by Larry Flynn
Every Villanova fan around the country remembers what happened on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 2014.
The Villanova Wildcats, coming off a 26-point victory over DePaul, hosted senior forward Doug McDermott and the Creighton Blue Jays at the Wells Fargo Center. To everyone’s surprise, the first Big East matchup between Creighton and Villanova ended in a 96-68 blowout in the Blue Jays favor.
Next Sunday, the Wildcats have a chance to avenge their humiliating loss across the country in Omaha, Neb., in front of the rowdy Blue Jays crowd.
The Creighton Blue Jays are best known for McDermott, who is a candidate for the National Player of the Year, and averages a prolific 25 points per contest and approximately seven rebounds per game.
What makes McDermott so lethal, however, is his incredible efficiency, shooting 50 percent from the field and from the 3-point line as well as 90 percent from the free throw line.
McDermott is the fuel that stirs the high octane Blue Jays offense, but the emphasis for Head Coach Jay Wright should be to eliminate open three-point opportunities. Creighton shoots 42 percent from the 3-point line, led by senior forward Ethan Wragge at nearly 50 percent.
Playmaking senior guard Grant Gibbs recently made his return to the lineup after dislocating his kneecap and will help to find the Creighton shooters.
The Blue Jays like to space the court in their half-court sets, frequently using McDermott for dribble-hand-offs or pick-and-pops around the perimeter, while the shooters rotate to open spaces on the court. They are also extremely opportunistic in the semi-transition before the defense has a chance to get set.
Therefore, the key for a Villanova victory is defense in the semi-transition. The Wildcats have struggled at times to find their men against teams that like to push the pace because of Wright’s defensive scheme.
Because of Villanova’s personnel, each Wildcat is rarely matched up with a specific player, but rather guard whoever is closest to them either off a miss or coming out of their full-court pressuring zone.
It may be in the Wildcats’ best interest to stick a specific player on both Wragge and McDermott. Senior guard James Bell’s athleticism would make him a good cover on the hot shooting Wragge, and junior forward JayVaughn Pinkston could take McDermott.
Freshman guard Josh Hart could also see extended minutes in this game to cover either McDermott or Wragge.
Regardless of Wright’s defensive decisions, the Wildcats will have to dial in defensively to win in Omaha. The two keys for the Wildcats defensively will be not overreacting to dribble-penetration and closing out with composure.
When the Blue Jays penetrate into the paint, they do so with the intention of kicking the ball back out to a shooter.
Therefore, Villanova must not fall for shot-fakes and allow for their defender to get a step ahead going to the basket.
This will take composure on close-outs, staying low to the ground before rising up to contest the shot.
Offensively, Villanova should be able to score against a pedestrian Creighton defense.
In particular, sophomore forward Daniel Ochefu could have a significant impact on this game, given Creighton’s lack of size in the post.
Ochefu has been on a tear recently, recording his first double-double against Seton Hall with 10 points, 10 boards and six assists.
Despite his early season struggles, Ochefu has come a very long way in the past few weeks, playing with tremendous composure and showcasing his instinct to make plays with the basketball.
Down low, both Ochefu and Pinkston will have chances to make a significant impact on this game. But another key for the Wildcats will be their perimeter play where they will have to do their best to match Creighton’s 3-point output.
It will be up to junior guard Darrun Hilliard, sophomore guard Ryan Arcidiacono and Bell to hit their shots from long distance.
But, given Creighton’s perimeter oriented game, sophomore guard Dylan Ennis could see additional playing time in this contest. If Ennis can get his shot going from deep, it will create more space for Pinkston and Ochefu down low when Hilliard, Bell or Arcidiacono head to the bench.
A win at Creighton would be a monumental win for the Wildcats come Selection Sunday. Creighton is now known as an elite team having been ranked in the top 25 for a good portion of the season.
Any opportunity to beat a top 25 team, especially one that beat Villanova earlier this season, has to make the Wildcats licking their paws in anticipation.
If Villanova plays composed on defense, knocks down its threes,, and gets post production from Ochefu and Pinkston, the Wildcats should win in Omaha.
Villanova 74, Creighton 67