Two of the newbies of the Big East (sorry, Butler) square off with a chance to go to the Big East Tournament Final tomorrow night at stake.
There are plenty of good storylines in this game. Doug McDermott showcasing his talents in Madison Square Garden, Matt Stainbrook surprisingly being available to play, Xavier trying to cement its place in the field of 68, and last but certainly not least, a chance to win the Big East Tournament in their first try.
Trivia Question: Who hold the all-time series lead between these two teams?
Answer: Xavier. These schools have only faced off 17 times in their histories, but the Musketeers hold a 10-7 advantage in those meetings. In this year’s campaign the tally is one to one, with each team winning at home.
So, how did we get here?
Creighton entered the year with high expectations going into the Big East. They are led by a great group of seniors in Doug McDermott, Grant Gibbs, Jahenns Manigat, and Ethan Wragge, who had a ton of experience winning games in the Missouri Valley Conference. There were doubters of course, but the Bluejays silenced them as they rolled to a second place finish in Big East play. They boast the number one rated offense on http://www.kenpom.com and it was on full display in their quarterfinal victory against DePaul. They shot 60.4% from the field and 63.6% from three in route to their 84 to 62 victory over the Blue Demons.
Meanwhile, Xavier was much more of an afterthought before the season began, but slowly and steadily have asserted themselves at the top of the second tier of Big East teams (after Villanova and Creighton). Led by sophomore Semaj Christon, and juniors Matt Stainbrook and Justin Martin, the Musketeers have proved themselves throughout the season. They are the 42nd ranked team on KenPom, and are listed as an 11 seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology. Their resume should be enough to get them into the field, but a win tonight would lock that into place. Xavier picked off Marquette in the quarterfinals by the score of 68 to 65. The difference in the game was free throw shooting; Xavier made 17 free throws, whereas Marquette only attempted 14 (making 8).
What are we expecting tonight?
If the early rounds did not prove it enough, we should be expecting a close game. Outside of the Bluejays 22 point victory over DePaul, the rest of the contests have been nail biters being decided by five points or fewer. Nothing new for the Big East Tournament. It would be silly to think that this game will be decided by a wide margin because both teams have too much to play for and have split the season series already.
Matt Stainbrook’s availability will certainly factor into the outcome. He played 15 minutes in last night’s game and would expect a little bit more of a workload tonight. His presence will help on both sides of the court, giving the Musketeers a post presence on offense, and someone to get out and guard Ethan Wragge on defense.
It’s also pretty easy to expect McDermott to score a bunch of points tonight. January 25th was the last time he scored less than 20, and the Bluejays have played 11 games since then. He has scored over 30 in five of those contests and his team has won each time.
Fun Fact: Justin Martin staying out of foul trouble is vital to Xavier’s success. Since Big East play started the Musketeers are 1 and 4 when Martin has gotten at least four fouls. In the win against Creighton, Martin only had one foul. In the loss, he had four.
This game is going to be a battle from start to finish. I expect the magic number to be 85. If Creighton scores 85 they will win, if it is below that I am going to give the nod to Xavier. This one is really pulling me in both directions, but I think Xavier can sneak it out giving themselves a stress free Selection Sunday.
Xavier 82, Creighton 80