The Villanova Wildcats will travel to Omaha, Nebraska to take on the westernmost team of the Big East: the Creighton Bluejays. Without Doug McDermott, the fledgling Jays sit at second-worst in the conference at 13-16 (4-12 in conference). While 'Nova fans should expect an easy win for the Wildcats, there's three reasons why you'll want to watch this game.
Defend the Arc
The Bluejays have almost nothing going for them this season except their ability to hit the 3-pointer. Creighton makes an average of eight shots from downtown every game, good for second in the conference, despite shooting a putrid 34% from beyond the arc. Furthermore, the Jays attempt the fewest two-point field goals in the conference.
These stats should simply reinforce what we have all seen from Creighton in the past. They run a wide-open offense where at least four players on the court have the green light to shoot from downtown. Save for a Will Artino post move or an Austin Chatman drive, Greg McDermott's team will shoot 'em up all game long. This season, however, the Bluejays simply do not have the talent to execute their system to perfection.
In order to avoid an upset, Villanova must lock down the perimeter. The Wildcats defended the potent perimeter play of Xavier last Saturday, but Creighton's emphasis on the long-ball will make this a stiff challenge. How must the Wildcats defend the arc? The key will be low, contained close-outs. Instead of jumping to contest as soon as a player touches the ball, the Wildcats must stay low to the ground in order to recover quickly and avoid dribble-penetration.
The Wildcats may have to play a team that features this perimeter style of play in the NCAA Tournament. We all know the high-seeds who play a bit like Creighton; perhaps Wisconsin comes to mind as the closest comparison. Some lower seeds, however, that Villanova could face in the first or second rounds feature this style of play, such as the A10's Davidson or Iona from the MAAC. It would behoove the Wildcats to practice locking down a perimeter-oriented team such as Creighton to prepare for tournament time.
Creighton has a winning record at home
If Creighton has one edge going into this game, it is home-court advantage. The CenturyLink Center is home to one of the most rowdy crowds in the conference, and the additional travel time definitely doesn't help the away team.
In fact, the Bluejays have a winning record at home (which has to be one of the most surprising stats of the season). Creighton is 10-6 at home, including an upset over Oklahoma at the beginning of the season.
I'll relate this to the NCAA tournament yet again; there is a chance that Villanova doesn't end up in the East region, especially if Duke and/or Virginia hold on to one-seeds. If the committee moves 'Nova farther away from home than they'd like, it might be a good test to be mentally and physically prepared for their midwestern road trip against Creighton. It will give the 'Cats a chance to experience the time change and get their pregame prep organized for this potential scenario.
Potential Big East Tournament second round preview?
With both Creighton and Marquette playing tournament teams in their final two games ('Nova, Xavier for the Jays, and Providence, St. John's for the Golden Eagles), it is likely that Creighton is locked in at a 9th place finish in the conference. This means the Bluejays will take on the 8th place finisher, either DePaul or Seton Hall.
While Creighton has undoubtedly struggled this season, both the Blue Demons and Pirates have had their fair share of issues throughout the season as well. DePaul has struggled recently despite a hot start in conference play. We are all well aware of Seton Hall's mid-season collapse, and they have struggled to put together any sort of momentum since the return of Isaiah Whitehead and departure of Jaren Sina. Likewise, the Bluejays beat DePaul earlier this season and lost by only 1-point to Seton Hall twice.
My point? Creighton could easily win their first round matchup and face Villanova in the following round (Thursday at noon). If Villanova shows any signs of weakness this upcoming game, it could give Creighton some momentum in a potential second-round matchup.