They’re baaaaaack! During the 13’-14’ season, Villanova only suffered three regular season losses. Two of them were to Dougie McBuckets and the Creighton Bluejays. They used a barrage of threes, an uptempo style of play, and a guy that could score from anywhere on the court. Well now Creighton is the best 3-point shooting team in the country, they play at the 3rd fastest tempo in the Big East, and Marcus Foster might be unguardable (and he’s not even their best player!)
As of Friday morning, Villanova and Creighton remain two of only 5 teams still undefeated in the country, and that number will be at least down to 4 when we ring in the new year. Here’s three things to watch for as these two budding rivals square off Saturday afternoon.
Bring An Umbrella, It’s Gonna Rain!
Villanova is one of the countries better three-point shooting teams in the country, shooting 38.8% (which includes an awful 8-26 night against DePaul). But the Bluejays are the current kings of the deep ball, shooting 44.6% to lead all Division 1 teams. Four of Creighton’s starters are shooting over 50% from deep (ok, one is their 7 foot center who’s 4-7), and two more are over 45%. To put that into perspective, Kris Jenkins leads all Villanova players this season at 42% shooting from deep.
But even if both teams go uncharacteristically quite from outside, these are two of the best scoring teams inside the arc. Villanova is ranked third at 59.9% and Creighton is right behind them at 4th with 58.9%. Both teams are ranked in KenPom’s Top 10 offensively, so this could be a remarkably high scoring affair.
This game will feature two of the best backcourts in the Big East, possibly the country, when Jalen Brunson and Josh Hart face Maurice Watson Jr. and Marcus Foster. The Creighton pair are averaging a combined 32.3 points, 11 assists, 5.3 rebounds, and a 50% FG%. Villanova’s guards are very similar at 33.3 points, 7.5 assists, 8.7 rebounds, and a 53.1 FG%.
While the hype will be all about the leading scorers in Hart and Foster, the real match-up to watch is Brunson and Watson Jr. These are two very tough guards with Philadelphia roots that make it possible for the other guys on the team to shine. They’ve also both shone the ability to take over a game when their team needs them to (Watson more so than Brunson). This is also where the tempo battle will take place. Creighton wants to run and push their opponents, while Villanova wants to grind things down. Whichever point guard can keep the game flow at their team’s pace will likely come out victorious.
Free Throws, Free Throws, Free Throws!
In a game where the teams match-up pretty well, free throws could be all the difference. Both schools are Top 25 nationally at keeping their opponents off the line, but once they get there Villanova has a massive advantage.
The Wildcats have been average at getting to the line this year, ranking 167th nationally. But when they do get there, they make it count, hitting 78.2% as a team and ranking 10th. Creighton on the other hand, is terrible at drawing fouls (230th) and even worse at making them count. At just 67.2% as a team, they rank 240th in FT%. If Nova can turn this one into an old school Big East grind, they could win at the line.