Villanova and Creighton both open their Big East seasons against one another on Friday night in Nebraska. The No. 9 Wildcats are 7-3, with wins over Tennessee and Syracuse. All three of Villanova’s losses have been to teams ranked in this week’s AP top four—Purdue, UCLA and, in its last game, Baylor.
Villanova Wildcats vs. Creighton Bluejays
Friday, December 17, 2021 – 08:00 PM EST at CHI Health Center Omaha
Creighton is also coming off of a loss, by one point to Arizona State, which was the second defeat in the last three for the Bluejays. Creighton also lost to Iowa State, by six. The 8-3 Bluejays also lost to Colorado State in mid-November. Creighton has wins over Nebraska, Brown, SIU and BYU.
Shaking off a Rough Loss
Villanova came away with early-season showdowns against UCLA and Purdue feeling good about the team’s ability to stand toe-to-toe against the top teams in the nation. The Wildcats took the Bruins to overtime and lost to the Boilermakers by six.
That wasn’t the case Sunday, at Baylor. Villanova never led in the game and was beaten soundly, 57-36 as the Bears shut down the Wildcats’ offense. Villanova shot just 22.2 percent for the game, hitting a season-worst 6-of-27 from both two-point and three-point range. Nova also had a season-worst 0.60 points per possession in the game and became the first top-10 team to be held to so few points in the shot-clock era. It was the lowest-scoring day for Villanova since 1979.
Villanova had a scoring drought of seven and a half minutes in the first half and five in the second half. Leading scorer Collin Gillespie took just one shot in the first 17 minutes and finished with six points, more than 11 below his season average.
Forward Jermaine Samuels was bullied inside and finished just 1-of-6 with four turnovers. Now Nova has to take one of the toughest road trips in the Big East while in the midst of final exams. Coach Jay Wright is confident there won’t be a hangover from the Baylor loss, however.
"I think we've rebounded well," he said. "I think these guys have learned over the years that we want to take every loss as an opportunity to grow. I hope we have done that. We learned about how much harder we have to play and how we have to execute better offensively. I hope we can show that at Creighton."
Getting It Inside
The Bluejays are rebuilding this year after the school’s first trip to the Sweet 16 since 1974. All five starters are gone, and Creighton returns just three scholarship players from last season. Creighton adds one of the nation’s top freshman classes, however, and returns two players who missed all of last season with an injury.
Creighton will try to take advantage of an edge in size against the Wildcats. The Bluejays are led in scoring by forward Ryan Hawkins, a grad transfer from NW Missouri State, who averages 13.7 ppg and 6.8 rebounds. Seven-footer Ryan Kalkbrenner averages 12.7 ppg and 6.6 rebounds while blocking 2.6 shots a game.
The Bluejays are No. 52 in the country in blocked shot rate and No. 10 in accuracy on inside shots. They also have the nation’s No. 14 two-point shooting defense. It will create a clash of styles, as Villanova will try to attack the perimeter. Creighton is just No. 248 in three-point defense and even worse, No. 268, in hitting its own three-point attempts.
Villanova has had several road tests already this year, but it will still be a challenge to travel to Creighton, especially with the stress and distraction of final exams. Creighton should be able to score inside against the Wildcats, while Villanova’s struggles on offense could continue.
Nova might pull out a win, but giving up more than a half dozen points on the road seems like a tough cover. Take the Bluejays for your NCAAB pick tonight.
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