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RV Marquette Men’s Basketball Big East Preview Primer: vs RV Creighton Bluejays

We get bird-on-bird violence for the first game of conference play for both teams.

NCAA Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-Providence vs Creighton Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

RV Marquette Golden Eagles (8-3, 0-0 Big East) vs RV Creighton Bluejays (6-5, 0-0 Big East)

Date: Friday, December 16, 2022
Time: 7:30pm Central
Location: Fiserv Forum, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Kam Jones, 16.4 ppg
Rebounds: Oso Ighodaro, 6.9 rpg
Assists: Tyler Kolek, 7.8 apg

Creighton Stats Leaders

Points: Ryan Kalkbrenner, 15.9 ppg
Rebounds: Baylor Scheierman, 9.6 rpg
Assists: Ryan Nembhard, 6.0 apg Rankings

Marquette: #31
Creighton: #28
Game Projection: Marquette has a 60% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 78-75.

So Far This Season: There has been a lot of Creighton basketball so far this season. If you’ve been paying close attention, you don’t need me to walk you through it, but if not, I think a fun way to explain what has happened to the Bluejays through 11 games is to look at their Associated Press top 25 rankings. Ready?

9, 10, 10, 7, 21, 40

Yep. That’s Preseason top 10, two weeks of shaking out as they don’t play any particularly notable teams, “yo, they beat Texas Tech and Arkansas, who cares that they lost to Arizona in the Maui title game!”, “yeah, fine, lost to Texas close but what the hell is that Nebraska loss?”, and then finally three people cut them a break because Ryan Kalkbrenner was out against BYU and voted for them even after their fourth straight loss.

How did Creighton reward Jon Wilner, David Thompson, and Jeff Welsch? By losing to Arizona State on Monday night, less than 12 hours after the new AP poll came out, which makes it five straight losses after starting the year with six straight wins.

That’s four wins that fall into the category of buy games, two high quality W’s in the first two games in Hawaii, a completely explainable loss in the Maui title game, a completely explainable road loss that miiiiiiiiight start looking weird depending on what happens with Texas and their head coach, a very awful performance in a home loss to Nebraska, and then back-to-back narrow losses on a neutral court without their starting center who was the Big East Defensive Player of the Year.

Like I said, there’s A LOT here.

Tempo Free Fun: Obviously the big question at hand is whether or not the Bluejays have been a fundamentally different team in their six wins and their five losses. Are they effectively the same team just suddenly coming up on the short end of the stick, or is there a noticeable shift in their stats that helps explain what’s going on.

Thankfully we have T-Rank and the ability to sort things by dates to save me from having to do a whole bunch of math on scrap paper. Here’s the biggest things to note about the two sides of Creighton’s season.

Effective Field Goal Percentage while 6-0: 59.7%
Effective Field Goal Percentage while 0-5: 45.7%

Three-Point Shooting while 6-0: 37.8%
Three-Point Shooting while 0-5: 30.8%

Two-Point Shooting while 6-0: 61.6%
Two-Point Shooting while 0-5: 45.2%

Offensive Rebounding Rate while 6-0: 32.6%
Offensive Rebounding Rate while 0-5: 18.0%

This is Creighton’s offense collapsing. They went from hitting a bunch of shots all over the court and grabbing up a lot of their rare misses and getting a second chance to missing a bunch of shots all over the court and not getting very many of the large quantity of misses for a second chance. My gut instinct on their problem was going to be the defense, but that’s just my bias of knowing that head coach Greg McDermott has not been known has a defensive guru across the length and breadth of his career. Nope, that’s not the case. Adjusting for opponent ability/value, Creighton’s defense has effectively been the same when you look at their winning streak and their losing streak. There’s been a slight shift in getting worse at defending two-pointers and a little better at defending three-pointers, but the net result to their defensive effective field goal percentage isn’t much to speak of, not to the level of “oh my god why won’t they stop losing?”

This is a pretty significant problem for the Bluejays. Last year, their offense was quietly kind of bad. I’m talking about bad for a Big East team — 3rd worst in the league both full season and in league play in terms of efficiency — and bad for a Greg McDermott team. Creighton finished the 2021-22 season ranked #112 in the country in offensive efficiency per That was the first sub-50 finish for McDermott since 2015.... which was CU’s second season in the Big East and first without Doug McDermott. The Jays were #59 that year and went 14-19 overall and 4-14 in the Big East. Before last year, Greg McDermott had never — NEVER — coached an offense outside the top 100.

But it happened last year... and they still earned a #9 seed in the NCAA tournament AND even won a game even though they didn’t have Ryan Kalkbrenner or Ryan Nembhard available to them. Why? Because their defense was ridiculously elite, #19 in the country by the end of the season, and the best in the Big East in league play, measuring by points per possession. They suffocated teams across from them, and that balanced out the fact that they couldn’t put the ball in the bucket.

Now they can’t put the ball in the bucket and the defense, while playing pretty well, isn’t as good as it was last year. That’s how you lose five straight games to — we’ll cut BYU some slack since they’re joining the Big 12 next year — high major opponents. At the very least, it’s five straight losses to top 100 KenPom opponents... and I don’t know how to say this other than to say it: 16 of 20 Big East games are against top 100 opponents, and if DePaul gets their act together a little bit, that’s going to be 18 of 20.

In terms of head-to-head competition with Marquette, there are a few things to keep an eye on for this one. Creighton has been an objectively horrible offensive rebounding team in their last five games, and that has led to an ugly looking season long average. Marquette has struggled at times to end possessions after one shot this season. The Golden Eagles can not let them get back on track on that end of the court in this game. It will be interesting to see if Shaka Smart’s defense can induce turnovers from the Bluejays. That’s one thing that hasn’t been a problem for CU during their losing streak, and KenPom currently has them with the 12th lowest turnover rate in the country. They’re averaging at 14.8% this season, and Marquette has forced a turnover on at least 21% of possessions in six of their last eight games.

One of the things that Creighton has been especially good at this season is not letting opponents score with the clock stopped. They have the best defensive free throw rate in the country per KenPom. No one allows a smaller ratio of free throws to field goals than the Bluejays. Marquette’s offense isn’t completely designed around getting to the line.... but it is heavily designed around getting to the rim or at least getting into the lane to get a kickout for an open jumper. Creighton is elite at getting you to not shoot threes, ranking #18 in the country in what percentage of shots they allow from behind the arc, so all of that presents an interesting puzzle for the Golden Eagles to unlock. Keep an eye on this: Creighton’s bad at allowing assisted baskets, while Marquette is getting a helper on 63% of their buckets this season. If Tyler Kolek and Oso Ighodaro are carving up the Bluejays’ defense with their passing, that’s probably a good sign for Marquette ending the game with high fives and smiles.

In fact, Oso Ighodaro may be the key to the game. At this point as I write this on Thursday morning, we don’t know whether or not Creighton center Ryan Kalkbrenner will be back in the lineup after missing the two games in Las Vegas due to a non-COVID illness. If he’s shaken that off and is 100%, then obviously the Ighodaro/Kalkbrenner battle is one to watch. If it’s freshman Frederick King (6’10”, 235 pounds) playing 20-25 minutes and Creighton crossing their fingers for the other 15-20 minutes.... well, that seems like a perfect opportunity for MU’s multidimensional big man to go to town. Remember: Ighodaro is coming off putting up 10 points and 10 rebounds in the first half on the way to a 16/18/3 with a steal against Notre Dame.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 7-3 with wins in five of the last six games.

Creighton Last 10 Games: 5-5 with a five game losing streak coming into this game.

All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 56-39

Current Streak: Creighton won all three meetings last season, including in the Big East Quarterfinals, so they have a four game winning streak going in the series. They’ve also won five of the last six meetings.

Follow Along On Twitter

@AnonymousEagle - Hey, that’s us!
@MarquetteMBB - Official MU account
@BluejayMBB - Official CU account
@whitebluereview - our favorite Creighton site
@BenSteeleMJS - Milwaukee Journal Sentinel MU beat writer