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Villanova’s Regular Season Finale brings major March Madness Implications to South Philly | Villanova vs. #10 Creighton Preview

Written by on March 9, 2024

Villanova’s regular season comes to an end with their third-straight Quad 1 game. The Wildcats still need wins to clinch their March Madness at-large berth. Quad 1 games present big challenges, but also can provide tremendous rewards. On Fan Appreciation Day, Villanova battles #10 Creighton in the final regular season test before traveling to New York for the Big East Tournament next week.

All-Time Series

The Wildcats lead the all-time series against Creighton, 19-8. Villanova and Eric Dixon have played well against the Bluejays in the past two seasons despite Creighton’s high Top 25 AP Poll ranking. Coach Neptune and Villanova have split the last four matchups, including defeating Creighton in December for the Wildcats’ conference opener in Omaha.

First Matchup: December 20th

On December 20th in Omaha, Villanova beat Creighton, 68-66, in overtime thanks to an Eric Dixon three-pointer. Dixon scored 32 points with six rebounds. Hakim Hart was the only other Wildcat with more than eight points. Hart contributed 10 points on 5-10 shooting from the field in 33 minutes. Villanova outshot Creighton from the field and behind the arc. The Wildcats converted 41% of field goal attempts and 31.8% from three. They lost the rebounding battle, 47-33, against Creighton. However, that did not matter in the end with Villanova’s stellar defense. Although Villanova did not play well offensively in this first game, the Wildcats’ defense was tremendous and limited Creighton to just 66 points while forcing 16 turnovers.

Villanova enters Saturday’s afternoon matinee with a 17-13 overall record and 10-9 record in Big East play. They are currently tied for 5th place in the Big East, but due to the tiebreaker loss against St. John’s, the Cats’ currently sit in 6th place in the conference with their March Madness hopes hanging in the balance.

The Wildcats could have pretty much secured a March Madness ticket with a win against Seton Hall in Newark on Wednesday. However, the Wildcats’ offense did not play well, and they lost by ten points to the Pirates. The Wildcats were outrebounded, 39-29. The loss to Seton Hall was definitely disappointing, but Villanova has won six of their last nine games since February 1st.

Creighton Preview

With a win today, Creighton could also officially lock up second place in the Big East. The Bluejays are playing for the higher seed and for revenge against Villanova from the first matchup. They are 22-8 overall and 13-6 in conference play. Creighton is 7-4 away from home. Creighton had some tough losses to Butler, Providence, and St. John’s in February, but they also beat UConn by 19 points and are one of the best teams in the conference and college basketball. Creighton’s offense is dangerous and can compete with any team.

In their most recent game, the Bluejays defeated #5 Marquette, 89-75, on March 2nd. Marquette was without Tyler Kolek in this game one week ago. Creighton converted 54% of their shots from the field and 41% from behind the arc. Baylor Scheierman shot 6-12 from three and led Creighton with 26 points. He also had 16 rebounds and four assists. Ryan Kalkbrenner and Trey Alexander combined for 37 points and ten rebounds. Francisco Farabello contributed 12 points off the bench for Creighton.

As a team, the Bluejays convert 49% of their shots from the field. They are an excellent three-point shooting team with a 36.5% success rate in the 2023-24 season. Creighton also consistently knocks down their free throws with a team 77.6% success rate. They average 81 points per game and commit just 10 turnovers per contest. The Bluejays are also a great rebounding team with 38 rebounds per game. Scheierman leads the team with almost nine rebounds per contest.

Creighton’s Players to Watch

Creighton is led by the main trio of Baylor Scheierman, Trey Alexander, and Ryan Kalkbrenner.

G Baylor Scheierman (Senior, Aurora, NE): 18.5 ppg, has scored at least ten points in 15 consecutive games, scored 26 points against Marquette on March 2nd

G Trey Alexander (Junior, Oklahoma City, OK): 17.6 ppg, scored at least ten points in 12 straight games

C Ryan Kalkbrenner (Senior, Florissant, MO): 17.2 ppg, 7.3 rpg, scored at least ten points in 17 straight contests

My Thoughts + Keys to the Game

Creighton’s offense is very explosive and consistent, especially from behind the arc. Their starters play almost the entire game and always put-up big numbers. Villanova’s three-point defense has struggled this season, so I think there’s some cause for concern. However, the Wildcats limited Creighton in the first matchup to under 70 points. Obviously, these two teams are completely different right now from December. This game means a lot to both teams, but with a March Madness ticket on the line in front of your home crowd in South Philly, Villanova should come out ready to go from tipoff. The Wildcats need a huge defensive performance. They have played well at the Wells Fargo Center all season, especially defensively, to limit teams like UConn, UCLA, and Seton Hall. Hopefully, the offense and Eric Dixon, who always seems like he plays his best against Creighton, scores enough to get past the tenth ranked Bluejays.

If you could copy and paste the same exact gameplan and execution of the gameplan from Villanova’s first win against Creighton, I’m sure Coach Neptune and Villanova would do that. Unfortunately, the game is not being played on Microsoft Word. The Bluejays are playing excellent basketball right now and they want revenge against Villanova. My keys to the game for Villanova are to control the game with strong defense, get the ball to Eric Dixon, and finish at the rim. Villanova must keep this game low scoring to defeat Creighton. The Bluejays’ offense is too good for Villanova’s offense to keep up with the entire game in a shootout. Eric Dixon, who reached the 1,400 career points mark against Seton Hall, excels against Creighton and Kalkbrenner in his career. Dixon has been Villanova’s best player all season long, and he is going to need another monumental performance this afternoon to get the Wildcats to March Madness. In addition to Dixon, I think Justin Moore and Mark Armstrong are key players for Villanova. Moore shot just 2-9 from the field against the Pirates for six points. During his resurgence in February, his scoring and three-point efficiency has helped Villanova succeed and get back into the tournament conversation. Moore did not play against Creighton in the first matchup due to an injury, so having him against Creighton should help. Mark Armstrong scored just three points against Seton Hall and missed key layups. Armstrong blew by the defenders but could not finish at the rim in Newark. When Armstrong scores and facilitates good ball movement, the Wildcats are at their best offensively. They need him to be efficient, use his speed, and limit the turnovers today. In addition to Armstrong, missing layups at the rim has been a huge problem for Villanova as a team in their bad offensive performances this season. They must convert some of these layups, especially in clutch situations, to keep pace with Creighton.

The Bluejays are slightly favored to win this game, and their outstanding offense is the main reason for that advantage. However, the Bluejays can struggle defensively at times, and Villanova must find some offense to counter Scheierman and the Bluejays. I think Dixon and Villanova’s defense carry the Wildcats to victory in a late close game thriller.

WXVU’s Live Coverage

WXVU’s live coverage of Villanova vs. Creighton begins at 2pm with the pregame show. Tipoff is scheduled from the Wells Fargo Center at 2:30pm. Throughout the game, we will be updating everyone with other Big East scores and the score of Villanova women’s basketball vs. Marquette in the Big East Tournament.