#21 Marquette Golden Eagles (12-3, 1-1 Big East) at Creighton Bluejays (10-5, 1-1 Big East)
Date: Wednesday, January 9, 2019
Time: 6pm Central
Location: CHI Health Center, Omaha, NE
Marquette Stats Leaders
Points: Markus Howard, 24.0 ppg
Rebounds: Sam Hauser, 6.8 rpg
Assists: Markus Howard, 4.2 apg
Creighton Stats Leaders
Points: Ty-Shon Alexander, 16.7 ppg
Rebounds: Damien Jefferson, 5.7 rpg
Assists: Mitch Ballock, 3.5 apg
Current KenPom Rankings
KenPom.com Projection: Marquette has a 39% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 80-77 favoring Creighton.
Tempo Free Fun: Well, let’s attack the most important part of this game. For the third year in a row, Greg McDermott is unable to deploy the active roster against Marquette that he was expecting to have in October. Last year, Martin Krampelj blew out his knee in mid-January, before the Bluejays had played Marquette at all. The Golden Eagles took both contests, both by four point margins, as Creighton stumbled to a 5-6 record down the stretch, lost their first Big East tournament game, and then provided the jumping off point for Kansas State’s Elite Eight run. The year before, Maurice Watson blew out his knee in the game directly before Creighton faced MU for the first time. The Golden Eagles won a barnburner in Omaha and then another back in Milwaukee as Creighton stumbled to a 5-7 record down the stretch, inexplicably made it to the Big East championship game before losing to Villanova, and then went down in flames in the first round of the NCAA tournament to Rhode Island.
This year? As of Monday afternoon, Jacob Epperson was officially ruled out for the remainder of the season, as he’ll need time to heal from a stress fracture in his back. That sounds like it sucks. According to Jon Nyatawa of the Omaha World-Herald, Epperson will also be having knee surgery, and if there’s one thing that sucks more than healing from a stress fracture in your back, it’s needing to go through knee surgery at the same time. Being seven feet tall is just a force multiplier of suck at that point.
The point of all of that is that Marquette has won five straight games against Creighton because, to one degree or another, Greg McDermott wasn’t able to play with all the chess pieces that he thought he would have available. That situation repeats itself again on Wednesday night, and to compound the issue, Marquette comes to town with Steve Wojciechowski’s best and most talented team. Don’t get me wrong: This game is in Omaha, and that’s just begging for “Road Marquette” to show up against KenPom.com’s #11 offense and the #5 three-point shooting accuracy team in the country. That’s something that we’re all going to have to be incredibly panicked about right up until the final horn sounds.
However, even if “Road Marquette” does show up, there’s pretty solid reason to believe that the Golden Eagles will still be able to score against the Bluejays. On the season, CU ranks #121 in KenPom.com’s defensive efficiency metric. Through two conference games, they are allowing 110.5 points per 100 possessions, the worst mark in the entire Big East. And not by a little bit, either. DePaul is second worst at 107.9 per 100 possessions. Think about it. Creighton has been so bad on defense in the last two games that DePaul is looking at them and saying “well, thank goodness we’re not you.”
The Bluejays’ specific problem is that they can’t stop anyone inside the arc. Teams are shooting 53.8% on two-pointers against Creighton this season, which ranks #275 in the country. If you thought that Wojo liked to get the ball inside to Theo John and Ed Morrow before, well, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Creighton’s problem is probably a result of a lot of things. Khyri Thomas’ early departure to the NBA Draft isn’t helping, of course, and neither is Jacob Epperson‘s spotty minutes before missing the last five games with his back/knee problems. Krampelj can’t possibly be anything near 100% back from his injury, which probably explains why he’s committing over five fouls per 40 minutes and only getting on the court half the time for the Jays. After getting big minutes to start the year as a freshman, Samson Froling has been reduced to mostly spot duty and he has a fouling problem as well. Last Saturday, he played seven minutes in Creighton’s 84-69 loss at Butler and somehow managed to still commit two fouls. Against Clemson, Creighton’s biggest win of the season so far? Seven minutes, three fouls.
I have now named everyone on the Creighton roster over 6’7”. If I add freshman Christian Bishop, he of the nine appearances and 63 total minutes played, I have now named everyone on the Creighton roster over 6’5”. If you’ve ever wanted to see me get upset at Marquette shooting three-pointers, any time there’s a Creighton big on the floor with two or more fouls is going to be your best opportunity. Remember in the second half of the Kansas State game when Markus Howard just started loping around the court, figuring out which Wildcat had four fouls and then driving against him? More of that, except where everyone on the MU roster does it for the whole 40 minutes.
Marquette Last 10 Games: 9-1, with only the road loss to St. John’s in there.
Creighton Last 10 Games: 6-4, but that includes a 110-60 victory against a non-Division 1 opponent.
All Time Series: Marquette leads, 54-32.
Current Streak: Marquette has won the last five meetings, three of which were in Omaha.
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@BenSteeleMJS - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel MU beat writer
@cf_gardner - The Athletic MU beat writer