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Xavier scores important road win at No. 22 Creighton

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Xavier earned an important road win over No. 22 Creighton on Saturday as the Musketeers were able to stay in the Big East race with an 82-80 win.

Relying on a balanced scoring effort, Xavier (17-6, 7-3) had 16 points each from Tyrique Jones and Trevon Bluiett and 15 points each from Quentin Goodin and J.P. Macura. Jones was a perfect 8-for-8 from the field while Bluiett knocked down two key three-pointers down the stretch to keep the Musketeers in control.

This win is Xavier’s first win against an RPI top-25 team, so it looks very good for the tournament profile. By also winning this one without Edmond Sumner, Xavier proved that they would still be a contender in the Big East as they’re riding a three-game winning streak.

Creighton (20-4, 7-4) dropped this one even though they had a nine-point lead at halftime. The Bluejays were led by Marcus Foster with 18 points while Khyri Thomas (15 points) and Cole Huff (11 points) both finished in double-figures.

It was notable that big man Justin Patton only finished with seven points as he was only 2-for-5 from the field and 3-for-4 from the free-throw line. Patton also had five blocks on the defensive end. The Xavier defense certainly deserves credit for limiting Patton’s attempts and touches but Creighton also has to have a more proactive approach to getting Patton the ball.

The seven points broke a streak in which Patton scored double figures in 13 straight games as he’s shooting 71 percent from the field on the season. Creighton needs to be doing everything they can to work inside-out and let their shooters get looks after he’s drawing double teams.

From here, the Big East race gets a little intriguing thanks to Xavier’s soft remaining schedule. With two games against DePaul and Marquette and only home games with Villanova and Butler, the Musketeers can make a major play to stay with Villanova.

Crieghton’s schedule also isn’t too bad from here as they have road games at DePaul, Villanova, Marquette and Seton Hall and home games with St. John’s, Providence and Georgetown. That’s a stretch where Creighton could conceivably go 5-2 and still be in good position entering the Big East tournament.

Five Takeaways from No. 8 Creighton’s win over No. 12 Butler

OMAHA, NE - JANUARY 11: Justin Patton #23 of the Creighton Bluejays challenges the shot of Kamar Baldwin #3 of the Butler Bulldogs during their game at CenturyLink Center on January 11, 2017 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Creighton had a strong overall performance on Wednesday night as the No. 8 Bluejays ran past No. 12 Butler for a 75-64 home Big East win.

Here are five takeaways from Creighton’s impressive win.

1. Creighton’s defense is getting better — Creighton’s top-10 offense has been praised repeatedly this season but its defense also appears to be improving.

The Bluejay defense has never been bad this season — they ranked a respectable 69th in KenPom defensive efficiency entering Wednesday — but this team appears to be more focused on that end of the floor from the start of the season.

Butler was held to 41 percent shooting on Wednesday night as they were 32 percent from three-point range and only shot seven free throws. Creighton defended without fouling and made perimeter looks very tough. The Bluejays also clearly had the right gameplan for Bulldogs star Kelan Martin as they held him scoreless in the first half and made things frustrating for him all night.

Creighton doesn’t need to be a defensive juggernaut to win its games, but they do need to show that they can get late stops in a tight game like they couldn’t during the Villanova loss. This game obviously didn’t give the Bluejays a test in that department but their defense was so good early that they didn’t need to get stops to win.

2. Butler needs Kelan Martin to show up in Big East play — Junior forward Kelan Martin is Butler’s leading scorer and best player. The 6-foot-7 forward is averaging north of 17 points per game this season. But he’s had a slow start in Big East play.

Wednesday saw more of the same. Martin missed his first eight shots and was held scoreless in the first half as the Bulldogs fell behind big and never recovered. To start the second half, Martin found himself on the bench as he finally started to make some shots once he re-entered the game.

So far in five Big East games, Martin is only shooting 30 percent (20-for-66) from the field. At 6-for-27 from three-point range during that same span, Martin has also struggled to find his perimeter shooting stroke during conference play. Clearly, Martin needs to make some adjustments because the Big East seems to be more familiar with his game and is having an easier time of slowing him down.

Much like Wisconsin senior forward Nigel Hayes, Martin could stand to tone down the number of perimeter looks he is taking at the moment. Martin has always hovered around 37 percent from three, and that’s a respectable number, but he’s now attempting over six attempts a game from three even though he’s been off the last five games.

3. With Justin Patton rolling, Creighton’s offense becomes a juggernaut — Watching Creighton has been fun for a number of reasons this season but the continued development of freshman center Justin Patton continues to be thrilling to witness. The 7-footer has really stepped up his overall game lately as he’s been more productive while getting the lion’s share of the minutes at center.

When Creighton’s guards like Mo Watson and Marcus Foster can get to the rim, Patton becomes a valuable dump-off option. With the amount of shooting that Creighton has on the roster it also gives Patton plenty of room to operate on the interior. If Cole Huff is knocking down shots, it makes the Bluejays such a matchup nightmare on the offensive end because they have so many unique weapons and ways to score.

Patton only finished with 10 points on 5-for-6 shooting but that all came in the first half as Butler’s bigs had no answer for him. Since Creighton’s guards could get in the paint whenever they wanted, Patton’s post touches weren’t as necessary in this one, but Patton’s confidence is growing immensely as the season goes on.

4. Butler can have struggles containing dribble penetration against good guards — One of Butler’s major issues during Wednesday night’s loss was the ability to slow down guards like Watson, Foster and Khyri Thomas from doing what they wanted off the bounce.

In the first half, the Bluejays built their commanding lead by attacking the rack and sharing the scoring balance and the second half saw a strong takeover performance from Watson. The senior was simply unguardable for Creighton in the second frame as he was able to touch the paint whenever he wanted on his way to 21 points and seven assists.

Butler has some strong defensive players and strong defensive principles, but senior Tyler Lewis isn’t a good on-the-ball defender and his size makes him susceptible to being beat. It’s going to be interesting to see how Butler adjusts its perimeter defense after this game to prepare for elite guards. The good news is that Butler isn’t going to have to face many top-10 offenses with killer backcourts, but it was still concerning to see how much they were getting beat.

5. Nobody else is going to beat Creighton at home — Sorry, Big East. No disrespect, Xavier. But I’d be stunned if Creighton lost another home game this season.

Creighton’s dismantling of Butler was an impressive effort on both ends of the floor as the Bluejays made a good, disciplined team look average for most of the game. With Villanova already having won at Creighton this season, I don’t see another Big East team going into CenturyLink Center and picking up a win.

The Bluejays have always been a tough out at home over the years as it is, but with how talented this team is and how they’re playing right now, it would take a huge effort to earn a win there.

Four takeaways from No. 1 Villanova beating No. 10 Creighton

OMAHA, NEBRASKA-DECEMBER 31:  during their game at the CenturyLink Center on December 31, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
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No. 1 Villanova continued its unbeaten season and stretched its win streak to 20 games as they outlasted N0. 10 Creighton for a 80-70 Big East road win.

Here are four takeaways from the Wildcats’ win on Saturday.

1. Nothing is going to fluster Villanova: Early in the game, the Wildcats found themselves down 19-9 and 24-14. Three-pointers weren’t falling and the underrated Creighton fanbase was loud and engaged. It didn’t bother Villanova one bit.

The Wildcats heated up from the perimeter and sophomore Jalen Brunson played one of the best games of his college career, going for a career-high 27 points and coming up with a big steal late in the game.

Villanova already has two closers in Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins. Hart can get shots late in games and get points when Villanova needs them while Jenkins is a great second option who isn’t afraid to take any shot. If you add in Brunson playing this well? You can see why Villanova is still unbeaten and sitting at No. 1 at this point in the season.

2. Villanova finishing the regular season unbeaten is picking up steam: Villanova might have just won the toughest possible test they’ll receive by winning at Creighton on Saturday.

Villanova will still get a solid test at Butler during their next game but the Bulldogs just lost to St. John’s on the road and had to deal with a scary flight situation on the way home. We don’t know if Butler is mentally prepared to hang with the defending national champions.

That means Villanova only has tough road games at Seton Hall and Xavier if they beat Butler next game and the schedule looks more-and-more favorable for them to finish unbeaten. Obviously, the Wildcats have to avoid slip-ups against lesser opponents and still beat the Big East’s beat teams at home. There’s an intriguing non-conference clash with Virginia that also looms for the Wildcats.

But we need to start looking at Villanova potentially going unbeaten as a serious threat since this team has some good road wins at Purdue and Creighton in which a lot of other teams would have folded.

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3. Creighton remains a solid Big East threat: We shouldn’t forget about the Bluejays just because they lost this one at home. Creighton is still going to be a premier team in the Big East with a great chance at a top-4 seed in the NCAA tournament as their potent offense puts them in any game.

The backcourt of Mo Watson Jr., Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas is a quality trio while center Justin Patton has improved so much over the course of the season. Senior forward Cole Huff remains an intriguing forward who can stretch the floor or go in the mid-post and score on turnaround jumpers.

Creighton still has to figure out how to get stops in close games like this one but they at least traded punches with the champion for 10 out of 12 rounds of a prize fight. They ultimately fell short in this one but Creighton hasn’t reached its ceiling yet — which is fun to think about.

4. Creighton goes as Mo Watson goes: One of the interesting things about Creighton’s loss to Villanova was seeing how this team looked with and without Mo Watson Jr.

Watson played most of the game but he did battle foul trouble in both halves before eventually fouling out during Creighton’s rally with a few minutes left. With Watson playing at his best, he’s one of the finest floor leaders in the country as he sets up others for shots while also handling pressure and limiting turnovers.

But you have to wonder if Watson is afraid to look for his shot sometimes. Against Villanova, Watson played his typical pass-first style but he passed up multiple open looks that he could have taken instead of making dangerous passes to guarded teammates.

Villanova is a different caliber of team defensively so Watson needs to look for his own offense more than usual when facing a team like them. But for the Bluejays to also be in this game despite an average game from Watson also shows how good they can be if he’s playing at his best.

Creighton big man Zach Hanson out indefinitely after ankle surgery

OMAHA, NE - MARCH 3: Zach Hanson #40 of the Creighton Bluejays fights for position with Daniel Ochefu #23 of the Villanova Wildcats  during their game at CenturyLink Center March 3, 2015 in Omaha, Nebraska.   (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Creighton will be without senior big man Zach Hanson for a few months as head coach Greg McDermott announced he’ll be out indefinitely after left ankle surgery.

The 6-foot-9 Hanson was previously out this summer after having knee surgery and now he’s dealing with a torn tendon and torn ligaments in his left ankle — which will also require surgery.

During his junior season, Hanson was a solid rotation player for the Bluejays as he averaged 6.8 points and 3.1 rebounds per contest. This season, Hanson appeared in all five Creighton games and averaged 8.0 points and 3.2 rebounds per in just over 13 minutes per contest.

The Bluejays have certainly been fine with Hanson playing limited minutes during their 5-0 start but they could use him as the season grinds on. Beyond freshman center Justin Patton and junior big man Toby Hegner, Creighton doesn’t have a lot of experienced depth on the inside and Hanson’s loss could hurt them in Big East play.

Creighton is still going to be a guard-driven team that should be fine without a role player but the frontcourt depth of the Bluejays is going to be something worth monitoring.

NCAA announces changes to selection committee, process

Villanova players celebrate on the court after the NCAA Final Four tournament college basketball championship game against North Carolina, Monday, April 4, 2016, in Houston. Villanova won 77-74. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
AP Photo/David J. Phillip
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With the position of NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee Chair being a one-year responsibility, the NCAA announced its choice for chairman for the 2017-18 season. Creighton athletic director Bruce Rasmussen will move into that role in 2017, replacing current chair and Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis. Among the responsibilities for the chair are to answer the questions that come after the selection committee releases the NCAA tournament bracket and to hand out the national championship trophy.

That wasn’t the only change announced by the NCAA either, with one such alteration being quite the departure from the way in which the selection committed used to do things.

Per the NCAA, the top overall seed in the NCAA tournament will get to choose where they play the first weekend of the tournament. Teams considered to be in the running for the top overall seed will submit their preferences to the selection committee well in advance of Selection Sunday, so there won’t be any knowledge of possible opponents at that time.

While this is a change to how the NCAA has done things in past brackets, going primarily by mileage when looking to place top seeds as close to their campus as possible, this isn’t exactly a seismic shift since the top overall seed won’t be known until Sunday. But it does give those top teams an option, with designs on it being an additional perk that those programs will have earned.

The bigger change to the selection process is the attempt to revise some of the metrics used by the committee when selecting teams and filling out the bracket, with the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) recommending that the men’s basketball committee take a look at this.

The committee also agreed in concept with the NABC recommendation, as evidenced by past practice in the process, that criteria such as quality wins, overall and non-conference strength of schedule, and road/neutral wins were primary criteria in selecting and seeding the tournament field. Further analysis and study of refining and possibly redefining those specific criteria for the future will be considered by the basketball committee and ad hoc group representatives over the next year. Finally, a longer-term discussion will be ongoing regarding the use of geography and impact of intra-conference matchup possibilities in the principles and procedures for bracketing.

The RPI is a metric that has been used by the selection committee for years, but with the growth in analytics the RPI has come under fire for being outdated. And given the number of options at our disposal these days, the formula used to put together the RPI looks even more archaic. Anything that can be done to modernize that particular metric, especially if the committee will continue to use it, can only benefit college basketball down the line.

Creighton point guard Watson Jr. to return for senior season

Creighton's Maurice Watson Jr. (10) reacts after scoring during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Xavier in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. Creighton won 70-56. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Creighton’s chances of moving up the Big East standings and returning to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2014 improved a great deal Thursday, as starting point guard Maurice Watson Jr. announced that he will be returning for his senior season. Watson, who began his college career at Boston University, entered his name into the NBA Draft pool without hiring an agent but decided that another year in Omaha would be best for him.

Watson was one of the most impactful transfers in the country last season, as his play at the point was a major factor in the Bluejays winning 20 games and going 9-9 in conference play after being picked to finish eighth in the Big East preseason poll. Watson averaged 14.1 points, 3.4 rebounds and 6.5 assists per game last season, earning second team All-Big East honors.

With Watson’s return the Bluejays will welcome back three of their top four scorers from last season, with center Geoffrey Groselle being the lone departure. Head coach Greg McDermott adds a talented shooting guard in Marcus Foster, who sat out last season after transferring in from Kansas State. With Watson and Foster working together, Creighton will have a formidable perimeter tandem leading the way in 2016-17 with the likes of forward Cole Huff and guard Isaiah Zierden also being key contributors.

In addition to what Watson can provide in games he’ll also serve as a good mentor for Kaleb Joseph, who will have to sit out next season after transferring in from Syracuse. Joseph, who will have two seasons of eligibility remaining, fell out of the rotation as a sophomore so the year in residency should benefit him as he works towards grabbing the reins in 2017-18.

h/t ESPN.com