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Marquette Basketball Preview Primer: at Creighton Bluejays

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The Golden Eagles start off league play in Omaha on the first day of the new year.

NCAA Basketball: Marquette at Creighton Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Marquette Golden Eagles (10-2, 0-0 Big East) at Creighton Bluejays (11-2, 0-0 Big East)

Date: Wednesday, January 1, 2020
Time: 8pm Central
Location: CHI Health Center Omaha, Omaha, NE

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Markus Howard, 26.3 ppg
Rebounds: Koby McEwen & Jamal Cain, 5.3 rpg
Assists: Koby McEwen, 3.5 apg

Marquette Injury Note: Koby McEwen missed Saturday’s game against Central Arkansas with a sprained thumb that he picked up in practice last last week. He was wearing a hard plastic brace at the UCA game, and while the official team Twitter called him “day-to-day” on Saturday, I’m thinking he’ll miss this one as well.

Creighton Stats Leaders

Points: Marcus Zegarowski, 18.5 ppg
Rebounds: Christian Bishop, 6.2 rpg
Assists: Marcus Zegarowski, 4.8 apg

Current KenPom Rankings

Marquette: #26
Creighton: #47
KenPom Projection: Creighton has a 55% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 77-76.

Tempo Free Fun: Before we go deeper into what Creighton is and is not doing this season, let’s address Denzel Mahoney. The transfer from Southeast Missouri State is finally eligible for the Bluejays after sitting out during the fall semester. He had transferred to Creighton in the summer of 2018, but because he left the team due to a personal matter back home in Florida before last season ended, he (apparently) didn’t complete the terms of the NCAA transfer redshirt rules. Thus, Mahoney made his CU debut on December 17th at home against Oklahoma. He popped off the bench for 29 minutes, chipping in 14 points on 3-for-9 shooting in the Bluejays’ 83-73 win over the Sooners.

Mahoney averaged 17.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.2 assists per game in 64 games for SEMO before transferring, so if that kind of skillset translates upwards to Big East action, he can make a pretty important impact on the Bluejays path through league play. If you want to think about it in terms of players that you’ve seen before, one of his KenPom.com comparisons for his sophomore year at SEMO was 2013-14 D’Angelo Harrison at St. John’s. I don’t know about you, but Harrison was a terrifying constant threat to face. Through three games, he’s averaging 12.7 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 1.3 steals per game for CU and two of those games were against Major Seven foes in Oklahoma and Arizona State. Those seem like largely real numbers as a result. Check out this article from noted Jaali Winters stan Matt DeMarinis over at White & Blue Review for more on how the Jays are working Mahoney into the lineup and rotation.

Barring some kind of weird disaster, I can almost guarantee that we will not see the two-big lineup from Marquette in this game. KenPom.com gives us each team’s most frequent lineups over the past five games. In the four lineups that have been on the floor for more than 5% of the minutes/possessions, here are the tallest players for each lineup:

  • Christian Bishop, 6’7”
  • Denzel Mahoney, 6’5”; Damien Jefferson, 6’5”; Mitch Ballock, 6’5”
  • Damien Jefferson & Mitch Ballock
  • Nic Zeil, 6’8”

And that’s it. 16.4% of the court time has been occupied over the last five games with the tallest chap on the floor at 6’5”, and there were multiple 6’5” guys out there. I don’t know about you, but the absolute last thing I want to ever see is Jayce Johnson, Theo John, and Ed Morrow chasing the Mitch Ballocks of the world around the court. If you think that Greg McDermott is going to do anything but go five-out the first second that Steve Wojciechowski tries to pull a two-big lineup on him, well, I’ll have what you’re having.

In terms of style, well, you’ll never believe this, but having to play a bunch of guys without any significantly noticeable height available has resulted in Creighton shooting a bajillion threes per game. They currently rank #63 in the country in terms of what percentage of their shots come from behind the arc, and as impossible as it seems, they’re actually shooting threes less often than they did each of the past two seasons. I’m going to presume that this is a result of trying to get more motion into the offense to help free up shooters, and the accidental result of that is getting cutters available for layups on occasion.

It’s a pretty standard Greg McDermott offensive profile in general, though. They take a bunch of threes, they make a bunch of threes (37.6% as a team, #31 in the country), and to make things slightly more frustrating for a defense, they don’t make mistakes, either. The Bluejays are turning it over less than 17% of the time this season, which ranks in the top 40 in the country per KenPom.com. In addition to standard issue Creighton basketball, the Jays also don’t grab very many of their misses — probably by design, as why bother trying hard to rebound your misses when there are so few of them? — and they also don’t get to the line very often at all. That’s largely a byproduct of being a jumpshooting team, I’m sure, but that’s also fantastic news for Marquette. The Golden Eagles are having real problems keeping their opponents off the charity stripe this season, and the Bluejays are essentially handing them a free pass in this game.

As a result of not having anything resembling size on the roster, Creighton’s going through it a bit on the defensive end. They currently rank #101 in the country in KenPom.com’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, and that’s their lowest ranking since Creighton’s second year in the Big East, which was the only time under Greg McDermott where they didn’t win at least 20 games and the first time that they had finished a year under .500 since 1995-96. They don’t defend two-pointers very well, although they’re much better than they were last year, and they don’t force turnovers much at all. Much like the free throws on the offensive end, that’s fantastic news for Marquette. The Golden Eagles need all the help that they can get to keep track of the ball this season, and Creighton seems to be a willing participant in that motif.

As a team, they don’t block shots much, but somehow, even at just 6’7”, Christian Bishop is a top 200 shot blocker in terms of rate this season per KenPom. That’s surprisingly great, especially considering that you’d think that he’d be more of a “stay at home and mind your knitting” type of post defender as opposed to one that gambles on shot blocking.

We can’t let this preview end without talking about Marcus Zegarowski. The sophomore from Massachusetts has strongly inserted himself into the All-Big East First Team discussion with his play to this point of the season. He ranks third in the conference in scoring behind only Markus Howard and Myles Powell and still manages to find time to rank fourth in assists at 4.8 per game. He’s one of the best shooters in the conference, draining 52% of shots overall at just 6’2”, and ranks #116 in the country in effective field goal percentage thanks to canning 38% of his three-point attempts. When your two best KenPom.com comparisons are Shabazz Napier and Yogi Ferrell, you’re probably doing something right as a player. To a certain extent, Marquette’s chances to win this game center around whether or not the Golden Eagles can disrupt Zegarowski’s play. Other guys — specifically Ty-Shon Alexander and Mitch Ballock — might be shooting better numbers from behind the arc and might be able to do more damage in a quicker fashion as a result, but it’s Zegarowski that’s performing as the cog in the middle that gets everyone else turning in the right directions.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 8-2, with five straight wins.

Creighton Last 10 Games: 9-1, with seven straight wins.

All Time Series: Marquette leads, 55-33

Current Streak: Creighton’s win in Milwaukee on March 3rd last season snapped a six game winning streak by the Golden Eagles.

Follow Along On Twitter

@AnonymousEagle - Hey, that’s us!
@MarquetteMBB - Official MU account
@BluejayMBB - Official CU account
@whitebluereview - our favorite Creighton site
@becb_sbn - our SB Nation friends that follow the whole Big East
@BenSteeleMJS - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel MU beat writer