Making Them Pay for It: How Creighton Lit up Villanova on Its Home CourtPosted by Joseph Dzuback on January 21st, 2014
Less than 48 hours after suffering their worst loss in the 2013-14 season (an 81-68 pounding at the hands of Providence), Creighton made turnaround fair play by dropping a bomb on #4 Villanova (for this week anyway) with a 28-point victory. The Bluejays had been ranked #20 in the national polls last week, but the disaster at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center on Saturday gave the sportswriters pause. In a little less than two hours, the game that was supposed to settle the Big East race early instead became the rout that threw the race up for grabs.
Late-arriving spectators who checked the Jumbotron at the under-15 timeout could be forgiven if they thought the 24-5 score favoring Creighton was a scoreboard malfunction. They also missed an astounding shooting exhibition where the Bluejays hit seven of their first eight field goal attempts as 6’7” center in name only, Ethan Wragge, hit five consecutive three-pointers on his way to a 9-of-14 night from beyond the arc. Wragge never took a two-point attempt because he didn’t need to. Overall Creighton converted 21 of its 35 threes for a scorching 60 percent conversion rate. Translated using Dean Oliver’s eFG% formula, that results in a 90 percent two-point conversion rate. “They were outstanding,” said Villanova coach Jay Wright with perhaps the understatement of the year. Regarding NPOY candidate Doug McDermott, who contributed 23 points, five rebounds and three assists: “He is a joy to watch, you don’t like it when he is doing it to you, but he is a joy to watch.” Wright may as well have been referencing the entire Creighton team and their offense on this night.
With a shooting spree that broke the all-time Big East record for three pointers made, Creighton beat Villanova in a game that was not as close as the score suggests. For Villanova fans, Creighton’s offensive schemes evoked memories (nightmares, actually) of Jon Beilein’s old West Virginia teams. The Bluejays posted 25 assists, their second highest total of the season, on a myriad of screens, pick-and-rolls, and penetrate-and-kick plays. Like those Mountaineers squads, the Bluejays morphed the specific strengths of Villanova’s man-to-man defense “with help principles” into stark liabilities. Creighton’s assist rate, an impressive 75.8 percent on Monday, suggested that their catch-and-shoot approach consistently exploited the Wildcats’ tendency to send an extra defender into the lane to counter penetration and to switch off the bigs if necessary, a defensive approach that had confused and stymied Kansas and Iowa earlier in the season. Creighton’s redoubled attention to rebounding, a general weakness in their game that was very much on display against Providence, was crucial to building the early lead and to snuff Villanova’s comeback attempt.
While giving credit to his defense, Creighton head coach Greg McDermott noted, “We got stops, and a lot of those threes for Ethan [Wragge] came in transition with Doug [McDermott] sprinting to the rim; that puts a lot of pressure on the defense.” The score sheet cannot measure how much McDermott influences defenses with just the threat of his talents. Constantly drawing special attention, his presence always seems to leave a teammate open. “We have a first team All-American [who] draws a lot of attention; if it was not for him and Jahenns [Manegat] to share the ball, I would not get open. I’m not creating the shots for myself,” said Wragge in a nod to his teammates. “If teams are going to defend Doug down in the post like that, our job on the outside is to make sure they pay for it.” And last night Villanova certainly paid for it, as Creighton won the first battle of Big East powers on the road to a championship.