Villanova fans still have a bad taste in their mouths from the first game against the Creighton Bluejays. That Monday was the climax of the season. Villanova reached the Top 5 in the nation. It was the first game at the Wells Fargo Center since the Syracuse thriller in 2013, almost one year ago to the date. However, Creighton came out firing and did not look back. So, what have the Bluejays been up to since that record-breaking day?
1. We at VUHoops are thrilled for the first meeting of the year between these two powerhouses in the Big East! (We don't talk about the other game) But seriously, how have both of these teams improved/declined since the last matchup almost 4 weeks ago?
Creighton has tapered off slightly in their ability to shoot. And by slightly, I certainly mean by the thinnest of margins. With that said they have improved their shooting tremendously inside, as they're now the 12th best team in the nation in 2PT FG% per KenPom (54.5 percent).
In regards to declining, their rebounding ability has not been strong for most of the year. But as the season is wearing on, so is their inability to rebound effectively. Especially offensively. They're 237th in the country in OR% (29.5 percent) which could prove to be costly if they don't get it right. In fact, it's been one of the reasons that they have struggled as of late, which we'll get to later.
As far as Villanova goes, it certainly seems like they're getting a ton out of James Bell as of late. He was just named to the Midseason Naismith List, and with his numbers in BIG EAST play, it's really hard to argue against that. He just had a really strong showing against the DePaul Blue Demons on Wednesday, where he scored 16 on 45.4 percent and was perfect from the line and has averaged 21.33 points over since the last time these two teams played.
It's hard to truly find an area where Villanova has declined since their game against Creighton. I would go as far as to say they have improved in most facets since that night, with their only blip being in an ugly win against Georgetown. Their FTRate has been a bit spotty, but in most areas, this team is getting better if anything. That's scary for the rest of the country.
2. What issues has this team had in the last two games on the road?
Rebounding. Rebounding. Rebounding. Cannot say it enough. Their average OR% in the last five games is 15.82 percent. That includes an abysmal 6.4 percent against DePaul on Friday, Feb. 7. It plays right into their weaknesses which at this point in time is size. Will Artino had a good game against the Butler Bulldogs at Hinkle, but he has been a role player since getting benched. Zach Hanson rarely gets minutes.
The biggest player that is on the floor more often than not is Doug McDermott, and even Superman cannot do it all.
3. Both games vs. the St. John's Red Storm were a struggle for the Bluejays. In the most recent one, McDermott was held scoreless for the last 8:41. In fact, he never got a shot off. Is putting a big man on him like Daniel Ochefu or JayVaughn Pinkston the key to shutting him and the whole Bluejays squad down?
It certainly seems like that is the case. Although they trounced Marquette on New Year's Eve by almost 20 percent, they still shot an eFG% of 50.8 percent. As you alluded to, the Bluejays were abysmal at The Garden, shooting an eFG% of 45.5 percent. And then, you go back to the matchup against George Washington when they shot a season low 40.2 percent.
So putting Ochefu or Pinkston might be the kryptonite for the Bluejays. If Doug is locked up though, someone has to step up. The recent string of play from Jahenns Manigat has been so great for the team, but he seems to have tripped up slightly. Even Ethan Wragge has been slumping. It might be coincidental, or it might be that teams are figuring out Creighton on their second go-around through the conference.
It will be an interesting storyline to watch, that's for sure.
4. What does Ethan Wragge do besides take/make threes???
That is simply his role on this team. For much of December he was compiling and collecting high rebound totals, but that has since tapered off. It does seem to be all-or-nothing for this sharpshooter, who has been struggling as of late. He does play some decent defense, but nothing otherworldly.
5. What effect has Grant Gibbs' return to the lineup done for this team, and how well was Creighton able to fill the temporary void?
To be honest, Creighton still seems to be finding their groove with Gibbs back in the lineup. He played well against DePaul and St. John's, collecting a double-double against the Red Storm. But, there does seem to be a connection issue, and you wonder whether or not he's fully healthy.
As for what Creighton did without him in the lineup, they played extraordinarily. A multitude of players were getting it going. McDermott, Manigat, Austin Chatman, Avery Dingman and Ethan Wragge were a more than competent starting lineup and played solidly.
Gibbs is a good "does-it-all" glue guy for the Bluejays, but his transition back into the lineup has been a bit shaky.
6. Do you keep in touch with the Missouri Valley Conference? Christmas Cards, "How are the kids?" all that?
Being that the MVC Championship is in St. Louis, we may or may not be arranging a get-together in a month. Wait, is this thing on? Hello? Whoops...
7. What's your final score in this one?
I like Villanova to take down the Bluejays. I think that while their performance against them earlier in the season was impressive, Creighton did have a fluky performance at the WFC. Not to say I don't think Creighton is strong offensively, it is just not something I suspect will happen again. The Bluejays will certainly have a loud, boisterous hometown crowd behind them, but I think Villanova edges them out to hand them their first home loss of the season. I'm not sure if they have an answer for James Bell with how he has played recently and Villanova is a very good defensive and rebounding team. Which plays right into their weaknesses.
Give me the Cats to win 75-71.