Top sportsbooks have released their odds for tonight’s Big East opener between Villanova and Creighton. Villanova is coming off a horrible loss, a 19-point blowout against defending champion Baylor.
This one blowout defeat, however, should not negate in your minds the strong season that the Wildcats are enjoying, which includes double-digit wins over Tennessee and Syracuse.
As for Creighton, the Blue Jays would love to return to the NCAA Tournament, but they need to snap out of their current mini-funk. They’ve lost two of their last three.
For reasons that I will explain, you should play the spread for this game.
Villanova Wildcats vs. Creighton Blue Jays
Friday, December 17, 2021 – 08:00 PM EST at CHI Health Center Omaha
Creighton’s Once-Veteran Defense
Last year formed quite the exception for Creighton’s defense: it ranked 32nd nationally in efficiency. Recent Bluejay squads have justly been known rather for their offense than for their defense.
What was unique about last year’s Bluejay squad was its veteran leadership and chemistry. All five Bluejay starters were upperclassmen: three were seniors and two were juniors.
However, all five of those players have departed. So, not only has Creighton lost five starters, but it has also lost a lot of significant experience.
Creighton Perimeter Defense
This is the Bluejay defense that we expect every year. Despite facing an easier array of offenses than last year, this season’s Bluejay squad ranks 40 spots behind last year’s in terms of defensive efficiency. One significant reason why the Bluejay defense is worse this year is its inability to guard the perimeter.
Despite facing a lot of teams that either don’t like shooting threes, are normally very inefficient from deep, or both — examples of such opponents include Nebraska and Arizona State — Creighton ranks 249th nationally at limiting opposing three-point efficiency.
Creighton faced one good three-point shooting team so far: Colorado State. The Rams won that game by scoring 95 points and converting 20 of 34 three-point opportunities. Keep this result in mind for your sports betting.
Video footage of that game reveals the repeated ease with which the Rams accrued strong three-point shooting opportunities for themselves. They smoothly reversed the ball, did a lot of drive-and-kick and a lot of pick-and-pop, and employed other tactics to create open three-point attempts.
I find it very telling to observe what Colorado State was able to do against Creighton. Like the Rams, Villanova is an excellent three-point shooting squad. The Wildcats attempt the eighth-most threes per game in the nation and rank 37th nationally in three-point efficiency.
They are stacked with shooters: Caleb Daniels, Collin Gillespie, and Justin Moore all convert over 38 percent of their three-point attempts and there is more quality shooting depth behind that trio.
Typically, Nova likes to execute the pick-and-roll. Last year, they deviated from that play-type because they had a stud in the post, Jeremiah Robinson-Earl, who now plays for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Now that Robinson-Earl is gone, video footage shows the extent to which the Wildcats have rediscovered their love of this play-type and its facilitation of Nova’s characteristically strong ball movement that rarely results in turnovers.
They also like the pick-and-pop and they have surely seen the ease with which Colorado State executed the same play-type. Like Colorado State with David Roddy, Villanova enjoys multiple efficient three-point shooting big men.
There’s the low-volume center Eric Dixon but also the higher-volume power forward Brandon Slater, who’s shooting 35.7 percent from deep. Expect, therefore, a lot of pick-and-pop actions like the Rams did.
With these big men and the spacing that Villanova likes to accomplish partly by relying on those big men’s shooting skills, the Wildcats can help pull Creighton seven-footer Ryan Kalkbrenner away from the basket in order to attack.
Creighton Offense vs. Nova Defense
While Creighton, defensively, is what it usually has been in recent years, the Creighton offense looks rather different. Normally, the Bluejays love to heave threes and are efficient doing so. This year, however, they are committed to scoring inside.
They characteristically like to use dribble hand-offs in order to create driving lanes inside. This play-type is difficult for defenses who need the screened defender to recover back to his man while the latter attacks the basket ahead of him.
Know for your best bets that Nova, however, is able to switch. Its defensive versatility and position-less play make it well-suited to prevent Creighton from successfully employing its favorite rim-attacking tactics.
While the Bluejays will also want to lean on Kalkbrenner inside given his size advantage, the Wildcats will likely repeat what they did against Syracuse’s Jesse Edwards. In their double-digit win over Syracuse, they swarmed Edwards and were very physical, forcing him to attempt a lot of free throws.
Kalkbrenner is an inefficient free throw shooter, so putting him on the line will be a good move from the Wildcat defense.
Swarming Kalkbrenner will also be optimally feasible given the fact that Creighton ranks 268th nationally in three-point efficiency.
Creighton’s regressed defense and highly exploitable perimeter defense will struggle to contain Nova’s three-point-oriented attack that will also feature more ball-screens, good ball movement, and good spacing.
On the other side, Creighton’s one-dimensional offense will fail to bend the Wildcat defense out of shape given the latter’s ability to switch. When good opportunities do surface inside, Villanova is able to swarm.
For the above reasons, invest in Nova with your NCAAB Picks.
NCAAB Pick: Wildcats -6 (-115) at DraftKings