#1 Villanova Wildcats (30-3) vs. #6 Creighton Bluejays (26-8)
When: Saturday, March 11, 2017, at 5:30 p.m.
Where: Madison Square Garden, N.Y.
KenPom Prediction: 77-70, Villanova (74%)
Results of Previous Meetings:
–Villanova won 80-70 at Creighton on Dec. 31
–Villanova won 79-63 at home on Feb. 25
How the Bluejays Got Here:
Beat Providence, 70-58, in the Quarterfinals
Beat Xavier, 75-72, in the Semifinals
Key Players for Creighton: #0 Marcus Foster (6-3, 210) Jr., G; #2 Khyri Thomas (6-3, 205) So., G; #23 Justin Patton (6-11, 215) Fr., C.
Scouting Report: The Bluejays entered the final weekend of the regular season in third place. After a shakeup decided by tiebreakers, they dropped from third to sixth. Virtually, their path was the same. They played in the 3/6 game, and managed to rally in the quarterfinals to beat Providence and move on to Xavier in the semifinals last night. If you stuck around–or stuck to your screens–after the Villanova game last night, you witnessed an amazing show from both teams of athleticism, heart, and desire to win. It came down to the wire, with the two teams trading baskets in the final minute of the game and Creighton coming out on top.
The team has been surprisingly talented this year after arguably their most talented team member, Maurice Watson Jr., tore his ACL in January, and is now off the team while involved in a terrible sexual assault case. Even without him, Creighton has proved a formidable opponent.
The Bluejays boast the highest scoring average in the conference heading into the Big East Tournament, putting up 83.5 points per game. Creighton is known for its three point shooting, knocking down 40.6 percent from deep (fifth in the nation). Last night, in just the second half, they made 7-of-9 from beyond the arc, for a whopping 77.8 percent. Marcus Foster alone had four against Xavier, ultimately tallying 21 points and adding six assists to the box score.
Foster is a pure scorer, who’s starting to showcase other facets of his game since the Watson injury. He can score from almost anywhere, and at a high clip. He averaged 18.0 points per game entering the postseason. The Kansas State transfer has had an immense impact on the Creighton offense in his first season at Omaha.
His teammate, Khyri Thomas, is another one to keep an eye on. The Omaha native shared the Big East Defensive Player of the Year Award with Mikal Bridges and Josh Hart. He is a lockdown defender, and offensively he is starting to come around. He seems to have taken over as the team’s facilitator, as Creighton has tried (converting sharpshooter, off-ball guard) Isaiah Zierden and freshman Davion Mintz to take over the dishing responsibilities since Watson went down. As of the most recent handful of games, it’s Thomas’ turn and he’s done well so far.
Last, but definitely not least there’s Justin Patton, the other Blue Jay to get 21 points in against Xavier. Standing 7-feet tall, he’s hard to miss. He’s excellent at finishing around the basket, an outlet for an alley-oop, and is dangerous in pick-and-roll plays. He turned it up, scoring 15 of his 22 points in the second half against Xavier. While the center is known for banging around down low, he showed glimpses of a mid- and three-point range shot. The under-recruited center is shooting just below 70 percent this season, an impressive feat, but is also great on defense. He’s a solid rebounder and blocker. Patton has risen from nowhere to some calling him a potential high NBA Draftee.
Also keep an eye out for Cole Huff, he’s a forgotten option who can quietly put up points while opponents focus on Patton and Foster. He’s a solid 3-point shooter, shooting 46.1 percent this season.
It’ll be interesting to see how these players match up against Villanova in the game tonight.
Outlook: It’s obvious to everyone involved that both teams are coming off a hard-fought win, and both definitely have what it takes to be the Big East Tournament champion.
I think that ‘Nova will come away from this matchup with the W – and the trophy – but there’s no doubt in my mind that both teams have what it takes to make a deep tournament run in the next few weeks, once March Madness really heats up.
As good as Creighton has been since Watson’s on the court and off the court issues, it could definitely use someone with a level of his talent. For the Bluejays to make it here is certainly respectable, but they are just one more dynamic player away from being lethal. However, if someone aside from Patton and Foster can explode onto the scene, then we’re in for a wild ride.