Teams: Creighton (10-2) vs. Marquette (8-5)
Day: Tuesday, Jan. 31
Time: 10:00 PM ET
Location: CenturyLink Center Omaha; Omaha, Neb.
TV: FOX Sports 1
Radio: 1620 KZON-AM (Creighton) or 540 ESPN (Marquette)
It all comes down to this. After spending dozens of years in the mid-major littered Missouri Valley Conference, the Creighton Bluejays will step up to the plate for the first time ever in the BIG EAST Conference. Although it is not nearly the powerful conference that it was as recent as one year ago, there are still plenty of nationally prominent programs in the 'new' BIG EAST. This includes their first-ever opponent in conference play, the Marquette Golden Eagles.
Doug McDermott became the 64th player in NCAA history to score at least 2,500 points in his career. Additionally, McDermott hit the 20-point threshold for the 11th time this season. The senior from Ames, Ia. has scored 20 points or more in all but one game this season, that being against the George Washington Colonials. He might have to earn it this Tuesday night, as he and the Bluejays will face the best defensive club in the BIG EAST Conference. The Marquette Golden Eagles top the conference in scoring defense (61.5 PPG) and FG% defense (.385). Both marks are 19th and 22nd in the nation respectively. The Golden Eagles are also leading in rebounding margin (+7.2).
But if Marquette is the immovable object, is Creighton the irresistible force? The Bluejays are the top offensive team in the BIG EAST Conference through their first 12 games of the season. They are scoring 82.9 PPG, and are shooting 49.2 percent from the field. The latter is tied with Georgetown for the lead in conference and is 24th in the country. Additionally, only Syracuse has a better Adjusted Offensive Efficiency, as Creighton is scoring 118.6 points per 100 possessions. It's abundantly clear that finding ways to create opportunities through Marquette's lockdown defense is going to be vital to their success.
The Bluejays have certainly done a good job of putting up points at home, however. Creighton is scoring an average of 87.6 points in their seven home games this season, which could spell doom for Marquette. Buzz Williams' bunch is scoring an average of just 71.7 points in six games away from the BMO Harris Bradley Center this season.
For the Marquette Golden Eagles, they will be walking into this New Year's Eve matchup with the Creighton Bluejays with a different mindset. At 8-5, this has been a disappointing start to the season for a team that many believed were prime contenders to win the BIG EAST Conference, if not the clubhouse leader in the preseason. It is not as if the Golden Eagles have lost to weak opponents. Their losses come at the hands of Ohio St., Arizona St., San Diego St., Wisconsin, and New Mexico. All five of those teams are in Ken Pomeroy's Top 50 and have an average RPI ranking of 36.8. But, if you want to be taken seriously, you have to be successful against the prime meat of your schedule.
Both Jamil Wilson and Davante Gardner have been No. 1 and No. 2 in terms of the Golden Eagles' most significant contributors. Wilson and Gardner both account for 26.1 percent of possessions that the Golden Eagles have had this season and 61.6 and 59.3 percent of minutes respectively. Gardner, a senior forward from Suffolk, Va. has been one of the most productive players in the BIG EAST Conference so far this season. He ranks in the Top 5 in PPG , RPG, ORPG, DRPG and FG% amongst his conference peers. Gardner is scoring 13.5 points per game and shooting 54.9 percent from the field, and his success goes even further than that. The 6'8 forward's FG% at the rim is a near unstoppable 75 percent. While Creighton's rotations suggest that they will bring in their taller players off the bench, just as Gardner does as well, this could produce somewhat of a matchup problem if Gardner can get it going.
Wilson meanwhile has been a good contributor for Buzz Williams, but his status might be in question for this upcoming game. Against Samford, Wilson suffered a sprained left knee and has recently been listed as day-to-day. Without Wilson, the Golden Eagles may suffer defensively. The 6'7 forward from Racine, Wisc. gives Marquette a robust presence on defense, which could go a long way in helping them quell the Bluejays' litany of shooters. They would also lose he and his 11.7 points per game and 4.6 rebounds per game which could go a long way for a team that has trouble scoring and offensively as it is.
With how he has been progressing as of late in his new role, Will Artino could very well be an X-Factor in this ball game. The sophomore center has played very well when coming off the bench. He is averaging 7.2 points per game since accepting this new bench role and has hit double figures in two of those five contests. He may have a tough task ahead of him against this Marquette defense, but if he gets enough looks, he could produce in a big, big way.
When scouting Marquette, finding an X-Factor offensively left one glaring option: Chris Otule. Otule, a 6'11 center from Richmond, Tx. has been terrific in his average of 18.7 minutes per night. Otule is scoring 7.2 points per game and is shooting 63.3 percent from the field. His FG% is not nearly as dominant as Davante Parker's, sitting at 62.5 percent, but there is no doubt Otule gives them enough of a dimension down low. Although Creighton's defense is allowing an unblocked FG% at the rim of 56.6 percent, Otule can add to Parker's efficiency at the rim and cause a usually small Creighton team to go big and wreak havoc down low.
Creighton has struggled against teams with great defense this season. This matchup against Marquette should prove to be no different. They may have problems with Marquette's athletic defenders, and although Creighton is one of the best offensive teams in the nation, Marquette has proven that they can afford sometimes to get by with below-average 3-point defense. With that said, this game being in Omaha could provide a world of difference and with the Golden Eagles' offensive woes away from Milwaukee, this could fall right into Creighton's lap. Would not expect much of a blow out in this contest, with Marquette's defense being too good. But, the Bluejays should pass their first test.
Marquette 66 Creighton 70