Big East play begins TONIGHT for Villanova | Villanova vs. #12 Creighton Preview
Written by David Szczepanski on December 20, 2023
Big East play is officially back! Villanova’s first test in conference competition is #12 Creighton in Omaha, Nebraska tonight at 9pm. The Wildcats are well rested before this key matchup. Villanova last played on December 9th against UCLA at the Wells Fargo Center, where the Wildcats defeated the Bruins, 65-56, to improve to 7-4 on the season.
Creighton’s 9-2 Record + All-time Series Info
Creighton is currently ranked 12th in the AP Poll. They have won nine of their first eleven games of the 2023-24 campaign. Their two losses came against Colorado State and UNLV. Colorado State has surprised many people this season with a 10-1 record. UNLV has struggled this season, but they desperately needed that upset win against the Bluejays. Creighton has played twice since Villanova last played on December 9th. Their loss to UNLV, 79-64, took place in Nevada on December 13th. Creighton defeated Alabama, 85-82, on December 16th.
Villanova leads the all-time series between these two Big East rivals, 18-8. They split their two regular season matchups last season with each team winning at their home venue. However, the Bluejays defeated the Wildcats in the Big East Tournament in March.
Villanova’s win against UCLA + Preview
As previously mentioned, Villanova is coming off a win against UCLA. However, the score does not tell the complete story. Although the Wildcats won by nine points at the final buzzer, this game was extremely close for the first 35 minutes and Villanova still showed signs of offensive struggles. Villanova trailed at halftime against the Bruins, but they found a way to make their shots in the second half. The Wildcats scored 40 points in the second half against the Bruins’ tough defense, but Villanova must play a complete game to defeat Creighton. A 25-point first half and poor three-point shooting will not win Villanova this game.
Tyler Burton is coming off two good games after struggling in Philly Big 5 play. Burton combined for 30 points in his last two games with a double-double in Villanova’s battles against Kansas State and UCLA. He grabbed 21 rebounds in those two contests. Also, Hakim Hart continued his hot streak for Villanova with 10 points and five rebounds in 27 minutes. He knocked down three three-pointers and excelled in crucial moments down the stretch against UCLA.
After suffering a right knee sprain in the first half of Villanova’s loss to Kansas State, Justin Moore did not play against UCLA. It is unclear if Moore will play tonight. Moore is one of Villanova’s top average leading scorers and he allows more bench depth for Villanova when he is in the starting lineup. He also averages 28.7 minutes per game played.
Eric Dixon dominated in the games against Creighton last season. Dixon still leads Villanova by averaging 13.6 points per contest. However, Dixon scored just six points against UCLA. UCLA had the size advantage against Villanova and their tough two-point defense most likely lead to Dixon’s struggles. But to defeat Creighton on the road tonight, Villanova needs Dixon to score more often. Dixon still had 10 rebounds in his last game. He averages seven rebounds per game.
The Bluejays are averaging almost 85 points per game. They have three-starters averaging at least 15 points: Trey Alexander, Baylor Scheierman, and Ryan Kalkbrenner. Scheierman, a 6’ 7’’ senior guard from Aurora, Nebraska, leads Creighton with 18.5 points per game and 7.2 rebounds per game. He makes 45.5% of his shots from the field. Scheierman grabbed 306 rebounds last season for the Bluejays. Creighton’s center, Kalkbrenner, averages 16 points per game and plays elite defense. Kalkbrenner is a two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year. Alexander is the third player of Creighton’s great trio with 15.6 points and 6.2 rebounds per game. One of Creighton’s best players last season, Arthur Kaluma, transferred to Kansas State, but the Bluejays have continued to succeed this season with other players stepping up.
Mason Miller and Steven Ashworth are Creighton’s other two starters. Miller is Creighton’s best three-point shooter as he makes almost 60% of the shots from behind the arc this season. Ashworth is another good three-point shooter, and he is an excellent free throw shooter.
Keys to the Game for Villanova
Creighton was predicted to finish second in the Big East in the Preseason Poll. It is easy to tell why they were picked so high. They score at a high rate, and they play smooth defensively. They limit turnovers and convert about 50% of their shots from the field. There are not many weaknesses of this Bluejays’ team, but two areas they could improve on are rebounding and free-throw shooting. They average more rebounds per game than Villanova, but the Wildcats won the rebounding battle against UCLA, and I believe that Villanova could win the rebounding battle again against Creighton. Both teams are similar in the rebounding category. Creighton is also shooting 75% from the charity stripe while Villanova is shooting 82% from the free-throw line.
Overall, this is not an easy task for the Wildcats. Creighton is the best team Villanova has played since North Carolina in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament. The Wildcats will have to play their best game, especially if Justin Moore is not available tonight, but they do have a few advantages: rest and they have played well against good teams this season. Villanova has matched the intensity of good teams like North Carolina and Memphis while winning those games in the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament. They will have to match Creighton’s energy tonight and convert offensively more often, especially from behind the arc.
Villanova’s Road Ahead
After this game against Creighton, Villanova plays DePaul in Chicago on Saturday at 4pm.