Creighton will face Providence at 8:30 PM tonight at Madison Square Garden, and while one of the teams (Providence) is a conference OG — Dave Gavitt, the Big East’s founder, was a coach at Providence; during the conference’s heyday of the mid-1980s, the Friars, under Rick Pitino, made the Final Four — the Bluejays are the newcomer. However, one wouldn’t know this is Creighton’s first Big East tournament by the way their fans travel: the Garden became CenturyLink’s annex, and it will be loud tonight from the influx of Nebraska natives flooding 34th Street.
We’re not conceding the win to Greg McDermott’s squad, though no team has impressed in their conference tournaments more than CU. Doug McDermott has scored 67 points through his first two games, setting a record (previously held by Allen Iverson), and the ‘Jays rang up more than 1.40 points per possession on a very physical, defensive-minded Xavier squad. PC, though, split their two meetings with Creighton in 2014, and it is astonishing what the Friars have been able to accomplish with just six players. Coach Ed Cooley told me when February roles around, PC’s practices rarely last more than an hour, and are light on contact, efforts to keep the team fresh. What can we expect from the new look Big East’s first tournament final?
Do not leave Ethan Wragge.
- The bearded sharpshooter was in a slump entering the Big East tournament, making (a pedestrian for Wragge) 40% of his threes, down from the 49% he had been making during the early Big East slate, but since arriving in NYC, Wragge has been the key to Creighton’s dominance. As well as McDermott has played, Wragge has made 58% of his 3s (seven of twelve), and was unstoppably versus Xavier. The Musketeers’ inability to find Wragge in transition, or not stay glued to his side on picks, contributed to XU’s defeat, and PC needs to shadow — not stay a step away, or have help defense — Wragge all game. Taking away Wragge’s looks helps restrict the spacing Creighton seeks to create.
Providence’s role players are emerging.
- As good as Bryce Cotton, PC’s senior guard, has been this season, the tournament belongs to Josh Fortune and LaDontae Henton. Fortune couldn’t miss against St. John’s, and Henton, an undersized big who is clearly underrated nationally (and within the conference), scored a season-high 26 points. Cotton is such a high-usage player, one who garners a team’s sole defensive attention, and though he is such an exciting player, PC is much more efficient if Friars like Fortune, Henton, Tyler Harris, and Kadeem Batts contribute.
Be physical with the Bluejays.
- Creighton thrives on constant offensive movement. Led by McDermott, who never stops cutting, the team presents a shifting offensive attack. Stillness is stricken from the team’s lexicon, so for a team to hope to slow down CU, they have to do work below the waist. Despite their lack of bench, PC is a very physical team, and will have to bump the Bluejay cutters and make sure there is a bit of contact when guards, or McDermott, come off screens. If Creighton is allowed to move about the halfcourt unimpeded, it could be a very difficult defensive showing for the Friars.
- The Friars lead the Big East in offensive rebounding percentage, and Creighton is the second-best defensive rebounding team. Seems like a game between the two would nullify the advantage, right? What will be interesting is if PC’s securing of additional possessions will help them control the tempo. Creighton isn’t a running team — just 65 or so possessions per game — but they crash the defensive glass hard to spark their fast-break: their transition game often helps bury teams with threes. Even if PC isn’t able to convert their second chances, the extra possessions will allow them to slow down the contest.
Watch out for the double screens.
- Before Xavier made their late second half run in last night’s loss, Creighton was up by double digits, a margin that propelled McDermott to insert Zach Hanson into the game. The frosh has barely played this season, but as soon as he entered the game, CU would run the same play four straight times: a staggered screen where McDermott would pop to beyond the three point line and Hanson would dive to the post. The play resulted in three out of four field goal makes, and Creighton loves this play call when McDermott is paired with Will Artino or Wragge. It is arguably the most efficient play in McDermott’s game plan.