#10 Marquette Golden Eagles (21-6, 13-3 Big East) at #19 Creighton Bluejays (18-9, 12-4 Big East)
Date: Tuesday, February 21, 2023
Time: 7:30pm Central
Location: CHI Health Center Omaha, Omaha, Nebraska
Marquette Stats Leaders
Points: Kam Jones, 14.9 ppg
Rebounds: Oso Ighodaro, 6.0 rpg
Assists: Tyler Kolek, 7.6 apg
Creighton Stats Leaders
Points: Ryan Kalkbrenner, 14.8 ppg
Rebounds: Baylor Scheierman, 8.1 rpg
Assists: Ryan Nembhard, 5.0 apg
Game Projection: Creighton has a 63% chance of victory, with a predicted score of 77-73.
The Stakes: Marquette can clinch a top four finish in the Big East with a victory. Right now, they could end up in a tie with UConn if everything goes right for the Huskies the rest of the way and everything goes wrong for MU. The Golden Eagles can not eliminate Creighton from tying for a Big East regular season championship, but they can 1) secure the tiebreaker by way of the season series sweep and 2) give themselves a two game lead on the Bluejays with three games to play. A loss would mean dropping into a tie for first place with Creighton as well as possibly with Xavier pending the Musketeers’ Tuesday night home result against Villanova.
Last Time Out: Marquette picked up a 69-58 victory over Creighton earlier this season, in fact in the Big East opener for both teams on December 16th. Oso Ighodaro led Marquette with 16 points and six rebounds, while Olivier-Maxence Prosper went for 14 points and six rebounds. The Bluejays got double-doubles in that game from both Baylor Scheierman and Frederick King, but MU seized control of the game with a 19-2 run in the first half, held Creighton off with a 9-0 run in the middle of the second half, and led by 18 with less than four minutes to go when the Golden Eagles scored their final points of the game.
Since Last We Met: The first meeting went into the record books as Creighton’s sixth consecutive loss at the time, and their third straight defeat without starting center Ryan Kalkbrenner in the lineup due to a bout of mono. The 2022 Big East Defensive Player of the Year returned in CU’s very next game, and the Bluejays have gone 12-3 since then. The three losses are exactly the three losses that you would expect that they would have in a league where Marquette holds a one game advantage over a three-way tie for second place: At Connecticut, at Xavier, and at Providence. The UConn and Xavier losses were back to back in early January, and Creighton ran off eight straight wins after those before falling in double overtime to Providence last Tuesday night. The Bluejays bounced back with a 10 point road win over St. John’s on Saturday, but it was a one point game with five minutes to play before they ripped off 11 straight to make the final minute or so purely academic.
Tempo Free Fun: We talked about the difference between the 6-0 Start Of The Year Creighton and 0-5 Maui Title Game Forward Creighton heading into the first matchup earlier this season. It was an obvious thing that we had to do: They stepped all over some buy game opponents and followed that up by beating Texas Tech & Arkansas in Maui’s first two rounds….. and then lost six straight games. As it turns out, looking back on it now, it does ask a lot more questions than it even did at the time, considering that all six teams that they lost to are all KenPom top 100 teams.
But as we know now, Ryan Kalkbrenner started suffering from mono somewhere in there and was eventually pulled from the lineup. That obviously made Creighton’s problems even worse, right up to the point where they lost kind of badly to Marquette even with Frederick King stepping in for Kalkbrenner and putting up a KenPom.com MVP worthy 16 points, 10 rebounds, and three blocks while not missing a single one of his eight shots in that game.
So that brings us around to the question: What has Creighton looked like since then?
Breaking news: REALLY DAMN GOOD.
As always, we make use of BartTorvik.com’s filtration system to make the point. Since Kalkbrenner got back into the lineup, really since the day after Marquette beat them in Milwaukee just to squeeze in a couple extra days of data, Creighton has been playing like the #4 team in the country. The T-Rank algorithm shows them as the #17 offense in the country, adjusted for level of competition, and the #9 defense. They have, by efficiency metrics, been far and away the best team in the Big East, with Marquette, Connecticut, Providence, and Xavier all dropping in right in a row in that same time period from #19 through #22.
In short? They absolutely have been the top 10 team that people thought they would be in the preseason. Since December 17th, Creighton has absolutely been the best team in the Big East, just like I picked them to be in the preseason.
How much of that is just Ryan Kalkbrenner doing Ryan Kalkbrenner things? Probably a lot. KenPom has him as one of the five best players in the league and the #1 Offensive Rating player in the conference when you only look at Big East play. He’s also tops in effective field goal percentage and true shooting percentage during conference games, and he’s the second best shot blocker in the league. He doesn’t turn the ball over, and he gobbles up offensive rebounds like few other players in the conference. If you want to put a number on it, Hoop Explorer has the Jays scoring four points more per 100 possessions while Kalkbrenner is on the floor since he made his return to the lineup, and the defense allows — wait for it — ELEVEN more points per 100 possessions when he’s off the floor.
The biggest concern for me is that Frederick King wrecked Marquette pretty bad on the inside, and the freshman from The Bahamas isn’t nearly the multi-dimensional player that Kalkbrenner is, not right now at least. Heck, even Greg McDermott doesn’t think that King should be playing all that much even after two out of three great outings while Kalkbrenner was out. Since January 7th, King has only played double digit minutes once and he hasn’t even shot the ball at all in Creighton’s last three games. King hasn’t made a field goal since CU’s last game of January. Part of this is just because Kalkbrenner doesn’t come off the floor almost ever, which does tell you a lot about how much McDermott trusts Kalkbrenner to play almost the entirety of the game every single night. He averages 14.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.7 assists, and 2.8 blocks per game in Big East play aka “every game since Creighton lost to Marquette.” If McDermott is willing to just roll with Kalkbrenner no matter what knowing that Marquette couldn’t do much with King, what does that tell us about what McDermott thinks Kalkbrenner means to his team?
In specific to these two teams and how they matched up last time, there’s a couple of things that might just not go Marquette’s way the second time around. Marquette induced the Bluejays into turning it over on 25% of their possessions in that game, and shutting down a possession before a shot goes up is always a great way to get a stop. However, Creighton does rank #63 in the country per KenPom in turnover rate, only giving it away on 17% of trips down the court on average. That number goes up to 18% in Big East play, and while that does rank only ninth in the league, there’s a big gap between 18 and 25.
Marquette also did a superb job limiting the Creighton offense to just one shot per possession. They ended up with just three offensive rebounds, all by King. That’s just 10% for the game, and even objectively terrible Creighton (#270 in the country, #8 in the Big East per KenPom) averages over 25% this season. Odds are that’s not going to go that perfectly well for the Golden Eagles a second time.
Finally, any preview of Marquette/Creighton that doesn’t talk about the Bluejays shooting just 20% from behind the three point line in December is missing a big ol’ chunk of the point of the show. Everyone not named Baylor Scheierman shot 2-for-14 in the Milwaukee game, and if you think that the Bluejays — 35% long range shooters as a team — are just going to do that again because MU asks them to miss nicely.... Well, that’s just not going to happen.
Now, the good news is that Marquette won that game by 11 and they were up 18 before Shaka Smart eased off the gas. That sounds an awful lot of leeway for change in performance, especially given that Marquette only pulled in 14% of their own misses and shot just 29% behind the arc. If the Golden Eagles can match the Bluejays in improvements in both departments while still forcing some turnovers on a regular basis, that’s going to bode well for their chances.
Marquette Last 10 Games: 8-2 with wins in their last two and in seven of the last eight.
Creighton Last 10 Games: 9-1 with a win on Saturday against St. John’s as a response to the one loss, a double overtime road defeat against Providence.
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 57-39
Current Streak: Marquette snapped a four game losing streak to Creighton with the win in Milwaukee earlier this season, but the Bluejays have still won five of the last seven meetings.
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