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RV Marquette Basketball Big East Preview Primer: at Creighton

The Golden Eagles head out to Nebraska for some bird on bird violence.

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

RV Marquette Golden Eagles (17-9, 9-6 Big East) at Creighton Bluejays (17-8, 9-5 Big East)

Date: Sunday, February 20, 2022
Time: 2pm Central
Location: CHI Health Center, Omaha, Nebraska

Marquette Stats Leaders

Points: Justin Lewis, 16.8 ppg
Rebounds: Justin Lewis, 8.0 rpg
Assists: Tyler Kolek, 6.0 apg

Creighton Stats Leaders

Points: Ryan Hawkins, 13.9 ppg
Rebounds: Ryan Hawkins, 7.5 rpg
Assists: Ryan Nembhard, 4.3 apg

KenPom.com Rankings

Marquette: #38
Creighton: #67
Game Projection: Creighton has a 52% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 70-69.

Last Time Out: KenPom’s projection of “uhhhh, home team by 1” feels pretty solid, as the Milwaukee end of this season series ended with Creighton getting a six point victory in double overtime. Marquette had not one but two chances to win the game at the horn, one with offense while the score was tied at 58 at the end of regulation and one with defense while up three, 67-64, at the end of what would become the first overtime session. Creighton’s defense flustered MU’s execution in regulation and then Alex O’Connell buried a three at the buzzer to force a second overtime while Marquette could have very easily fouled to prevent him from getting that shot off. From there, the Bluejays got hot, Marquette couldn’t buy a bucket, and that was that.

Since Last We Met: There’s good news and there’s bad news if you’re a Bluejays fan. That win over Marquette moved them to 2-0 in the league with the other win coming at home against Villanova. The very next game? A 75-41 loss on the road to those same Wildcats, and that was the first game of a 3-5 stretch for Creighton. The wins in there were at home over St. John’s and DePaul, along with a road trip victory over Connecticut. The losses were a season sweep against Xavier and road trips against Butler and Seton Hall. That dropped the Bluejays to 13-8 overall and 5-5 in the league.

Things have turned around lately, but we can put a little bit of if not an asterisk, then a question mark on it. Four straight wins, but they were at home against Butler, twice against Georgetown just two days apart, and then on the road against DePaul. The combined Big East record of those four opponents, counting the Hoyas twice because they played them twice? 9-50, and one of the nine wins was that Butler win over Creighton. Get your wins how you can get them, of course, but it’s reasonable to ask if the Bluejays are playing better basketball lately or if they just got to smack around the bottom three teams in the league for a while.

Tempo Free Fun: It’s a “second time around” game so the obvious starting place for trying to figure out how this game could go is to look at how we ended up with the 75-69 result that we saw in Milwaukee. The biggest thing right out of the gate? Marquette’s offense was awful in that New Year’s Day outing. Going by efficiency, that was MU’s third worst game of the year at just 86.1 points per 100 possessions, and only UCLA and St. Bonaventure made Marquette look worse this season.

Nothing complicated about how they got there, either: MU just couldn’t make shots. 42% on two-pointers, even with Oso Ighodaro going 10-for-12 in 33 minutes. Three-pointers? Just 5-for-19, aka 26%. No good, and Tyler Kolek’s 1-for-6 was a big part of the problem. All of this is particularly notable because now, 13 Big East games later, Marquette is the best three-point shooting team in the conference at 38.5% and the second best two-point shooting team at 51.9%. Not only was it a particularly bad outing in the big picture, but it was a wild outlier of a performance in comparison to how league play overall has gone.

It’s worth noting that the double overtime loss to Creighton was the end of Marquette’s 0-3 start to Big East play. They kicked off their seven game winning streak just three days later by absolutely demolishing Providence with a film session guest appearance by Wesley Matthews in between the two games. Part of Marquette’s great shooting as a whole in Big East play is because they were noticeably playing differently after that 0-3 loss, particularly on offense. The “we’re going to shoot all the threes, no matter what” mindset was gone and was replaced by a “we’re going to focus on getting the ball inside and let that get shooters open” style.

Of course, Justin Lewis turning into a masterful long range shooter helped an awful lot. Up to and including the Creighton game, Lewis was shooting 2-for-12 in Big East play and 26% on the season from behind the arc. Since then? A blisteringly hot 30-for-63, or just over 47%. “It’s okay if Lewis shoots it” might have been something on the Creighton scouting report back on January 1st, and he went 1-for-4 to prove that point.... and 3-for-14 inside the arc! If Lewis can make the Bluejays pay from beyond the arc and let that help him get quality looks at and/or going to the rim, then that’s going to pay huge dividends for the Golden Eagles.

While “can the offense function at a much better level” is a key question from the last meeting, “will the defense go about the same way” is almost more important. At home, with a favorable crowd, Marquette went about their business on defense and held the Bluejays to just 93.5 points per 100 possessions. Good because it’s below 100, but for Marquette, it’s right about middle of the pack of what they’ve done to teams this season.

However, it’s not a secret that Marquette’s defense for the past couple of games has been kind of awful. I get to say “kind of” because they did a good job in their most recent game.... but that was against the very hilariously bad Georgetown Hoyas. In the two games before that, both losses? Marquette had their two worst defensive performances of the season. They allowed 118.2 points per 100 possessions to Connecticut before letting that number wander up to 123.7 at Hinkle Fieldhouse against Butler. Both road games, and if we’re being honest about it, Marquette’s third worst defensive outing of the season was a road game as well: The visit to Madison to play Wisconsin back in December.

Whether it’s a bit of reading too many of their press clippings or presuming things will just work out, or if it was not respecting the game as head coach Shaka Smart put it after the Butler loss, MU’s defense hasn’t been at the level it needs to be since beating Villanova at home. The seven game winning streak was neat, and you can say the same thing about the eight wins in nine games if you fold in the loss at Providence. But Marquette is not the most gifted and talented team in the world. They can’t get by on hope and luck, they need to put effort in every single night.

Play with a little bit of violence to them, as the head coach would say.

I think it’s safe to say that this message has been transmitted to the squad since the Butler game. The Georgetown game wasn’t a perfect result, but the defense was solid enough: Back down to 95.7 points per 100 possessions. 40 minutes of locked in effort on both ends mixed with a little bit of good decision making should go a long way towards getting Marquette back on track towards a strong finish to the regular season.

Stat Watch: Senior center Kur Kuath has 73 blocks on the season. That is the seventh most blocks by any Marquette player in any season in program history. Every single one of the six guys in front of Kuath on the all-time list played in the 1990s, so this means that Kuath is the most prolific shot blocker that MU has seen in 25 years. He needs three swats to tie Amal McCaskill for the sixth most, and honestly, six to tie Jim McIlvaine’s junior year isn’t completely out of the question here.

Marquette Last 10 Games: 7-3, but the losses are all in the last five games.

Creighton Last 10 Games: 7-3 with wins in each of the last four games.

All Time Series: Marquette leads, 56-37

Current Streak: Creighton won the second game last season, so they have a two game streak going against Marquette, and they’ve won three of the last four.

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