Creighton @ Villanova February 1 Free Pick

By College Basketball

Creighton and Villanova have suffered the two worst injuries so far this Big East season. The Blue Jays lost their terrific Slovenian forward, Martin Krampelj, two weeks ago. The Wildcats lost one of their Killer B’s, Phil Booth, last week.

But the two teams have so far survived, a combined 3–1 since the injuries. Only one will win on Thursday night in a showdown of top-three teams in the conference.

Free Pick

Both injuries to Krampelj and Booth are long-term. Krampelj tore his ACL and is out for a year; Booth broke his hand and is out “indefinitely,” which feels cryptic. Villanova hasn’t come out and said that he’ll miss the NCAA Tournament but it’s also made sure that won’t be the expectation. You just know Booth is going to do everything he can do get back in time, though.

Krampelj’s injury killed any small chance of Creighton capturing the Big East crown. It wasn’t as good as Villanova, nor Xavier, but it was close enough to have a shot. Not any longer. I also considered CU a legitimate Sweet 16 contender with an outside shot at getting to a regional final. Now, I would be surprised to see it playing in the second weekend and, frankly, the Jays are probably a one-and-done. They have terrific guard play but were thin up front, only able to do what they were able to do because of Krampelj’s excellence — he was scoring a dozen points per game on 67 percent shooting from the field when he went down.

Booth’s injury is even more discouraging, for two reasons. The first is that he missed all but three games with a major injury last season. On a less personal account, Villanova is the #1 team in the nation and at least was the definitive NCAA Tournament favorite before Booth went down. Jalen Brunson and Mikal Bridges are fantastic, but Villanova had three best players, Booth very much included. When healthy, Booth is Villanova’s best shooter, most clutch performer and best pure scorer. He did things that neither Brunson nor Bridges do and he won’t simply be replaced. The Wildcats had just deep enough of a rotation; now, they are missing a body. If Booth isn’t able to come back in time to gel, or even at all, Villanova will still be a one-seed but it will be a tainted one-seed and there are few things more discouraging than a tainted one-seed. I’d still give it a shot to cut down the nets, but I’d cut the chances in half. Booth is that important to his team.

Villanova should still win this game, still win out at home and still win the Big East but, until Booth comes back at 100 percent, gone are the days of seemingly effortless blowouts. Brunson will have to bear more of the offensive burden with the ball in his hands and Bridges’ shot-making is more squarely under the microscope. A total of 163 would be fair with both teams’ true talent on the floor but without it, I see this game coming up short.

Free Pick: Under 163

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