Guess we’ll make it three write-ups in a row from the Big East with our New Year’s Day look at Marquette vs. Creighton. There are a handful of games on January 1 and some very interesting conference matchups across the card, but this is a 9 p.m. ET tip-off in Omaha, so it gives us plenty of time to survey the matchup.
There is a trio of Mountain West matchups underneath this game on the board and that is a good reminder about conference play and, in particular, some of the situational spots that arise, like playing in altitude for back-to-back games. Many of the MWC teams are used to it, but keep an eye out for things like that in other conferences.
Anyway, back to the game at hand, where Creighton is a three-point favorite with a total of 152. Butler blew a huge first-half lead to cost us yesterday. Hopefully we have better fortunes from the gambling gods in the New Year.
Keep an eye out for Marquette and Creighton over the next few days. Villanova hasn’t played many games outside of Philadelphia and the Wildcats visit both Milwaukee and Omaha in upcoming matchups. Those will be good chances at a signature win for these two squads. They have to get through tonight’s game first.
Marquette leads the nation in three-point percentage at 42.7% and Creighton ranks 32nd at 37.6%. The Golden Eagles are also defending really well, as opponents have just a 42.5% eFG% against, which is the 13th-best mark in the nation. Creighton is a better offensive team all the way around because the Bluejays are shooting nearly 8% better on two-point opportunities at 53.5%.
The teams have played comparable schedules to this point. Ken Pomeroy has Creighton down for the 97th-ranked schedule and Marquette at 104, so the stats would appear to be pretty legit. The strength of schedule will go up as Big East play rolls along. Marquette did play a weaker set of non-conference offenses than Creighton, which explains the seven-spot difference between the two teams.
While the SOS for Marquette ranks pretty well, the Golden Eagles had some issues against better opponents. The two losses for Steve Wojciechowski’s team came in top-25 caliber matchups against Wisconsin and Maryland and they were not pretty. Marquette lost by 16 against Wisconsin and 21 against Maryland. The Golden Eagles do own a win over Purdue and also a solid road performance in Manhattan against Kansas State. Creighton would easily represent the second-best win of the season if the Eagles can get there.
One of the things that makes Marquette such a tough team to back against quality competition is that Markus Howard plays such a big role. You could easily make a case that Howard is the most important player in the nation to his respective team. His 37.1% Usage rate is fifth behind Jomaru Brown of Eastern Kentucky, Isaiah Miller of UNC Greensboro, Antoine Davis of Detroit, and Jhivvan Jackson of UTSA. Howard has taken 187 field goal attempts, going 36-of-92 from 2 and 46-of-95 from 3.
Fellow senior Sacar Anim is 17-of-37 from deep and is shooting 49% on two-point shots, but he is the only other player consistently helping Howard on offense. If Howard has an off night, Marquette can be in serious trouble. Howard had 18 points on 6-of-21 shooting against Wisconsin and six points on 1-of-12 from the field against Maryland. He’s averaging 26.3 points per game. As he goes, Marquette goes. Howard had 53 in Marquette’s win over Creighton last season and 33 of the team’s 60 in the loss to the Bluejays.
Greg McDermott’s Bluejays have a lot of scoring options. Their losses are Michigan by 10 in Ann Arbor and a real ugly performance against San Diego State in an 85-52 loss on Thanksgiving. Marcus Zegarowski, Mitch Balllock, and Ty-Shon Alexander have combined to fire 239 three-pointers and have made 100 of them for a 41.8% success rate. They make this Creighton offense tick with their distance shooting and then Christian Bishop and Kelvin Jones do their thing on the interior. Zegarowski is one of the nation’s better scorers and more efficient finishers at the rim as a true sophomore.
Marquette is a bit of a regression candidate. Howard is shooting 48.4% from 3 after shooting 40% the last two seasons. He will get better inside the arc, where he has never been lower than 43.7%, but his distance game will regress. Marquette’s defense also isn’t this good. It will sag off as the Golden Eagles face better offenses, like Creighton’s.
That is why I’ll be on Creighton today. It is entirely possible that Howard goes off again like he did in the first meeting last year, but Creighton is a much more efficient offensive team and Marquette’s defensive numbers are going to take a tumble. Wisconsin and Maryland aren’t great offensive teams and they had 1.119 and 1.168 points per possession against the Golden Eagles.
Pick: Creighton -3