After a thrilling semifinal — well, the late game was a thriller — the Big East Tournament comes to a close on Saturday night.
Two teams remain — Villanova and Creighton. Both are no strangers to the Big East Tournament finals. Creighton will be making its fourth Big East championship game appearance, previously reaching this stage in 2014, 2017 and 2021.
The Wildcats have also been a frequent flier in the finals, making five-straight appearances from 2015-19 and winning four conference tournaments.
Here’s a quick look at Saturday night’s game.
No. 2 Villanova (25-7) vs. No. 4 Creighton (22-10)
When: 6:30 p.m. ET
Key players for Villanova: #2 Collin Gillespie (6-3, 195) Sr., G; #3 Brandon Slater (6-7, 220) Sr., F; #5 Justin Moore (6-4, 210) Jr., G; #14 Caleb Daniels (6-4, 210) Sr., G; #23 Jermaine Samuels (6-7, 230) Sr,. F; #43 Eric Dixon (6-8, 255) So., F
Key players for Creighton: #5 Alex O’Connell (6-6, 185) Sr., G; #11 Ryan Kalkbrenner (7-1, 256) So., C; #23 Trey Alexander (6-4, 185) Fr., G; #44 Ryan Hawkins (6-7, 222) Sr., F
2021-22 season series: 1-1 series split
- Creighton defeated Villanova at home, 79-59, on Dec. 17
- Villanova defeated Creighton at home, 75-41, on Jan. 5
The feeling entering Friday night is that the later game of the semifinal doubleheader — Villanova vs. UConn — was the “real championship game” and the winner of that heavyweight fight could be penciled in as champion for Saturday. Once the ball was tipped for both games, Creighton made its statement that it also deserves to be in the title conversation.
The Bluejays demolished the top-seeded Friars, after getting blown out by them two weeks ago in their first game without Big East Freshman of the Year Ryan Nembhard. After coming up empty-handed in three previous finals trips, including last season, Creighton won’t be a pushover and it appears to be elevating its game at the right time.
Villanova and Creighton both met very early on in conference play, and both games were complete opposites of one another. The Wildcats and Bluejays traded lopsided wins with one another. For the teams on the losing end of those games, their loss to one another seemed to be a soul-searching turning point at the time.
For Villanova, it had sustained back-to-back losses to Baylor and Creighton, before turning it up with a six-game winning streak and an overall much-improved January that included a revenge win over the Bluejays.
When Creighton lost to ‘Nova, it was during a turbulent month of January for the Bluejays, but they regrouped and played very well in February and the second-half of Big East play. They stumbled when Nembhard went down, but Trey Alexander has filled in admirably and seems to be getting better at handling the point with each game, and it’s shown with their offensive execution.
Against Providence, the Bluejays didn’t seem to have any problems doing what they wanted, especially when they began to pull away with a game-changing run to end the first half and begin the second.
Both teams have evolved and changed in different ways since their meetings with one another, that you probably can’t take their season series split into account. There is familiarity with knowing what each player likes to do.
Villanova did a better job of defending leading man Ryan Hawkins in the rematch. Ryan Kalkbrenner will pose some issues in the frontcourt with his height, so the ‘Cats will need to be ready to shoot over the big man or box him out for boards.
Arthur Kaluma was a non-factor in both meetings, but has been playing very well this tournament. He’s stepped up his game since returning in late February after a knee injury.
However, this tournament has been all about the players that have stepped up big for their respective teams, the guys who have been second and third option, but have been X-Factors for their teams. For Creighton, it’s been Trey Alexander and Arthur Kaluma, and for the ‘Cats, it’s been Jermaine Samuels and Brandon Slater. It’ll be fun to see how this Saturday showdown goes.
It may very well be another one-sided result for either team, or a slow-tempo defensive battle.
KenPom predicts: Villanova wins, 69-62, and is a 78% favorite.
Vegas says: Villanova is an 8-point favorite, per DraftKings Sportsbook
My prediction: Villanova over Creighton