Updated: Dec 16, 2022
Who: Creighton Bluejays (6-5) at Marquette Golden Eagles (8-3)
When: December 16, 2022; 8:30 ET (7:30 CT)
Where: Fiserv Forum (Milwaukee, WI)
How to Watch: FS1
Line: Marquette -3.5
Go back less than three weeks, and this game looks entirely different. Remember when Marquette was picked ninth in the Big East and Creighton was the runaway favorite? There was a point in time when this appeared to be a frisky, but probably harmless, Marquette team hosting a top-ten foe and Final Four-hopeful in Creighton.
Since then, however, these teams have trended in opposite directions. Marquette dominated Baylor and handled Notre Dame with ease on the road, while the Bluejays have dropped five straight after a 6-0 start. The team has dropped from No. 7 to outside the top 25. It is the first time Creighton has lost five in a row since the team had a nine-game losing streak in 2014-15. That team did not come in with nearly the expectations of this year's group.
It wouldn't be fair to mention Creighton's losses without talking about the context around them, though. The last two have come with last year's defensive player of the year, Ryan Kalkbrenner. Two of the losses came against teams ranked in the top eleven on KenPom.com, and four came away from home. Three came by a single possession, and a fourth was decided by just five points. Creighton currently ranks 356th out of 363 teams in KenPom's luck metric.
Only the home loss to Nebraska really looks bad; the rest of these are understandable, although disappointing. And that loss to the Cornhuskers could just be an off night, right?
The issue for Creighton is that this team hasn't had the depth it needs when a starter goes down or underperforms. All of Greg McDermott's starters are scoring north of eleven points per game. No player coming off the bench scores five or more a night. Backup center Fredrick King has looked good for a freshman, but he isn't ready for primetime yet. Francisco Farabello has not met expectations. Mason Miller has not lived up to the four-star hype yet. Put it all together, and you've got a team with very little margin for error.
While depth may be Creighton's flaw, it is Marquette's calling card. Shaka Smart goes three-deep off the bench with ease, with the ability to call on the ninth and tenth guys with confidence, too. Eight Golden Eagles score at least five points per game. The offense is led by Tyler Kolek, a feisty guard who is a wizard with the ball in his hands. Kolek has twenty more assists than the next closest Big East player, Creighton's Ryan Nembhard. Breakout stars Kam Jones and Olivier-Maxence Prosper combine to score more than thirty-one points a night.
Shaka Smart has yet to beat Greg McDermott since coming to Marquette. The Bluejays swept the series last year, including a win the last time out at Madison Square Garden and a double-overtime victory at Fiserv Forum on New Year's Day thanks to an Alex O'Connell buzzer-beater that forced the second overtime.
These two teams tend to play close games, and tonight should be no exception. Will Marquette add another marquee victory to the resume, or will the Bluejays get back on track? Either way, it may take an extra frame or two to decide.
Five Things to Watch For:
The Big Men. With Ryan Kalkbrenner's status up in the air, it could be Fredrick King facing off with Oso Ighodaro. King has looked good in limited minutes, but Ighodaro is emerging as one of the best centers in the Big East. How these players defend the rim at both ends will be a factor.
Pace. Marquette will press you and force you to play up-tempo. Does Creighton have the depth to keep up? The Bluejays have played at a decent pace this year, but they may be better served trying to slow this one down to keep Marquette out of rhythm.
Sixth Man. Fiserv Forum is a very difficult place for opponents to play. It has been nearly a year since Marquette lost a game at home in regulation. Their last regulation loss came against UConn in the team's Big East home opener last season. The only two home losses since came against Creighton in double-overtime in their next game and in overtime to Wisconsin about two weeks ago.
Protect the Ball. Creighton rarely gets forced into making turnovers, while Marquette thrives on creating them. How Nembhard and Trey Alexander fare with the ball in their hands against the press could decide this game. Breaking the press easily could create the easy baskets the Bluejays have struggled to get without Kalkbrenner.
Foul Trouble. Marquette has a host of players averaging more than three fouls per 40 minutes, while Arthur Kaluma and Trey Alexander are very good at drawing fouls and getting to the line. Alexander did a great job of getting defenders in bad spots while driving to draw contact in Creighton's comeback bid against BYU. A similar effort tonight could slow the pace and get Golden Eagles into foul trouble early to tilt the game in Creighton's favor.