Creighton's On Fire! And Other Thoughts From Big Monday.

Published: Jan 21, 2014 16:36pm EST
By mds2929, Sports Writer for Konsume Sports

Please Note: This article was updated Jan 21, 2014 @ 05:14pm EST


1. The Bluejays have made the Big East an intriguing race thanks to an impressive display for long-range fireworks - Entering Monday night, the new-look Big East appeared to be setting up well for #4 Villanova. Not only were the Wildcats unbeaten in conference play, 16-1 overall, and easily the most well-rounded team in the conference following an 88-62 drubbing of DePaul, they were catching Creighton coming off of an ugly 81-68 defeat in Providence that was less competitive than the score would indicate.

Just over thirteen minutes into the action at the Wells Fargo Center, the rout was on, as the Jays used a 13-20 start from beyond the arc to build a 47-21 edge en route to finishing an amazing 21-35 from downtown to roll 'Nova by 28. While Jahenns Manigat and Wooden Award favorite Doug McDermott totaled 42 points (9-13 three-pointers), the true long-range star was Ethan Wragge. The fifth-year senior has one role, shoot the rock, and following his 9-14 display from deep (27 pts), Wragge has attempted an astounding 96% of his FGA (148 of 154) from three-point range. Even more astounding is that Wragge is hitting 50% of those treys given that he attempt 7.8 per game and basically only has to be guarded behind the arc.

For Villanova, this result is not necessarily a reason to panic on several fronts. First off, the Wildcats' own potent offense had an off night, shooting under 40% from the floor while James Bell was the lone player to tally more than a dozen points. Secondly, three-point success rates for opponents are often erratic and not a sign of a team's true defensive level. Saying that "Villanova allowed Creighton to shoot 21-35 from downtown" is less accurate than noting that "Villanova ran into a buzzsaw team that hit 21 three-pointers." Thirdly, 'Nova remains the most complete team in the conference, possessing a defense that is still rated far better than that of its top competitors.

However, what we wanted was a race and with five weeks left in the regular season, it's now anyone's guess as to which of the three one-loss clubs atop the Big East - Creighton and its #1 rated offense, #4 team in the land Villanova, or Semaj Christon and the still-UTR Xavier Musketeers - will emerge from the fray as victors.

2. Georgetown and Marquette are still in trouble - Just over three months ago, the Golden Eagles were narrowly selected by the coaches in the Big East as the favorites to win the conference, with the Hoyas narrowly finishing second. After last night's victory in D.C. by visiting Marquette, it remains very much in doubt as to whether either club will even be heading to the NCAA Tournament.

Buzz Williams' team erased a late seven-point deficit and effectively forced overtime on Todd Mayo's jumper, then polished off the win by riding Davante Gardner (6-11 FG, 8-8 FT, 20 pts) in a 15-7 domination of the extra period. Coming off of an overtime defeat at Butler, emerging victorious was essentially a necessity for the Golden Eagles, who are still just a meager 11-8 on the season (3-3 in conference).

Remarkably, this was Marquette's first true road win of the year and extended their string of trading losses and wins to nine games, a streak that goes back to mid-December. Expected to feature a deep, veteran-led attack, Williams' squad has often stagnated offensively and this was just the club's second win over a potential at-large foe this year (neutral court win vs. GW). Gardner and center Chris Otule are the only rotation players shooting over 45% from the floor, yet their floor spacing hasn't benefitted the team's long-range performance at all (Marquette is tied for 309th nationally at 30.4% from three-point range).

On the flip side, John Thompson III's Hoyas have been the D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera and Markel Starks show, with little help from anyone else. Last night's defeat, Georgetown's fourth in its past five tilts, saw the club's dynamic duo efficiently total 52 of the the Hoyas' 72 pts (17-35 FG, 8-13 treys, 10-11 FT, yet watch in horror as the rest of the team shot just 6-26 from the floor. Only the squad's deliberate pace obscures the fact that Georgetown really isn't a top-notch defensive team this year, and right now their resume is holding its hat solely on OOC wins vs. VCU and Kansas State.

In Joe Lunardi's latest Bracketology (from 1/16), Georgetown was narrowly hanging to an 11 seed while Marquette was well off the radar. Prospects for each are currently even worse and not terribly likely to get better this weekend, as the Golden Eagles host Villanova and the Hoyas head to Creighton.

3. Rumors of Kansas' demise have been greatly exaggerated - This may seem like a funny thing to say after the #8 team in the land beats a club like #24 Baylor, but keep in mind where the perception of the Jayhawks was less than three weeks ago. After falling at home to San Diego State, Kansas sat at 9-4 and was dropped to 18th in the AP Poll - this despite all four of their losses coming against likely NCAA Tournament teams (NC vs. Villanova, at Colorado and Florida). With Andrew Wiggins not playing like Michael Jordan to fulfill the expectations of the irrational, KU was already being written off by many as being all sizzle and no steak.

Since the start of Big XII play, however, Kansas has been gangbusters. Opening conference play with a victory at Oklahoma isn't even part of the run vs. ranked foes, but proved to be the kickstart for a string of stellar performances that included a rout of rival K State, a road takedown of Iowa State, and surviving a classic vs. Oklahoma State. At the same time, Joel Embiid's all-around play has vaulted the freshman to possibly favorite status to be the #1 overall draft pick, while Wiggins has quietly started to produce at the level most expected.

However, what has truly carried the Jayhawks are the contributions of their "other" players. Diminutive junior point guard Naadir Tharpe averaged 22 ppg in the victories vs. ISU and OSU, while sophomore big man Perry Ellis was the key to the squad pulling away from the Bears last night. With Baylor's defense keying on Embiid and Wiggins (17 pts, 7 rebs), the opportunities were there for drives and dishes to Ellis. The forward responded by scoring 16 of his 18 points in the second half, connecting on 6-8 FG while shooting 6-7 from the line to head the Jayhawks' 26-29 performance from the stripe that helped ice the victory.

If there's one nit to pick with this club, however, it's that Bill Self's team still commits too many turnovers. After giving away the ball 16 times last night, KU ranks 298th nationally with 14.2 turnovers per game. While Embiid and Wiggins have been drawing raves for big points, rebounds, and blocks totals, the duo coughed the ball a total of seven times vs. Baylor and have averaged 6.6 giveaways in Big XII action. KU's solid defense has helped mitigate some of this damage, but any improvement in ballhandling would go a long way toward making this squad the national title contender they still could be.

4. Ohio State looks lost - John Gasaway framed this perfectly in his always brilliant Tuesday Truths column, but it bears repeating. The Buckeyes have gone from starting 15-0 behind their usual formula (ride Aaron Craft's ball pressure and big shot blockers on defense, let LaQuinton Ross shoot) to becoming ordinary overnight. While each of OSU's first three losses came against likely NCAA Tourney teams - at Michigan State, vs. Iowa, and at Minnesota - Monday's was completely disconcerting for Thad Matta's club.

Facing a Nebraska team that they had clubbed 84-53 in Columbus, Ohio State delivered a dreadful offensive performance (39.6% FG, 6-21 treys) while permitting the very mediocre Huskers to connect on 63.6% of their shots from inside the arc. Per Gasaway's tallies, the Buckeyes have been dead average on both ends of the floor in Big Ten play, which is not what was expected from a team that still rates #2 nationally in adjusted defense.

Perhaps this is just a bump in the road and OSU's defense will return to dominance. However, the club's OOC slate of wins is already looking less impressive than it did even one month ago. Case in point a 52-35 drubbing of Marquette, a team that we now know can't score against anyone. What is for certain is that the offense helmed by Craft and Ross is neither potent nor efficient, making it imperitive that the defense improve lest the Buckeyes become early round fodder.

5. Virginia deserves the same level of attention that's been given to North Carolina - The Heels have garnered nearly constant attention thanks to countering perhaps the nation's best trio of wins (@ Louisville and Michigan State, vs. Kentucky) with head-scratching defeats to the likes of Belmont, UAB, and Miami, FL. However, UNC now sits at 1-4 in ACC play after another offensive disaster (4-15 treys, 5-12 FT), so let's give the victorious Cavaliers some love, yes?

Over the last three years, Virginia has arguably been the nation's most misunderstood team, as Tony Bennett's squad intentionally controls pace to such an extreme degree that the perception sways against them due to depressed counting stats. Despite being by far the ACC's most efficient and effective player in 2011-12, Mike Scott was an also-ran to Tyler Zeller, who benefitted from playing in UNC's up-tempo system.

What goes unnoticed, though, is the UVA is actually capable of playing different styles thanks to the fact that their defense is often brilliant no matter the pace. This was the case last night in Charlottesville, as the Heels tried to run Virginia up and down the court, which proven to be a fool's errand as their frequent misses of shots early in the clock led to Malcolm Brogdon, Joe Harris, and friends burning UNC on the other end. Aside from offensive rebounds, the Hoos bested North Carolina in every rate and total category, rolling to a 76-61 triumph.

Like Kansas, Virginia is still discredited by many for having several losses, even though none of the defeats are particularly (even a loss at UW-Green Bay) and only an anomalous 87-52 thumping at Tennessee was one-sided. As is their wont, the Cavs have quietly slid into solo second in ACC play at 5-1 and get a chance to fatten that record vs. Virginia Tech this weekend.


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