PHILADELPHIA — Creighton can beat anyone in the country.
It’s not even debatable at this point, not after the Bluejays went into the Wells Fargo Center and beat No. 4 Villanova 96-68.
Let me repeat that in case you missed it: Creighton beat the No. 4 team in the country — a team with wins over No. 8 Kansas and No. 10 Iowa — by 28 points on the road. When you think about it like that, there may not be a more impressive win by anyone in the country this season.
It’s not just the fact that Creighton blew the Wildcats out, either. It’s how they did it. They hit their first nine three pointers, seven of which came in the first six minutes from 6-foot-7 sniper Ethan Wragge. They finished with 21 threes, a Big East record, and at one point were up by 40 points. Wragge? He finished with nine, which tied a school record set by none other than Kyle Korver. Save for a couple of possessions at the end of the first half, when the Wildcats were able to cut the lead down to 13 points, Villanova was never in this game.
“That was one of the more incredible things I’ve ever been a part of as a coach,” Creighton head coach Greg McDermott said.
Simply put: Villanova didn’t stand a chance. No one does when the Bluejays shoot the ball like they did tonight.
It’s ludicrous to expect this kind of performance on a nightly basis. They aren’t going to hit 21 threes every time out, but it’s important to remember that they don’t need to hit 21 threes every game. I know this math doesn’t actually work this way, but hear me out: If Creighton only made 12 threes, they still would have won this game by a point.
Wragge and all-american Doug McDermott. They are Creighton’s starting big men, which creates all kinds of matchup problems for Bluejay opponents. McDermott is a problem all by himself. He’s the best player in the country, good enough that scoring 23 points on 13 shots wasn’t an overly impressive performance. He moves without the ball, he spreads the floor with his ability to shoot from three and he’s as good as anyone in the country at sealing his man in the post. In other words, it’s very, very difficult to find a player that can matchup with him.
Wragge, on the other hand, plays the five. He’s guarded by opposing centers, but how many centers are accustomed to defending a guy that simply cannot be given any space? How many centers know how to locate a spot-up shooter in transition?
“Most centers aren’t used to having to chase a guy at the three-point line or in transition,” Coach McDermott said.
Creighton has two of those guys.
What ends up happening is that opposing defenses simply cannot help off of either of those two, which creates all kinds of space in the paint. Creighton’s guards aren’t exactly all-americans, but they are good enough that get past their man off the dribble. When they do, they either get a shot around the rim or draw a help-side defender, and Creighton, who may be the most unselfish team in the country, is as good as anyone at swinging the ball and finding the open man.
“When you let a good shooting team get hot, you’re in trouble,” Villanova head coach Jay Wright said.
So yes, like I said, Creighton can beat anyone in the country.
But keep in mind, this performance came just 48 hours after the Bluejays were waxed at Providence, so while they are a very dangerous team on the nights that their threes are dropping, they are susceptible to getting knocked off when they don’t shoot as well.
And they aren’t always going to shoot this well. It’s just not possible. This was a once-in-a-career kind of performance from the Bluejays. The last time a team hit 21 threes in a game against a Division I opponent? November of 2007, when No. 4 Louisville pulled the feat off against … Hartford.
That doesn’t even touch on the issues they will have defensively. Wragge may be a matchup nightmare for opposing big men, but those same big men lick their chops when they see Wragge defending them. He can be overpowered in the post. As good as McDermott is, he’s never been known as much of a defender, either. In the press conference after the game, Coach McDermott gave more lip service to the fact that his team was terrific defensively in the first half than he did his team’s shooting performance. Much of that is coach-speak, but it’s rooted in fact.
“The way we defended those first seven or eight minutes allowed to create some separation,” he said.
The bottom line is this: on the nights that McDermott and Wragge are hitting their threes, the Bluejays will be able to hang with anyone. On the nights that they defend, they’ll be able to hang with anyone.
When it all clicks, they go up 40 in the No. 4 team’s home arena. On the nights none of it clicks, they’ll trail Providence by 20.
So don’t be surprised when this isn’t the last time the Bluejays leave you scratching your head after a game.