Every once in a while, I still have dreams (more like nightmares) of Ethan Wragge bombing NBA-range 3-pointers at the Wells Fargo Center. I'm sure I'm not alone.
Just a few days ago, we saw a dominant Georgetown team give us flashbacks to 2014, where Creighton manhandled Villanova both in Philly and in Omaha. But after graduating
Doge Doug McDermott, Wragge, Grant Gibbs, and Jahenns Manigat, we all knew that this year's team would likely not repeat as a 3-seed in the NCAA Tournament. What remained to be seen was how Coach McDermott would rally his younger squad.
Upon defeating ranked Oklahoma in November, Creighton was ranked in the 20s, but now sits alone in last place in the Big East at 0-7. What should you keep in mind as you tune in tomorrow night?
They're not THAT bad
Yes, they're 0-7. Yes, every other team in the Big East has at least two conference wins. Yes, they lost at home... to DePaul. I had almost written them off. But they've been competitive in almost every game they've played this year.
It took a last-second jumper from Sterling Gibbs for Seton Hall to win in Omaha on January 10th, and just four days later at Marquette, Creighton held the lead until Matt Carlino hit a game-winning shot with 11 seconds left. On Wednesday, the Blue Jays traveled to Hinkle and led until the final minute of the game, a 64-61 loss to Butler.
Their other losses came to teams that, entering Saturday, were all tied for first in the conference. Creighton certainly won't be favored on Sunday, but it's not simply a battle between No. 4 and 0-7.
Note: Creighton's RPI sits between La Salle's and St. Joseph's, close to DePaul and better than Lehigh and Bucknell.
Who will step up for the Jays?
Creighton has used seven different starting lineups already (featuring ten different players), and nine players earn 14+ minutes a game. All nine average over two rebounds per game, but none more than five. It starts with Austin Chatman and Will Artino, two of the most consistent producers for Coach McDermott. Both are seniors that spend a majority of their time at the point and center positions, respectively. Fellow senior Devin Brooks gets the most usage of any Blue Jay player, but the combo guard is not a highly efficient shooter. Artino grabs a lot of rebounds, and backup point guard Isaiah Zierden is a sure-handed player who is 48th in the entire nation in turnover rate. All have the capacity to play well, but many will need to step up for Creighton to stay competitive.
They may not have Wragge or McDermott to light it up from deep, but this team still relies on the 3-ball, more so than Villanova. 45 percent of their shots come from behind the arc, which is actually a higher rate than last year's team. 2014 Creighton led the NCAA in 3-point percentage, and this year's squad certainly does not match up; yet it would be unwise to let the Blue Jays go on a shooting spree. Anyone can get hot at any time, and for a team that has been relatively close in most of its losses so far, a few extra made 3-pointers could be just the trick to right the ship.
KenPom math sees this as a 75-60 Villanova win, but I'm sure the variation in scores is rather high considering both teams like to shoot from deep a lot.