Coach Greg McDermott wasn’t penciling in Villanova as Creighton’s first opponent in the Big East tournament when he discussed the impetus for the Bluejays’ offensive surge over the final two games of the regular season.
But Villanova will be an appropriate foe for No. 24-ranked Creighton on Thursday night when the Bluejays begin tournament play with a matchup against the Wildcats in the final quarterfinal game in New York City.
Creighton (20-11) earned a first-round bye after finishing third in the Big East with a 14-6 league mark. The Bluejays haven’t played since Saturday, when they cruised to an 84-70 win over host DePaul in the regular-season finale for both teams.
Villanova (17-15), the sixth seed after finishing the regular season with a 10-10 Big East record, advanced to the quarterfinals by routing 11th-seeded Georgetown 80-48 on Wednesday night.
The Bluejays’ hopes of winning the Big East regular-season title ended when they went 1-3 from Feb. 14 through Feb. 25, a stretch that concluded with a 79-67 loss to Villanova.
Creighton shot just 19.2 percent from 3-point range (5 of 26) against the Wildcats, its third-worst effort in Big East play. Villanova shot 50 percent from the field (27 of 54) in that game, which was tied for the second-highest percentage surrendered by the Bluejays in a league game this season.
Efficiency was the biggest shift for Creighton in lopsided wins over Georgetown, whom it beat 99-59 on March 1, and DePaul. The Bluejays shot 61 percent from the field and 49.1 percent from beyond the arc while limiting the Hoyas and Blue Demons to 36.1 shooting from the field.
“I would say our pace, to start with — Villanova, we didn’t get any stops,” McDermott said when asked about the difference for the Bluejays over the last two games. “That all starts with getting stops. Without a good defense, you can’t be a good transition offense team. We got back to that.”
The win over Creighton highlighted a February surge for Villanova, which was in danger of finishing under .500 for the first time since 2011-12 – the last season in which it didn’t qualify for the NCAA Tournament – and just the second time this century before going 6-2 down the stretch.
The recovery was fueled on the defensive end for Villanova, which finished fourth in the Big East in defensive efficiency in league games, per KenPom.com. The Wildcats held opponents to less than 70 points five times in the final seven regular-season games before surrendering a season-low 48 points on Wednesday, when Georgetown recorded just four offensive rebounds and shot 15 percent (3 of 20) from 3-point land.
“I thought we played really hard from the beginning tonight,” first-year Villanova coach Kyle Neptune said. “They didn’t really score on us in the halfcourt. We got back and got stops in transition.”
–Field Level Media