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The Creighton Bluejays Or: How The Jays Need To Learn To Emphasize Playing Defense

Like a classic rom-com, the Bluejays began the season shying away from putting the defensive pressure on opponents, but are they turning a corner?

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Sports cliches are a whole lot of fun. Remember that scene in Bull Durham where the guy from Waterworld is telling the guy from Shawshank Redemption that he needs to remember cliches for interviews? Great piece of cinema, right? Well, there's this old sports cliche that you and I both know quite well. It goes a little something like, "Defense wins championships." Now, there have been studies that show that this may not necessarily be true and the Golden State Warriors are the greatest hoopball team in the land thanks to a highly prolific offense, but this article tends to be a lot about defense and numbers.

Defense and the Creighton Bluejays basketball squadron have never really been synonymous. The name of the game for the Jays on the hilltop has been to score as many points as possible to beat their opponents into submission. This has worked both to their success and to their failure. Here's a fun graph with lines in it to give you a visual idea of what exactly we're dealing with here.

graphsRfun

Alright three things you need to know about this graph:

1. Excel 16 is pretty cool. Look at the shade those bars are throwing on the background behind them! Totally rad, Microsoft.

2. Creighton has the ability to score lots of points. Look at the peaks and valleys of that trendline! I'd much rather be on the Creighton trendline rollercoaster than their opponent's.

3. In the four three games after the Villanova game, it appears as if the Jays seemed to lock down on the defensive side. Now you're asking yourself, "Self, where is this guy going with this? Is he going to tell me that Creighton's defense is turning a corner?" To answer your deep and intellectual question: well, sorta, but let's look at some other stuff first.

In the Villanova game, point guard Ryan Arcidiacono was coming off a brilliant 34 point performance where he went 10-17 from the field and 7-14 from 3 against a top-10 opponent in Xavier. This is how Villanova kicked off the BIG EAST conference slate and they rolled into Omaha red hot.

Creighton, in the game previous to playing the Wildcats, took care of St. John's with Geoffrey Groselle leading the way with 22 points on 9-10 shooting. The defense was anchored by Maurice Watson Jr. and Isaiah Zierden with 3 steals a piece, yet the Jays still allowed the Red Storm offense to score 70 points in the affair. The second half didn't compliment the Bluejay defense too well, as they let St. John's shoot 53.3% from the field.

The let-up on defense in the 2nd half against St. John's gave us a slice of what transpired in the Creighton-Villanova game. It became clear that the modus operandi of the Bluejays was to stop Ryan Arcidiacono, which they did to a certain degree. They held Archie to 3-7 from the field, 1-5 from 3, and moved on the senior guard when he touched the ball on the perimeter. Unfortunately, it appeared that the two day turnaround wasn't enough time to properly scout Josh Hart, who went off for 24 points on 10-14 shooting. Daniel Ochefu was able to shutdown Geoffrey Groselle (1-1 FG) and scored 19 points on 9-10 from the field.

Villanova proceeded to shoot an impeccable 68% from the field (18-26 / 69.2% in the first half, 16-24 / 66.7% in the second) and the Jays were left watching the basketball sink softly through the hoop over and over and over again. Perhaps this was a statistical anomaly, a nearly perfect night of hoops, but it appeared to be a common trend for the Bluejays up until that point.

fun graphs to nova

It's hard telling, what with all the beautiful colors and sublime graph work that only comes with Microsoft Office's Excel 16, but it looks as though Creighton's defense seems to ebb and flow quite a bit. This could just be a case of Creighton catching a team on a hot streak every three games, which is entirely possible, or they just lose a bit of their defensive edge every now and then. At least they're consistent, right?

Creighton currently ranks 221st in the country in scoring defense, allowing their opponents to score 73.4 PPG. Even worse, the Jays are ranked 260th in the country in FG% defense, allowing their opponents to shoot 44.8% from the field. The upside, however, is that Creighton ranks 26th in FG%, shooting a pretty stout 48.4% from the field & sit at 18th in the country in scoring, averaging 83.5 PPG. My initial narrative that the Jays just want to beat opposing teams with their top-tier offense seems to be accurate. McDermott has noted that the Bluejays defend well in practice, only for the emphasis to get lost in the shuffle come gametime. I suppose you can chalk it up to human nature, sorta like when your 1st grade teacher spent an entire week on the letter 'A', which you perfected, only to switch things up and try to teach you the letter 'B'. Sure, your B's looked like A's for half a week, but eventually you got the B down only to learn that there's 24 other letters left. Bad comparison... let's say you're a writer who likes writing fun short stories that encapsulate a sporting event and then tries to write an article with a heavy emphasis on statistics, facts and opinions. It won't go well at first, sure, but eventually you get the hang of it and finally get around to utilizing an Excel spreadsheet!

Where were we? Oh right, statistics and facts or whatever. You saw the chart above, where it clearly showed you that Creighton's defense would play really well for about three games and then just get outplayed. Now, my initial thought going into this article was to attempt to prove to you that, after the Villanova game, the defense started playing a lot better. This revelation came while I watched the Jays pick apart the passing lanes against Georgetown and keep Providence at bay - that this defense had new life, a new shiny veneer. Well...

more fun with graphs

Oh.

Oh, OK. I mean, I was sort of on the money. If this remains consistent, the Bluejays should have spent the week working on a gameplan to stop the Butler Bulldogs from scoring. If they haven't, they face a team that shoots .2 PPG less than they do (Butler is at 83.3 PPG) and scores .3% better than they do (48.7%). If the national media hasn't quite caught wind of what could potentially be a ~200 total point game, then they aren't doing their job and I'm just some lucky guy who gets to watch two phenomenal offensive squads battle it out all by my lonesome.

I feel like this article isn't going well. Is it? Are you being informed by the fancy graphs with numbers and colors? Are you being discouraged? I hope you aren't, because these are just numbers on a computer screen (unless you printed this off, I hope you didn't).

I love the dip the graph takes at the Providence game. Here's a graph that represents why I love that graph:

more graphs!!

It's beautiful, isn't it? That's what BIG EAST basketball is all about.

The first ~5 minutes of the DePaul game showed us Creighton at their worst as they slipped into a 11-0 deficit and seemingly could not score or defend to save their basketball lives. The following ~35 minutes of basketball showed us why you must never count the Jays out of a game as they roared back and finished off the Blue Demons by 11 points. Anyone on this team can get hot, and it happened to be Isaiah Zierden's day to show the small gathering of folks in Rosemont why he's one of the most elite shooters in the game.

I found it odd, initially, to see Creighton performing so poorly on the defensive end as far as statistics go. I mean, I'm not completely blind to the fact that the offense plays a much bigger role, I just didn't know it was this steep. Perhaps it was my own willful ignorance to avoid looking deeper into the statistics to see how they matched up with the rest of the field. Well, today I took the plunge down the proverbial rabbit hole and left a lot more confused than when I started. In fact, they're in the middle of the pack in the BIG EAST in steals, blocks and rebounds. They rank at the top, or near the top, in every offensive category as well. Just for kicks, lets look at another graph to see where the Jays stack up in scoring defense with the rest of the BIG EAST:

so many graphs

holy smokes more graphs

Poor St. John's. Poor DePaul.

All in all, defense doesn't win you championships if you don't have an offense to counter-balance it. If the Bluejays can improve just a touch more by knocking 5% off their opponents field goal percentage, then they can hang with the best of 'em. Or you can blame the soft rims at the CenturyLink Center. Your choice.