Wow. Few games can claim to be as big of a gut check as the disaster at the Hinkle. Marquette fans got treated to a first half of Marquette playing about as close to their ceiling as possible. The offense was humming and the defense actually looked good. Not just passable but truly good defense. Yet somehow, even with a 16-point lead, Marquette fans still didn’t feel safe at half. The next twenty minutes saw Butler pour in 63 points and was possibly the worst defensive half in Marquette history. The loss was brutal but it’s important to remember that Marquette was expected to lose that game. Ultimately, it doesn’t hurt their quest for a postseason bid. The path doesn’t get easier with a trip to Omaha coming up…though a devastating injury has thrown the Jays’ season aspirations into jeopardy.
1: Isaiah Zierden: 6-3 190 lb RSSR SG: 19.5 mpg, 4.5 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 0.7 apg, 0.4 spg, 0.1 bpg, 0.7 tpg, .446 FG%, .875 FT%, .429 3P%
2: Marcus Foster: 6-3 210 lb RSJR SG: 29.5 mpg, 18.1 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 1.6 apg, 0.8 spg, 0.1 bpg, 1.6 tpg, .493 FG%, .725 FT%, .353 3P%
3: Khyri Thomas: 6-3 205 lb SO SG: 28.6 mpg, 12.1 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.5 spg, 0.5 bpg, 1.4 tpg, .544 FG%, .814 FT%, .385 3P%
4: Cole Huff: 6-8 220 lb RSSR SF: 21.6 mpg, 9.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 0.4 apg, 0.3 spg, 0.2 bpg, 0.5 tpg, .471 FG%, .897 FT%, .466 3P%
5: Justin Patton: 7-0 230 lb RSFR C: 25.3 mpg, 13.8 ppg, 6.6 rpg, 1.3 apg, 1.1 spg, 1.7 bpg, 1.4 tpg, .727 FG%, .479 FT%, .500 3P%
Toby Hegner: 6-10 235 lb RSJR PF: 17.0 minutes per game
Martin Krampelj: 6-9 225 lb RSFR PF: 7.8 minutes per game
Ronnie Harrell Jr: 6-7 195 lb RSSO SG: 7.3 minutes per game
Davion Mintz: 6-3 175 lb FR PG: 5.8 minutes per game
Tyler Clement: 6-1 185 lb RSJR PG
Kobe Paras: 6-6 200 lb FR SG
Jordan Scurry: 6-2 205 lb FR SG
Mo Watson Jr: 5-10 175 lb RSSR PG (Injured)
Zach Hanson: 6-9 245 lb SR PF (Injured)
Kaleb Joseph: 6-3 180 lb JR PG (Redshirtting)
• Creighton will be playing without Preseason All Big East First Team point guard Mo Watson Jr. The redshirt senior tore his ACL last game against Xavier. Before he went down he was leading the nation in assists at 8.5 a game.
• Behind the leadership of Watson Jr., Creighton led the conference and was top 10 in the nation for assists per game. With just under half of those assists lost to injury, Creighton will likely be searching for a new style of play.
• Creighton features the most-high octane offense in the Big East, scoring an eye popping 86.7 points per game. This is in part due to their absurd FG% of 53.1%, which is the 2nd best in nation behind juggernaut UCLA.
• Very few free throws should be shot in this game as Marquette and Creighton are ranked in the bottom two of the conference for drawing fouls. They are also both in the bottom three of having fouls called against them. A high foul game would benefit Marquette as they have a considerably deeper bench and lead the conference in FT%. Creighton is second to last in this category.
• Creighton has some head scratching rebounding numbers. They are first in the conference in defensive rebounding, but near the bottom at offensive rebounding. Part of this is a strategic choice by Coach McDermott, but mostly it is an indication of Creighton’s FG%. Creighton is a great rebounding team who simply doesn’t have many opportunities on the offensive glass because of how often they make their shots.
• Marquette leads the Big East in turnovers forced, but struggled to make that happen against Villanova and Butler, the top two Big East teams at controlling the ball. Creighton is the third best in conference in this category. With their starting PG out, this will be an interesting test of Marquette’s disruption ability.
• With Watson Jr out, Marcus Foster will be the marquee player for the Jays. Foster struggled mightily in his last year at Kansas State, but has rebounded in a big way in his first year in Omaha. He is a scorer, pure and simple. His 18.1 points per game average is second highest in the conference behind only the unstoppable Josh Hart. He is a volume three point shooter, ranking in the top 5 for attempts in the conference despite only hitting 35% of them. His potency as a scorer comes from his ability to slash and pull up from the mid-range. Though he will make a lot of them, it is far better to make Foster beat you from the three-point line than off the bounce.
• Will not the pure scorer that Foster is, Khyri Thomas might be the best player on Creighton’s roster. His ability to stuff the stat sheet is reminiscent of a young Josh Hart. He is undersized for the wing but he fights and claws for an impressive 5.6 rebounds per game. He has managed double digit rebounds on three different occasions, including two double doubles. He has great court vision, often driving and finding an open man on the perimeter for an easy three. He is a terror on the defensive end, ranking in the top 10 in the conference for steals. He is not the type of player to explode for a crazy amount of points, 18 against Buffalo and Wisconsin is the most he has ever managed, but his ability to help in multiple ways makes him a very valuable piece in the Blue Jay puzzle.
• The biggest surprise for the Jays has been the emergence of Justin Patton. While at least one service had him as a 5 star recruit, most had him back towards the back of the top 100. After taking a redshirt, it was assumed that he would start in the spot left by the graduating Geoffrey Groselle, but few expected him to dominate in the way he has. He is averaging an impressive 14 points a game but with a FG% of 72.7% which is the third best in the nation. Combine that with his 6.6 rebounds, 1.1 steals, and 1.7 blocks (3rd best in the conference) per game, and you have a player who might find his name called in the NBA draft. He has been known to explode, going for 25 against St. John’s and 20 against Providence. Help defense is going to be necessary to even slow down Patton.
This has been the most difficult preview to write of the season. With the injury to Watson Jr, it is impossible to know what Creighton will look like when they take the floor on Saturday. The first question is who will take Watson Jr’s place in the starting lineup? The likely candidate is Isaiah Zierden. The redshirt senior was one of the best players on the roster a year ago, but his season ended early due to injury, which has become the norm for him. This season he has been the first man off the bench and his time has been limited, perhaps because of his injury history. Zierden is a prototypical “three and d” type player. What he doesn’t bring is the same speed or pace that Watson Jr brought to the offense. Starting Zierden would almost require the Jays to change their entire style of play to a more grind it out defensive style. The other option is true freshman, Davion Mintz. Mintz was ranked outside the top 300 out of high school but has shown some flashes in limited minutes. It would be unlikely that he would be ready to have the keys handed to him. Foster figures to be the main weapon for the Jays. He looked out of sorts against Xavier after Watson Jr. went down. Foster started the game 2-4 from the field but tried to take over after the injury. He finished shooting 5-16 the rest of the way. It’s possible that Foster won’t be as effective without Watson Jr’s passing. The key for Marquette will be taking away his driving ability and forcing him to shoot the three. He will make open shots but it is a small price to pay if he can be kept out of the lane. Haanif Cheathem is likely to draw that assignment. The other defensive key for Marquette will be stopping Patton. Despite Luke Fischer being the most popular punching bag for frustrated Marquette fans, he has shown an ability to limit talented big men. In his second matchup with Angel Delgado, Fischer helped hold him to 3-12 shooting from the floor. Most of the credit actually belongs to Sam Hauser, who played impressive help defense to stop Delgado from having any mobility in the post. That strategy could work but it would leave a sharpshooting Cole Huff open for an easy three. Stopping Patton is a pick your poison type situation and an open three is better than an easy layup. With the loss of Watson Jr., Marquette now has a good chance to steal this game. Creighton will still be reeling from the injury and trying to figure out who they are without their star point guard. Picking Marquette is tempting but until they show an ability to stop a dominant big like Patton, it’s not a wise pick. Marquette makes it close enough to be uncomfortable but ultimately fall in Omaha.