Game Preview: No. 20 Creighton vs. Providence

Dave Weaver-USA TODAY Sports

Creighton is gearing up for a highly anticipated matchup with the Villanova Wildcats on Tuesday. But first, they have to get through the Providence Friars on Saturday night.

Teams: Creighton (15-2; 5-0) vs. Providence (12-5; 2-2)

Day: Saturday, Jan. 18

Time: 8:00 PM ET

Location: Dunkin Donuts Center; Providence, R.I.

TV: FOX Sports 1

Radio: 1620 KZON-AM (Creighton) or WEEI 103.7 FM (Providence)

Creighton Storylines

It might not be "Saturday Night's Main Event," but this upcoming contest is certainly an important game for the Creighton Bluejays. With the highly touted matchup between the two beasts of the east looming, it would behoove the Bluejays to not get caught napping inside the Dunkin Donuts Center on Saturday night. The Providence Friars may be on an up-and-down stretch as they saunter into this encounter, but make no mistake: they could still present problems.

For this reason, the Bluejays simply need to do what best suits them, and that consists of sticking to what their strength is: shooting with superior efficiency.

Not only are the Bluejays first in the BIG EAST in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, they are at the top of the ranks in America. Creighton is scoring 122.7 points per 100 possessions, which is quite the distinction from Providence's 106.7 points per 100 possessions. The efficiency does not stop there either, as Creighton is first in the nation in 3-point percentage (43.4) and Effective FG% (58.8). It certainly helps when you have the best player in America at your disposal, but Doug McDermott is not the only weapon Creighton has at its disposal. Even though he might be its most lethal.

Including McDermott, Creighton has five players who have a 3-point percentage of 42.9 percent or better. Devin Brooks, Austin Chatman, Jahenns Manigat, and Ethan Wragge join Doug in this category, and the latter is perhaps the best of all. This season, 95.5 percent of Ethan Wragge's attempts have been 3-pointers, and the senior has converted on exactly 50.0 percent of those 126 attempts.

Wragge is coming off of a mere six-point performance, but prior to that, he scored 12 and 15 against DePaul and Xavier respectively. Expecting him to get it going is certainly far from out of the question.

Providence Storylines

The Friars have been heavily reliant on the play of Bryce Cotton this season. Cotton, a senior guard from Tucson, Ariz. is coming off of an impressive performance against the dwindling St. John's Red Storm. The 6'1" guard nearly obtained a triple-double with 21-point, eight-assist, and nine-rebound performance in Providence's 84-83 double overtime victory at Carnesecca Arena in Queens, N.Y. Cotton capped off the night with a go-ahead basket with 9.8 seconds remaining, and followed that up by making a terrific defensive play on St. John's Max Hooper, sealing the victory for the Friars.

But as the final score would indicate, it has not been an economically sound season for Cotton or Providence College this season.

Cotton's Effective FG% of 46.6 is just a portion of the Friars' meager 45.9 percent mark in the category. That number places the Friars near the basement of the teams in Division 1, as Providence ranks 309th in the category based on that mark. Their offense is not nearly as dynamic as Creighton's, as Ed Cooley's squad is scoring 72.5 points per game and 106.7 points per 100 possessions.

But the Friars have been able to get by through these inefficiencies, and Kadeem Batts certainly has helped matters. After a 21-point performance against the Georgetown Hoyas, Batts followed that up with a more-than-suitable encore performance. Against the Johnnies, the senior forward scored 17 points and made it extremely difficult for the Red Storm to keep him quiet. Although he was relentlessly attacked when going up for shots, Batts made his opponent pay, going 11-12 from the free throw line. This has been a common trend for Providence, whose 80.1 FT% is the nation's best.

X-Factors

Since the conference season began, is Will Artino becoming one of Creighton's most prominent X-Factors? It is becoming somewhat tough to argue against. He might be averaging just 5.4 points per game in this five game stretch, but that also comes with a 10-point performance against the DePaul Blue Demons and a 9-point performance on Tuesday night against the Butler Bulldogs. Artino's presence inside as of late has been exactly what the Bluejays have needed from the sophomore big man, and his improvement can only help them going forward.

Look for LaDontae Henton to try to get his name in the mix in this game. Henton, a 6'6" junior from Lansing, Mich. has been in double figures in each of his last seven games, including a 17-point outburst in the double overtime win against the Red Storm. Henton has been a threat inside the 3-point line and especially at the free throw line. His 83.3 percent mark from the stripe ranks third on the team among players with 65 or more attempts.

Four Factors

Team

Effective FG%

Turnover%

Off. Rebounding%

FTA/FGA

Creighton

58.8

15.4

31.2

32.8

Providence

45.9

17.7

36.9

39.7

The Prediction

For Creighton, this game represents the proverbial bridge to the BIG EAST's most anticipated encounter of the season. But the Bluejays should not take this matchup lightly, because that bridge could fall right under them if they are not careful. Providence has certainly been tested this season, with games against the likes of Kentucky, Massachusetts, and Villanova under their belts already, and with consecutive victories over Georgetown and St. John's in their rearview, the Friars would love to play spoilers against the Bluejays. But, as the story has been the entire season, Creighton's capable of being just too hot to handle on any given night.

Creighton 75 Providence 69

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