Scouting No. 12 Xavier (14-5) at Creighton (12-6)
Andy Mac Williams,
Scouting Xavier (14-5, 4-4 BIG EAST, #21 AP, #21 NET) at Creighton (12-6, 4-3 BE, #67 NET). Muskies have lost 2 in a row( at Marquette and home Wednesday to Providence 65-62 at the buzzer). CU is a load to beat at CHI Health Center(3-0 BE, 7-2 overall, 83% wins in Omaha since CHI opened in 2001). It's Creighton's annual Pink Out game to enhance breast cancer awareness. Coach Greg McDermott is back after missing 2 games w/ COVID. In his absence, Blue Jays drubbed De Paul at CHI 60-47 then lost Wed. at Butler 72-55. CU shot a composite 5-39 from "3" w/o Coach Mac on the bench.
Jays usually "Let it fly" in Omaha(a barrage of made "3s"-run and gun-scoring in the 80s). They're a young team w/ two Frosh starters(PG Ryan Nembhard and PF Arthur Kaluma) and a 3rd Frosh Trey Alexander the 1st man off the bench. They made 14 "3s" in a Jan. 19 home win(87-64) over St Johns. They hit 9 of 21 "3s" in a 80-73 loss at Xavier two weeks ago. Who knows w/ the quixotic 3 point FG.
XU IMHO needs to thread the needle-slow the pace from track meet speed-make CU run half court offense-limit Muskie turnovers-win the rebound numbers-get to FT line and make some shots. Xavier probably will not beat Creighton in Omaha scoring in the 50s or 60s but the 70s is a sweet spot again IMHO.
Over 80 and CU is home free. X is 3-5 at Creighton in BIG EAST games(since 2014) winning all 3 by a total of 4 points and scoring between 70 and 75 points each game. Expect XU to play the BIG line-up a lot.
In Game#1 vs CU at Cintas, the Jack and Zach Show was a whopping +21( outscoring CU 45-24). Travis Steele likes that: "Jack has been playing very well. That line-up has been very, very good for us in BIG EAST games." Zach and Jack combined for 27 points and 13 boards vs PC and worked Nate Watson into foul trouble. Vs Creighton they totaled 25 points and 17 rebounds.
In Omaha they maybe can get CU 7 footer Ryan Kalkbrenner in foul trouble. His shot blocking helped Creighton start quickly at Cintas(up 6 at half). X has trailed consistently over the past 5 games(2-3) dating back to Villanova in Cincy. Steele attributes slow starts to poor shot selection-leading to run out scores for opponents-off long misses and live ball turnovers. Better half court offense-made buckets-will allow X to set up their half court defense which has been pretty stout.
Steele likes his team's work ethic and attitude:
"We've had two upbeat practices since PC. The players understand there are peaks and valley's especially in this tough l league. The season is not going to be linear-just up, up. Energy and execution w/ this mature talented group will get us out of this valley."
3 point shooting has been a downer lately(10-41 vs Marquette and PC). Sniper Nate Johnson has struggled(4-23 last 5 games).
Steele expects a break out for Nate:
"He gets extra work every day. Better ball movement is needed. Nate is not a one on one iso player. He needs help to get good shots. He is the best shooter I've ever coached and is coming off two excellent practices. I see a big game coming at CU."
Creighton is a beast at home when they space the floor-make the extra pass and bang in "3s". They beat Villanova in Omaha by 20 back in December. Their Frosh are the best in the BIG EAST. Nembhard is 5 time BE Frosh of the Week and Alexander won that award last week also. He is taking some pressure off Nembhard by playing quality minutes at PG.
Kaluma provided a silver lining in their loss at Butler scoring 18 points. 6th year Wing Alex O"Connell (Duke transfer) is a knock down shooter and heady all-court guy. D-2 transfer
Ryan Hawkins is averaging nearly a double-double. Mix in agile 7 footer Kalkbrenner and Blue Jays are potent and playing at home. CHI will be SRO.
HUGE opportunity for Xavier! It's an NET Quad 1 win(Creighton-Top 75 NET on the road). The margin for error is small. X has not played two strong halves back to back in a while. Maybe at Butler? Avoid the slow start-get some 3 point production from Nate and ASdam Kunkel-play Zach and Jack together for 25+ minutes-make CU run hakf court offense and expect a Muskie road win in the 70s.
XU at CU(2PM EST-FS1). Marquette at Providence is now moved to Sunday (12:30 PM-FS1) because of the winter storm along the Atlantic sea board. St Johns at Villanova is still "ON" for Saturday afternoon in Philly.