With conference play in full swing, the most important game of the weekend may be between #6 Villanova and #18 Creighton. With first place in the Big East on the line and with the results of their last matchup fresh, this really is anyone’s game (Sunday, 5pm ET on Fox Sports 1).
The last time these two teams met, it didn’t end well for the Villanova Wildcats (22-2, 10-1 Big East). In fact, it ended in pummeling fashion as the Creighton Bluejays (20-4, 10-2 Big East) sunk 21 three-pointers in their 28-point road victory. For Creighton, the 21 threes set a new Big East record and labeled the team as well as their star scorer Doug McDermott (pictured) as for real.
For Villanova, the brunt of the loss was not taken as harshly as it could have been. The then #4 ranked team in the country managed to stay in the AP Top 10. Combined with their current six-game winning streak and losses from most of the top 10, Nova is back up at #6 and looking good for a top seed in the NCAA Tournament.
However in order to ensure that, Nova has to win the Big East Tournament and standing in their way is the very team that embarrassed them on their own home court.
Currently, Nova and Creighton are ranked first and second in the Big East and are separated by just two wins, one conference win. If Creighton takes the victory, they will be one game closer to taking over the lead in the Big East. Also, they would have the tiebreaker having beaten Villanova twice.
Doug McDermott Leading Bluejays and Increasing Draft Stock
When the season began, Doug McDermott was just a blip on a very big radar. A solid player who had been scoring 20+ points since his sophomore year; it wasn’t until this season that McDermott really broke out. With a draft spot in the top 15 and votes for both the Wooden and Naismith awards, McDermott is showing why he is one of the best in college basketball right now.
McDermott leads all Big East players in points per game with an average of 25.3 and a free throw percentage of just shy of 90. He is eighth in field goal percentage, sixth in rebounds and fifth in three point percentage as well.
With McDermott’s success, Creighton has been on the rise as well. They are the biggest surprise team this season and if they manage to win the Big East, will certainly supplant themselves as a real sleeper come March.
On the year, Creighton is 25th in points per game and 14th in field goal percentage which puts them second in the Big East to Villanova. These numbers of course are great but the real reason for Creighton’s success was actually on display against their conference rivals earlier this year.
And Then There Were Threes
Creighton leads all Big East teams by a huge margin when it comes to the three-point shot. As a team, their 41.7% shot rate is seven percent better than their nearest competitor. Overall, Creighton has actually attempted less threes than Villanova but they have made more. They lead their conference as well in three pointers made per game with an average of 10.4.
Nationally, only Utah State (41.8%) Duke (42%) and Cleveland State (42.5%) rank better in three point shooting percentage and only Iona (10.6) makes more threes a game. Of these teams, only (#8) Duke is ranked in the top 20.
Looking at individual players, McDermott isn’t the only one to have top five stats. In fact, of the Bluejays, McDermott is only the third best on the team when it comes to shooting the long ball.
Teammate Ethan Wragge leads the way in that category. He averages just 11.2 points a game but tops the Big East with his 48.2% shooting from behind the arc. He attempts and completes the most threes of all Big East players as well.
Wragge is one of four Creighton players in the top six of conference ranks for three point shooting. By contrast, Villanova has just two players in the top 10, none of which are top five. Of course, this isn’t Villanova’s strength and like most of the top six teams in the country, the Wildcats have done with defense.
Jay Wright’s Shutdown Defense is Winning Games
For the past few years, the luster that used to represent Villanova basketball had been missing. The Wildcats lost in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament and failed to reach March Madness the year prior. In fact, since the 2008-09 season when Villanova reached the Final Four, the team hasn’t gotten past the second round of tournament play.
There are similarities between this team and the Final Four one though which is a good sign for the Wildcats. Primarily noted, both teams lacked a define scorer and both teams had success by keeping their opponents to low-scoring outcomes.
Wright’s 2013-14 team actually leads the Big East in scoring but more importantly, have dominated defensively. With the exception of the Creighton game, which can be chalked up as an outlier to most experts, Villanova has been the best defense in the Big East and one of the best in the country. Non-coincidentally, two of the other top five defenses in the country are also ranked in the top six of the AP poll.
The saying defense wins championships translates in all sports and for Villanova, they will need that defense to just show up. Against Creighton in January, the Wildcats were down a huge deficit in the first few minutes of the game. The hole they created was too big to climb out of.
While Creighton is a good scoring team and while they will be expected to put up the three, Villanova has a good three-point defense to counter. Again, they just need to show up and do so for the length of the game.
Villanova Wildcats at Creighton Bluejays Pick
Villanova lost a lot of pride when they were dominated in front of their fans the first time these teams met. And considering this is a Jay Wright coached team, expect that to be something that motivates the players on Sunday.
- Take Nova +3.5 on the spread at odds of -110 with BetOnline Sportsbook to get the win and stay atop the Big East standings.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.