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Marquette Basketball Big East Preview Primer: vs RV Creighton Bluejays

The Golden Eagles look to get back in the win column against the 1-0 Jays.

Big East Tournament Quarterfinals: St. John’s vs Creighton

Marquette Golden Eagles (8-5, 0-2 Big East) vs RV Creighton Bluejays (9-3, 1-0 Big East)

Date: Saturday, January 1st, 2022
Time: 11 am Central
Location: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Justin Lewis, 15.7 ppg
Rebounds: Justin Lewis, 7.7 rpg
Assists: Tyler Kolek, 5.9 apg

Creighton Stats Leaders

Points: Ryan Hawkins, 14.2 ppg
Rebounds: Ryan Hawkins 7.2 rbg
Assists: Ryan Nembhard 4.8 apg Rankings

Marquette: #83
Creighton: #48
Game Projection: Marquette is the favorite by the smallest possible odds with a 51% chance of victory and a projected score of 74-73.

So Far This Season: Creighton has started its year off fairly well. They’ve won all the games they're supposed to and have mixed in some very nice wins along the way. Coming into the New Year’s Day tilt with a record of 9-3, the Bluejays only have one loss to a team below them in the KenPom ranking, which comes in the form of a 1-point home loss to Arizona State. Other than that, their only losses have come to a still (and unexpectedly) undefeated Iowa State team and a Colorado State squad poised to challenge for the Mountain West title.

Mix in a Big East opening night victory over Villanova and a win vs BYU on a neutral court and just like that the Bluejays have had a solid 2021 campaign.

Greg McDermott’s squad is led by a trio of guys named Ryan and sticks heavily to that group. Ryan Hawkins, Ryan Nembhard, and Ryan Kalkbrenner lead the Bluejays in most if not all relevant counting stats. They also average over 30 minutes a night each.

The senior Hawkins leads the program in points and rebounds per night and is the de facto team leader and star. But it has been the Canadian freshman point guard Nembhard who has been the X-Factor, leading the team in minutes, three-point field goal percentage, assists, and steals. The rookie Canuck has brought balance and stability to the point guard position, stability that in many ways defines what Creighton does.

Balance…in all things: Creighton is one of the more interesting teams in the nation if only because of their balance of traits across all the things they do. “For every action, there is in an equal and opposite reaction” is an adage that comes to mind when digging into what makes the Bluejays click.

For example, in terms of excellent examples of balance, Creighton is 39th in the country in effective field goal percentage on both offense and defense. They’re 259th in turnovers on offense and 283rd in turnover on defense, which means they’re not good in either direction. They're fifth in the country on defense in terms of allowing opponents to get to the free-throw line, and they’re 251st in getting to the line themselves.

They’re outside the top 180 in the NCAA in both taking and defending the three-point shot, but they’re in the top 15 in the nation in scoring and defending on two-point shots.

Watching Creighton is like watching a pendulum swing back and forth, or maybe a Newton’s Cradle. They have great strengths, and flaws, but all those things seem to balance themselves in a satisfying way.

For opposing teams, this leaves some interesting strategic questions to be answered. You can look to exploit a weakness but must protect yourself from the corresponding strength they will hit you back with. But there are some notable places to exploit the Bluejays, especially for Marquette given their strengths.

The Exploitable: The largest stylistic gap Marquette and Creighton have is in their ideal tempo. The Bluejays will want to turn this into a half-court slog, prioritizing long possessions leading to points in the paint. CU plays with the 213th slowest tempo in the nation and gets just shy of 50% of their points from inside the paint per T-Rank. If they could win 22-20, I think that would be their preferred game every night.

Because of that pace of play, Creighton can comfortably stick to its starting group and generally doesn’t venture deep into its bench. Its bench plays just 26.8% of the minutes, 4.7% below the D1 average, and 275th across all 358 teams.

Marquette on the other hand is the eighth fastest playing team in the country and has the second shortest average offensive possession at just 14.6 seconds per. The offensive output is far more spread out but leans more towards three-point shooting, another general (and somewhat unexpected) weakness of the Bluejays.

Creighton’s Big East opening win over Nova was an example of two very slow teams, with one team coming out on top in the execution department. Marquette will have a clear stylistic difference to try and exploit.

Forcing the Bluejays to play to your comfort speed, on your home court, will be vital to getting them uncomfortable and out of sync. Considering Creighton also surrenders 11.6 non-steal turnovers a game (324th worst in the country) getting them uncomfortable is a proven route to creating more opportunities for yourself on offense and limiting chances for a team who generally needs all the possessions they can get to win.

In the event you allow Creighton to get into their half-court offense, Shaka Smart is going to have to heavily rest on guys like Kur Kuath to continue to protect the paint/rim to force the Jays into shooting from the midrange and deep more than they would like.

Ultimately, getting Doug’s Greg’s bunch out of sorts seems to be the best approach to beating them. But if they can force Marquette to their pace, and bleed them over time…it could be a long morning.

Stat Watch: Speaking of Kuath, continuing to track his ascent up the ranks of the senior year blocked shot chart, Kur is currently sitting 9th after his two blocks versus UConn had him pass Mike Bargen. He needs two to tie and three to pass Theo John, Walter Downing, and Marcus Jackson. Three would place him in a tie for fifth with Ousmane Barro.

Marquette's Last 10 Games: 5-5, with losses in their last three and four of the last five.

Creighton's Last 10 Games: 7-3, with a 1-0 record in conference play.

All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 56-36.

Current Streak: Creighton split the series 1-1 last season after a sweep in 2019-20. In the last 10, Marquette is up 7-3.

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@whitebluereview - our favorite Creighton site
@becb_sbn - our SB Nation friends that follow the whole Big East
@BenSteeleMJS - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel MU beat writer