With just three games left in the regular season, Villanova’s Wildcats head out West to the CenturyLink Center in Omaha to take on Greg McDermott’s Bluejays on Saturday afternoon. In their last face-off, the Cats’ offense blitzed Creighton out of the Wells Fargo on February 1st, 98-78, with 54.4 per cent field goal attempts to the Jays’ 49 per cent.
Creighton will face Villanova coming off a three-game losing streak in the Big East and a major February slump, just 2-4. Most recently, they went down in the face of Xavier, Marquette, and got a burning from Butler, 93-10. Meanwhile, Villanova is building momentum from victories over DePaul and Xavier, and with Phil Booth’s much anticipated return and dominant performance against DePaul, 14 points in just 16 minutes of play.
Here are three things to watch for:
Despite standings in the NCAA (Villanova 25-3, Creighton 19-9) and in the Big East (Villanova 12-3, Creighton 8-7), the Cats and Jays are closer in statistics than might be thought. Villanova currently leads average points per game at 87.6 to Creighton’s 84.9 but Creighton dominates in rebounds per game 36.2-35 and points allowed 74.2-76. Both teams are closely matched in field goal percentages, Villanova just slightly ahead 51.3 per cent to 50.1 per cent.
In their last meet-up, Villanova crashed through Creighton’s defence again and again, leading in every area of the game, with Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges respectively leading the scoreboard. If Creighton bow out to Villanova, their fourth defeat this month alone, their NCAA tournaments hopes could be in jeopardy and with no wins over any tournament bound teams, this game could be a finisher.
Jay Wright’s Wildcats are one of the most dangerous and efficient offensive teams in the nation, lethal in one-on-one action, and matched a school record of 19 3-pointers in their last outing against Creighton. McDermott’s Bluejays have lost eight straight games to Villanova and seven of those by double digits. Coming off the win, against DePaul Villanova will be looking to capitalise on Booth’s return while building on Paschall’s tenacious defence and Brunson’s leadership.
McDermott will be looking to Marcus Foster, Khyri Thomas, and Tyler Clement to lead Creighton’s young guns through the battle. Toby Hegner, Creighton’s 6-foot-10 veteran forward is currently struggling with an ankle injury which showed against Butler on Tuesday February 20th where he never scored and is now averaging just 4.0 points on a 33.3 per cent shooting average. But prior to the Jays’ back-to-back losses, they were shooting 55 per cent from the floor and assisted on more than 60 per cent of their field goals.
Villanova experienced a minor season slump as they were overpowered by St John’s (79-75) and Providence (76-71), but both close-fought games. But the found their feet again as the tournament approaches and proceeded to Xavier and DePaul off the court respectively. With the Big East tournament just around the corner and Villanova sitting comfortably in the No.2 slot in the Big East Conference and third in the overall rankings, Jay Wright’s men have some breathing space as they head into the tournament ready to contest their fifth championship win.
On the other hand, Creighton’s Bluejays are experiencing a badly-timed slump as their conference rankings slide down the scale. McDermott’s Jays are currently 8-7 in the Big East with a dismal offense and struggling defence. Outplayed by Butler at both ends of the floor on Tuesday, the Bluejays’ hopes of finishing in the top-half of one the most celebrated college basketball conferences in the US appears to be falling out of their grip. A win from the Wildcats might be hammer the nails into the coffin for this Jays’ season.