Replacing Maurice Watson Hasn’t Come Easy For Creighton

Posted by Chris Stone on January 26th, 2017

As if the college basketball world needed yet another reminder, this week has emphasized just how difficult it is to win on the road. On Tuesday night, Kansas, Kentucky and Villanova all came up short in away conference battles, followed up last night with Georgia Tech blowing out Florida State and USC outlasting UCLA, both on the road. Perhaps the most concerning loss of the week — because replacing talent is more difficult than adjusting tactics — may have taken place in the nation’s capital where Creighton suffered its second straight defeat, 71-51 to Georgetown, without injured point guard Maurice Watson, Jr. The senior’s absence is being felt across the board. “He made the game easier for coach [Greg McDermott], me and all my other teammates,” freshman center Justin Patton said after the game.

Creighton is still working out how to play without Maurice Watson Jr. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Watson’s injury created a large offensive void for the Bluejays — in addition to using 24.5 percent of the team’s possessions, he also assisted on 43.0 percent of its made baskets while contributing 17.3 points per 40 minutes. As his head coach noted, that translates to a massive statistical impact. “We’ve lost a big part of our offense,” McDermott said, while also noting that many of his players will need to step into roles they may have never played before. In some ways, that may not prove too difficult. Creighton — one of the fastest per-possession teams in college basketball — continued to push the pace against the Hoyas last night, often throwing a pass ahead to whichever guard was available. Those players need to improve their decision-making in those quick-hit scenarios, but that will come with time and repetition. There are other areas, however, where it’s simply not clear if the Bluejays can replace Watson.

For a 5’10” point guard, Watson spent a lot of time playing inside among the biggest players on the floor. According to Hoop-Math, nearly half (49.6%) of his non-transition field goal attempts were taken at the rim (and 18.3 percent of Creighton’s entire output there). The senior’s keen ability to break down the defense off the dribble by either attacking his defender one-on-one or as the ball-handler in pick-and-roll situations was crucial to the Bluejays’ offensive success. Now, Creighton is finding it significantly harder to get those high percentage chances at the rim. Based on data compiled from Hoop-Math and a review of last night’s box score, just 37.7 percent of the team’s non-transition field goal attempts have come at the rim in the last two games. This is down nearly five percent (42.6%) from match-ups this season when Watson was on the floor.

Without another guard on the roster capable of replicating Watson’s role, Creighton is going to have to make some changes. “We certainly have to tweak,” McDermott said afterward. Patton went further, calling it a rebuilding process and comparing it to when the team first gathered on campus over the summer. The freshman — one of college basketball’s breakout stars — will certainly be asked to shoulder more responsibility in the short term, something he showed capable of doing against the Hoyas. The center scored 20 points on 9-of-13 shooting and looked like a viable candidate to become a high usage post threat going forward. Junior Marcus Foster, too, seems destined for a larger role, perhaps similar to that of distributor like he played in his first two seasons at Kansas State. Without a true point guard, though, there will also need to be plenty of unselfishness and a willingness to return to some of the principles that McDermott has ingrained into the minds of his players. Patton summed it up nicely, “We just need to move the ball, have fun and play Creighton basketball.”

Chris Stone (136 Posts)

Chris Stone is a contributor to the Big 12 microsite. You can find him on Twitter @cstonehoops.

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