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#19 Marquette Basketball Preview Primer: vs #15 Creighton

The Bluejays come to Milwaukee as the Golden Eagles look to bounce back from last week’s loss to Villanova.

Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament - Qr. Final Round Getty Images

#19 Marquette Golden Eagles (17-7, 7-5 Big East) vs #15 Creighton Bluejays (20-6, 9-4 Big East)

Date: Tuesday, February 18, 2020
Time: 7:30pm Central
Location: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, WI

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Markus Howard, 27.3 ppg
Rebounds: Brendan Bailey, 5.5 rpg
Assists: Koby McEwen, 3.3 apg

Creighton Stats Leaders

Points: Ty-Shon Alexander, 16.7 ppg
Rebounds: Mitch Ballock, 5.5 rpg
Assists: Marcus Zegarowski, 5.2 apg

KenPom.com Rankings

Marquette: #23
Creighton: #18
KenPom Projection: Marquette has a 60% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 79-76.

Last Time Out: I started writing the recap for Marquette’s New Year’s Day loss to Creighton with about 4:30 to play in the game. That’s how well it went. A 10 point halftime margin was cut to six but then quickly became a 20 point deficit as the second half progressed, and Creighton won, 92-75. Marquette’s defense was extremely problematic while the game was still relatively competitive as Creighton, a team notorious for shooting a bajillion threes, took 43 of their 66 shots in the game from inside the arc as the Golden Eagles could not do anything to stop the Bluejays from proceeding directly to the rim on possession after possession.

Since Last We Met: Both teams scuffled immediately after that league opener for both sides. Creighton found themselves at 2-3 in league play after taking losses to Butler (a worse than it looks 14 point loss on the road), Villanova (near miss at home), and Georgetown (early second half run ultimately spelled their doom). Marquette beat Villanova in the very next game, but ended up taking losses to Providence (close, but in overtime at home) and Seton Hall (a bit of a massacre on the road). Since those shaky starts, the two teams have combined for a record of 13-3, which is pretty good. Creighton’s burst has gotten them within a game of Seton Hall for the top spot in the conference, while Marquette is sitting alone in fourth place, but just a game and a half back of the Bluejays.

Tempo Free Fun: Your gut instinct should be to believe that we’re going to see some points scored on Tuesday night. Creighton is the most efficient offense in the Big East to this point of the season, racking up 111.5 points per 100 possessions per KenPom.com, while Marquette is a distant #2 at 107.2 per 100. They’re the two most accurate three-point shooting teams in the league in conference games, and the only two squads connecting on more than 34% of their long range shots as a team. They’re also both not terrific defensive teams, giving up more than 102 points per 100 possessions to sit in the back half of the Big East right now.

I’m here to tell you to put a pin in that thought.

I wrote about a lot of the same thoughts last season when Creighton came to Fiserv Forum. What did we get? A 66-60 rock fight where Marquette’s defense locked up the Bluejays left right and center but the Golden Eagles were unable to hold onto the ball long enough to take advantage of 1) their own quality shooting or 2) Creighton’s unfortunate shooting.

In fact, that game made it three out of the last five Creighton trips to Milwaukee that ended up not burning a barn down. February 24, 2016: Marquette 66, Creighton 61. January 13, 2015: Marquette 53, Creighton 52, aka The Matt Carlino Game.

Everything looks like it’s setting up for Tuesday night to turn into an LMFAO video. I’m not completely convinced it will happen.

Let’s talk about what happened in the first game between the two sides a little bit more, shall we? In the preview for that game, I pointed out that Creighton just does not have a lot of useable size on their roster, and it was unlikely that the Golden Eagles would use their oft-discussed but rarely ever used two-big lineup as a result. That ended up being accurate on multiple fronts. Outside of seven minutes of action from 6’11” Kelvin Jones, Creighton never played anyone over 6’7” tall in the game. For Marquette, Theo John played eight minutes, Jayce Johnson got four minutes of burn, and Ed Morrow was out there for 19 minutes. You’ll notice that only tallies up to 31 minutes of a 40 minute basketball game. At some point, Steve Wojciechowski realized his team was getting just absolutely cracked in the face with Creighton’s offensive structure dragging their not-quite-agile enough 5’s away from the rim. This left gargantuan amounts of space for Bluejay drivers to get to the rim, which they did seemingly at will.

The question becomes how much does Wojciechowski want to/need to learn from that experience? Jayce Johnson has shown himself over the past 10 games to be an incredibly useful component for the Golden Eagles.... but if he couldn’t do anything productive against Creighton the first time, how much is that going to change this time? Same thing with Theo John. There’s no Ed Morrow to vacuum up minutes in this game, so Marquette’s options in this direction are incredibly important. If Greg McDermott is going to trot 6’7” Christian Bishop out there at center for his standard 21 minutes per game and then somehow generally speaking get smaller from there, at what point is just matching Creighton with similar size the smarter play for Marquette? Is this a game where Brendan Bailey and Jamal Cain should be sharing time at the 4 and 5? How long can Marquette make that work? Can the MU coaching staff come up with a defensive game plan that allows for John’s shotblocking and Johnson’s rebounding to make an impact on the game?

A note, if I may. Guard Mitch Ballock, please. The 6’5” junior from Kansas knocked down five of his nine three-point attempts in the first meeting this season. I don’t have specific numbers on them for sure, but I remember a lot of the five were of the “oh, how the **** is he open and not only open but that open” variety. Ballock is shooting 44.8% on the season from long range and 44.6% in league play. He’s been alternating good and bad games over the past four contests for Creighton, and thus is on a 9-for-26 burst. That means he’s “only” hitting 35% of his attempts, which is perfectly acceptable for anyone else but actually not very good for him. Ballock hit four of eight attempts against DePaul in CU’s most recent game, so I think it would be very good if Marquette induced him to toggle back to a bad game again.

One more thing that can not happen again: Koby McEwen can not be a zero. He had four points on 0-for-2 shooting with two rebounds, two assists, and four turnovers in 18 minutes in Omaha. No good. The 6’5” Canadian has scored in double digits in each of Marquette’s last six games, and while he hasn’t been shooting the ball from long range well, McEwen has still had an offensive rating per KenPom north of 100 in six of MU’s last eight games, and he was over 90 in all eight of them. If he’s not scoring, that’s not necessarily the worst thing, but McEwen has to be making a positive impact on the game for Marquette to win. That goes double if MU ends up forgoing minutes from John or Johnson and cobbling together a five man unit designed to shut down all five undersized Bluejays players on the court.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 6-4 after losing to Villanova last week, but winners of six of their last eight.

Creighton Last 10 Games: 8-2, with wins in seven of their last eight.

All Time Series: Marquette leads 55-34.

Current Streak: Creighton has now won two straight over Marquette after the Golden Eagles had won the previous six meetings.

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