#3 Villanova Wildcats (18-3) vs. Creighton Bluejays (14-8)
When: Wednesday, February 3, 2016 at 8:00 PM ET
Where: The Pavilion
Coverage: CBS Sports Network
Last Meeting: Villanova won 85-71 over Creighton on January 3
Key Players for Creighton: #10 Maurice Watson Jr. (5-10, 175) Jr., G; #21 Isaiah Zierden (6-2, 185) Jr., G; #13 Cole Huff (6-8, 215) Jr., F
Scouting Report: The last time these two teams met, Big East play was still in its infancy. Both teams were uncertain of what was to come during the next few months of grueling battles and still were not sure of their team identities. Fast forward a month later, and now these squads know who they are and will meet again during the dog days of conference play.
Someone who certainly has established an identity for themselves has been transfer standout Maurice Watson Jr. The transfer from Boston University is averaging 14.1 points per game and 6.5 dimes per contest. He leads the team in both categories. Another staggering stat for the junior is that the shooter shoots at a 48.1% clip from the field. His ability to get to the basket and slash through defenses has made him one of the more efficient inside shooters on the team, even though he is a guard. A weakness for him, however, is the deep ball as he only shoots 34.5% from behind the 3-point line. To his credit, Watson has identified his strengths and weaknesses and has only attempted 29 out of his 231 field goal attempts from beyond the arc.
The resident sharpshooter of the team is Isaiah Zierden. Of his 188 attempts from the field, 145 are of the deep variety. While he does not have the pedigree of Bluejays’ past like Ethan Wragge or Doug McDermott, Zierden does convert from beyond the arc at a respectable rate of 39.3% leading to an average of 12 points per game.
Rounding out the key players for Creighton is another transfer. Cole Huff transferred to Creighton from Nevada and has provided a spark and some much needed length to a guard heavy team. Putting up 9.7 points a game, Huff has seen some of his production and minutes drop off since Big East play started. Going into the last game against Villanova, he was averaging over 11 points per game, and ended up spotting 13 of his own against the ‘Cats in the game played in Omaha.
The one key difference for the Bluejays this time around, however, might be the absence of big man Geoffrey Groselle. Creighton coach Greg McDermott, said that the 7-foot center rolled his ankle “pretty good” and was reported to be on crutches. If Groselle is unable to go, look for for Huff and bench players Toby Hegner and James Milliken to take on expanded roles. Hegner and Milliken were pretty much were held in check the last time the ‘Jays played the ‘Cats (as was Groselle). However both players have the ability to put up points as evidenced by Milliken dropping 21 on Seton Hall in Creighton’s last game
Outlook: Creighton is not the only team with injury troubles. It has been well reported that center Daniel Ochefu will not be able to play in this game due to a concussion. Ochefu was held out of Villanova’s last game as a result of the same injury. Saying that this is a huge loss for the Wildcats would be an understatement. In their game against St. John’s, Villanova looked discombobulated and out of sorts due to the gaping hole in the middle of the court. By not having Ochefu in the middle, Jay Wright is unable to create designed kick out plays to the perimeter for an open three, meaning Villanova’s guards will have to create shots on their own. On top of his offensive ability, Ochefu is Coach Wright’s rock in the middle of the defense and protector of the rim. Without him, Creighton’s guards may be able to get to the basket easier and have a much simpler time trying to go up strong on lay-up attempts.
However, this worrying may all be for naught if Groselle is not able to play. While early signs indicate he will not, a nightmare scenario might occur for Villanova if he is able to suit up for the Jays. Creighton will be able to exploit the middle much easier and easy deuces might be available every possession for the towering center. While Darryl Reynolds did play solid against the big men of St. John’s, he has not gone up against someone of Groselle’s height, talent, and stature. If Groselle does play, this is the matchup to watch out for.
If both teams were healthy, I’d say Villanova takes this one in a rout especially since it is being played in the comforts of the Pavilion. However, both teams are hurting. Despite the home court advantage, I believe Creighton will make this a game regardless of Groselle’s status. The Wildcats did not look impressive against the weakest Big East squad in St. John’s. Whether it was due to rust or the absence of their star center remains to be seen. I believe it was a bit of both.
If Groselle is not able to go, I think Watson Jr. and Milliken will be the focal points of the Creighton offense and they will try to attack the basket, using their quick and shifty guards. Regardless, I think the loss of their big man will be too much to overcome in the end. In a game of just guards, Villanova will hold the edge and runaway with a double digit victory.
If the Creighton big guy is actually able to play, I think Creighton gives Villanova everything they can handle. Coupled with another sloppy and bad shooting night from the Main Line side, the Blue Jays could be stiffing upset. All eyes would be on Reynolds and Mikal Bridges to keep Groselle in check, and prevent kickouts to a potentially open Zierden. In this scenario, I just cannot see Creighton coming into the Pavilion and beating the #3 team in the nation. Villanova should take it by single digits in the worst case scenario.