is already on pace to take more attempts this season (22) but the difference is that he has been much more efficient. His percentage has taken a quantum leap to 45.5 percent from the 3-point line.

X-Factors

Without Gibbs in the lineup, Avery Dingman could be the X Factor. But, elsewhere, Will Artino might be onto something. In the wake of not scoring a single point against The Hall, the sophomore big man followed that up with a 10-point outing against the Blue Demons. This will weigh heavily on how Xavier defends him in the post. Xavier's defense has not been spectacular underneath the basket, yielding 57.3 percent of shots to be made. Artino could give the Bluejays a much needed boost again.

Xavier's James Farr has proven to be a force from beyond the arc this season. Taking on a limited role, the sophomore forward from Evanston, Ill. has shown that he can light it up from the 3-point line and prove to be effective in doing so. He has posted double figures seven times this season, including in Xavier's last game against Marquette, as he scored 10 points in that meeting. While six of those points came inside the perimeter, Farr is shooting 51.7 percent from the 3-point line on 17 attempts.

Four Factors

Factor

Creighton

Xavier

Effective FG%

58.1

51.9

Turnover%

15.7

18.9

Off. Rebounding%

32.0

35.8

FTA/FGA

32.2

44.8

The Prediction

Despite the fact that the Bluejays have posed a perfect record inside CenturyLink Center Omaha, do not be surprised if the Musketeers give Creighton a run for their money. An upset certainly is not out of the question in this one, as Xavier has been one of the most surprising teams in the BIG EAST Conference this season on the positive side of the spectrum. Still though, the Bluejays are hard to beat at home and in the end, National Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott should prove to be the difference.

Creighton 74 Xavier 71

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