College basketball has a few days all to itself to begin this week with the NBA on a break, a nice time to get in tune with how the contenders are playing as we get close to March.
The Big East has been fun this year. Villanova reclaimed control of the regular season conference title with a win at Xavier over the weekend in a matchup of two teams projected to get #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.
But it’s been more than just those two. Seton Hall has had its moments; Marquette features some of the most explosive scoring in the country; and St. John’s beat Duke and Villanova in consecutive games after losing its first 12 conference games.
Both Creighton and Butler are on pace to be NCAA Tournament teams, too. After losing in Omaha several weeks ago, the Bulldogs get a chance to split the season series on their home floor Tuesday night.
According to Joe Lunardi’s latest bracket projection, the Big East will have six teams in the field: Villanova and Xavier as 1s and then Butler (7), Creighton (7), Seton Hall (9) and Providence (10). So you could say these two teams playing each other tonight lead the Big East’s second tier.
For what it’s worth, I like Seton Hall the best out of that group of four but let us focus on the matchup tonight between Creighton and Butler.
The Blue Jays used a dominant first half to cost to an 11-point win on their home court the first time these two teams played but they haven’t looked like the same team of late. Creighton blew a 15-point lead and lost at home in its last game, against Marquette last weekend. It lost another home game against Xavier before then and only won at DePaul by one before then. Before all of that was a 20-point loss at Villanova.
And it is a different team than the one that played so well against Butler because Martin Krampelj is unavailable. I’ve mentioned Krampelj a couple different times in write-ups since he tore his ACL and explained why he was such an important part of Creighton’s team before he went down.
Gregg McDermott has excellent perimeter play, as is often the case. He starts three guards and a 6’10 forward named Toby Hegner. The size sounds nice, and it does help when it comes to defending larger opponents but Hegner is not an interior player. He is a shooter who likes to step back and stretch the floor. As a result, he averages less than three rebounds per game.
Krampelj was an inside scorer and rebounder and he dominated against Butler — pulling down 14 rebounds and scoring 14 points on 5–5 shooting from the field.
He was also indispensable. Instead of replacing Krampelj with another big, McDermott simply starts another guard. The result is one of the worst rebounding teams in a major conference. The Blue Jays were out-rebounded 33–22 against Marquette. They have to gang-rebound on defense and generally don’t bother on offense. Whereas it was a perimeter-oriented team with Krampelj, it is now just 100–0, perimeter–inside, without him.
Meanwhile, Butler is coming off a 15-point win at home against Providence and has a chance to take over third-place in the conference with a win. I believe we’re looking at a double-digit revenge victory for the Bulldogs here.
Free Pick: Butler -4