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2022 Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament Quarterfinals Preview: #4 Creighton vs #5 Marquette

We get bird-on-bird violence in the second game of the conference tournament quarterfinal round.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: MAR 12 Big East Tournament - St. Johns v Creighton Photo by John Jones/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

2022 Big East Men’s Basketball Tournament

Quarterfinals

#4 Creighton Bluejays (20-10, 12-7 Big East) vs #5 Marquette Golden Eagles (19-11, 11-8 Big East)

Date: Thursday, March 10, 2022
Time: 1:30pm Central
Location: Madison Square Garden, New York, New York
Television: FS1, with Tim Brando, Jim Jackson, and Kristina Pink calling the action
Streaming: FoxSports.com/live
Live Stats: Stat Broadcast
Season Series: Creighton won, 2-0
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 56-38

Let’s just be honest about how close Marquette and Creighton were in their two games this season, other than the fact that one game was decided in double overtime and the other was a one point game. I feel like we can boil the entire season series down to the following sentence: If a selection of two possessions go the other way, Marquette is 2-0 against the Bluejays this season instead of 0-2.

Take the first meeting. Marquette couldn’t properly get a play run at the end of regulation and didn’t get a look at the rim to win it at the buzzer, and then at the end of the first overtime with the Golden Eagles up three with seconds to play, Marquette refused/failed/forgot to foul Alex O’Connell before he got into his shooting motion. Turn either possession the other way, and Marquette wins. I know, I know, “but it didn’t go like that” but the game was that close. That’s the point. I’m going somewhere with this.

Second meeting, down in Omaha on February 20th. Take your pick of plays to turn: Darryl Morsell’s offensive foul with 3:33 to play with MU up three, Olivier-Maxence Proper’s missed layup with under a minute to go (you can switch this to a make or Ryan Kalkbrenner’s fifth foul, whatever) with Marquette down one, Morsell’s fumble of the ball out of bounds with eight seconds left with Marquette down one, or Greg Elliott’s step inbounds with five seconds left with Marquette down two. Given the time involved, maybe you toss the offensive foul, since so much could happen after that, but the last three absolutely could have turned the game the other way if Marquette comes away with points instead of what they got.

Even the biggest Creighton honks in the world have to admit that the thinnest of razor thin margins gave them two wins against the Golden Eagles this year. Nothing wrong with that, that’s just how basketball goes sometimes, good for their team for securing the win. It would stand to reason that in a third meeting, things might go in a fairly similar fashion and the two sides might play another tight and close game.

However.

Both of those wins had freshman point guard Ryan Nembhard in the lineup for the Bluejays. Nembhard in Game #1: 11 points on 4-for-15 shooting, six rebounds, two assists, two steals. Game #2: 18 points on 6-for-11 shooting, three rebounds, five assists, and a steal. Overall this season, Nembhard is averaging 11.3 points for the Bluejays along with 3.1 rebounds, 4.4 assists, and 1.3 steals. In Big East play? 10.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists, 1.1 steals. High quality stuff all around for a freshman, especially for a freshman being asked to run the point guard position for a Big East team, and even more so for a freshman in that spot on a team that has played their way into position for an NCAA tournament bid.

Except he’s not going to play in this game.

Nembhard suffered a wrist injury against St. John’s on February 23rd, an injury that required surgery to repair. He’s done for the year, and the Bluejays went 1-2 with him out of the lineup: 72-51 loss at Providence, 64-62 home win over Connecticut, and 65-60 home loss to Seton Hall.

It’s worse than that for Creighton.

According to BartTorvik’s helpful date sorting tool, up through the St. John’s game — Nembhard played 27 minutes in that one, so we can count it as “he was available” — Creighton was playing like the #70 team in the country overall, #127 on offense, #29 on defense. Since the injury? Creighton has been playing like the #106 team in the country. By way of splits, that’s #232 on offense, and a still pretty good but notably down #37 on defense. Sure, only a three game sample for the Bluejays, but that’s counting every game in the country since February 24th onwards to measure all of that.

Without Nembhard in the lineup as their guiding light on offense, their efficiency has absolutely cratered — going from 104.0 in adjusted efficiency to just 99.6 — and they weren’t a typical Greg McDermott picture of efficient hoops before that. From a certain point of view, the defense has actually gotten better without Nembhard in the lineup even though the ranking is down. They were at a T-Rank measured 93.4 adjusted points per possession, and in the last three games it’s been 92.5. Slightly better, but clearly not enough to make up for what they’ve lost by way of Nembhard’s playmaking on the other end.

Here’s the long and short of it, from my view: Marquette and Creighton were incredibly close in two meetings this season, with the only thing separating them each time was a six sided die landing one way or another. But now the Jays aren’t that same team any more, and in fact they’re a much worse offensive team facing off against a Marquette team that has to win with defense.

This sounds like a recipe for a win by a Marquette team that is, hopefully/presumably, locked in and devoted to what makes them a good basketball team.

But that’s what it requires, right? What we’ve seen from Marquette since they got on their trip to Connecticut has been a substandard Golden Eagles team. They got crunched by a hot shooting Butler team in the first half of the trip to Hinkle largely because they didn’t bring the effort from the get-go. The visit to DePaul fell apart in a bad way because Marquette went to sleep for about three total minutes.

This is not the most talented Marquette team that we’ve seen in decades or something like that. This is a team that has an incredibly high ceiling..... when they’re locked in and devoted to what makes them a good basketball team. High energy, sharing the ball, and valuing possession of the rock. All of the stuff that head coach Shaka Smart has been preaching all season.

If they bring the heat on Thursday afternoon? Book the W. If they don’t? It’ll be an annoying wait til Selection Sunday.

The winner of Thursday’s Marquette/Creighton game will advance to Friday night’s semifinal game. The opponent there will be either top seeded* Providence, who picked up the bye to the quarterfinals, or the winner of Wednesday’s Xavier/Butler first round game. As you can see from the publish time at the top of the page, this is being written long before XU/BU tips off, so we have no idea which team will stomp the fraudulent Friars into the dirt end up facing off against PC on Thursday afternoon.