Xavier vs. Creighton Basketball Odds & Pick: Bet the Bluejays In Saturday’s Big East Battle
Justin Casterline/Getty Images. Pictured: Marcus Zegarowski.
- The Big East sees an important Xavier vs. Creighton matchup with postseason implications.
- The Bluejays are clearly the superior team, but will it be enough for them to cover Saturday?
- College basketball betting analyst Shane McNichol explains why he thinks so below.
Xavier vs. Creighton Odds
|Moneyline||-198 / +166|
|Time | TV||Saturday, 5 p.m. ET | FOX|
We’ve reached a point in the college basketball season where every game features heavy implications on conference tournaments, NCAA Tournament seeding, or the bubble.
Saturday’s tilt between Creighton and Xavier in Cincinnati is no exception.
Creighton has its eyes on a Big East regular-season title, currently sitting two games behind Villanova with three games to play, including a trip to Nova next week.
Xavier, meanwhile, is perched on the bubble and in a difficult position.
Over the course of a month, from Jan. 11 to Feb. 12, the Musketeers played just once with COVID-19 issues aggressively rearranging their schedule.
Since that rocky stretch, Xavier has won just once in four tries, plummeting from a once surefire tournament team to hovering around the committee’s cutline.
A home win over Creighton would be a huge boost, with both of the Musketeers’ final two games coming on the road against non-tournament teams (Marquette and Georgetown) in games that offer far more risk than reward.
There’s plenty on the line in Saturday’s meeting between two of the powers of the new-school Big East.
Who Wins Battle In the Paint?
Creighton and Xavier both excel scoring in the paint, giving the team that can best protect the rim a great chance to win on Saturday.
Xavier shoots the 14th-best percentage in the nation on shots at rim, per Hoop-Math, thanks to the combo of Paul Scruggs and Zach Freemantle.
Scruggs is aggressive with his downhill drives, and Freemantle has shown himself to be crafty and resourceful in the areas around the paint. As a 1-2 punch, they are difficult to defend, especially in a ball-screen action together.
Creighton, meanwhile, is also in the top 20 in the nation at finishing at the rim. The Bluejays excel in a variety of areas inside the arc, posting the fifth-best 2-point shooting mark in college basketball.
Greg McDermott’s offense is beautifully balanced. Creighton launches a ton of 3s, which opens driving lanes for Marcus Zegarowski and Denzel Mahoney to attack the paint, which then re-opens more 3-point shots.
It’s a self-fulfilling cycle, and Mitch Ballock is the main cause and beneficiary. His ridiculous shooting (41% on more than 700 career 3-point attempts) is like a speedy wide receiver who causes defenses to stretch to uncomfortable distances. In the same way Tyreek Hill makes things easy for Travis Kelce, Ballock’s ability and willingness to fire from 30-plus feet makes life so much easier for his teammates.
Creighton likely has the better chance to impact the game defensively. The Bluejays have allowed the lowest 2-point percentage and the lowest assist rate in the Big East.
Xavier, meanwhile, has allowed the highest assist rate, with more than 60% of field goals by Big East opponents coming via an assist. That could be a scary precursory against a team as sharp offensively as Creighton.
The first time these teams met, Xavier responded by uncharacteristically fouling. Xavier has allowed the eighth-lowest free-throw rate defensively this season, yet sent Creighton to the line 20 times, the second-most of any Musketeer opponent this season.
Xavier’s Shooting Needs Some Regression
Since Xavier returned to the court after a 14-day layoff to start this month, the Musketeers’ shooting has been dreadful from beyond the arc.
In four games, Xavier has taken 103 attempts from long range and made just 25% of those shots. Recently, things have been particularly bad, with the Musketeers hitting just five of their last 38 3s (14%) in their last two outings.
No Xavier player is more in need of a swing in shooting luck than Adam Kunkel. The junior made 39% of his 213 outside-the-arc attempts last year at Belmont.
At Xavier, he’s taken time to settle into the rotation. In his first seven games as a Musketeer, prior to the team’s first long layoff, Kunkel averaged 16.4 minutes and 6.4 points per game, with 20% shooting beyond the 3-point line.
Since Jan. 30, however, Kunkel is up to 20.2 minutes per game and shooting 36.8% on 3s. That still leaves him well beyond his success rates as a high-level scorer at Belmont. Sure, he was generally facing a lower level of competition in the Southern Conference but showed himself skilled against power conference foes with 35 points and five made 3s against Boston College last season. Kunkel topping 15 points just once all year was not an expectation.
If he, and his teammates, can hit shots more reliably, the Xavier offense could turn a corner and look more dangerous in March.
In Big East play, Xavier ranks dead last in 3-point shooting percentage, making less than 30% of its tries from deep.
Betting Analysis & Pick
The Xavier team we have seen since its return to action fails to inspire any confidence in its ability to compete with tournament-level teams this season.
The Musketeers are 5-5 in Big East play to date but have yet to record a win against a team that currently sports a winning record in the conference. The Musketeers’ win over Oklahoma, the crown jewel of Xavier’s tournament resume, was nearly three months ago and feels like an outlier.
Creighton is the superior team and can’t afford to drop this game before heading to Villanova next Wednesday. The 5.5-point spread makes this a tough call, but with Xavier’s third-leading scorer Nate Johnson’s injury status in limbo, Creighton makes sense giving less than seven.
Pick: Creighton up to -6.5 (pending Johnson’s availability).