The No. 5-ranked Villanova Wildcats are set to take on the No. 19-ranked Creighton Bluejays on Saturday evening in Omaha.
Villanova (13-2, 8-1 Big East) comes in riding a two-game winning streak after punishing Marquette in the second half on Wednesday night, en route to a 96-64 victory. Creighton (15-5, 11-4 Big East), beat Georgetown on Tuesday and has won five of their last six.
Scouting the Jays
Creighton came into the season a borderline top-10 team, and received votes as the preseason Big East favorite. They’ve been up and down this year, with a couple head-scratching losses including Georgetown and Butler, but they should be the biggest test for Jay Wright’s squad since the non-conference slate.
Marcus Zegarowski runs the show, and though he hasn’t exactly lived up to the preseason hype, he’s evolved as an all-around player and grown as an electric playmaker. Denzel Mahoney has really come into his own this year, leading the team with 14.5 points per game. Mitch Ballock is still sniping — the deep-threat shot 7-of-12 from behind the arc in a 29-point effort at Seton Hall.
However, the difference-maker for this team is Damien Jefferson. Jefferson reminds me a bit of Khyri Thomas — an energy guy who can do a little bit of everything offensively, but really brings it on the defensive end. I expect to see him on Justin Moore, but it will be interesting to see how Greg McDermott chooses to match up in this one.
Since returning from the COVID break, Jermaine Samuels has scored in double figures in five out of six games. In that span he’s shooting 11-of-18 from deep and taking nearly 10 shots per game. An aggressive Jermaine will be important as we get closer to the postseason — he never seems to force it, and everything comes within the flow of the offense. It will be interesting to see what Creighton throws at Samuels, as he will likely have a size advantage all day, with a combination of Mahoney and Jefferson likely to be thrown his way.
And how about Jeremiah Robinson-Earl? He put together maybe the best performance of his Villanova career in the win over Marquette, tallying 27 points and 8 boards, including a 5-for-5 showing from three. He will likely be a huge factor if the ‘Cats are going to come out on top in this one.
Christian Bishop is Creighton’s starting center at 6-foot-7 and is a terrific athlete but gives up some size to the big man. They will spell his minutes with 7-foot freshman Ryan Kalkbrenner, who has shown flashes in limited minutes, but JRE should be a major contributor in this one against a team who struggles on the glass, giving up over nine offensive rebounds per game. In a matchup of two guard-oriented teams, who will take a high volume of threes, the difference could be in the interior.
The Bigger Picture
Creighton and Xavier seem to be the only threats to the ‘Cats in capturing their seventh Big East regular season crown in eight years. Villanova currently holds a three game lead in the loss column over Creighton, and a road win could practically eliminate the Bluejays from the race. Xavier, on the other hand, is only 4-2 in conference and has played just one game since January 10th.
As far as the tournament resume goes, the two Creighton games might be the only opportunities left for Quad 1 wins before the postseason begins. Villanova currently has just one Quad 1 win (at Texas), and the Seton Hall win in Newark projects to be a Quad 1 win by the end of the season. But with road games at Xavier and UConn already cancelled, the resume-building wins are few and far between. Needless to say, this is a big one.
When’s the last time we got a Gus Johnson/Bill Raftery game? Here’s to hoping that’s the duo on the call, and that this is a statement win for the ‘Cats. V’s up.