New York, NY (SportsNetwork.com) - The Creighton Bluejays take aim at a spot in the Big East Conference Tournament championship game when they clash with the Xavier Musketeers in the semifinals at Madison Square Garden on Friday night.
With top-seed Villanova already ousted, Creighton, which is the No. 2 seed, is suddenly the overwhelming favorite to win the tournament. The Bluejays were already a strong contender prior to the Wildcats' exit, as they showed by blasting DePaul, 84-62, in the quarterfinals. They are now 25-6 overall, posting wins in six of their last eight games.
Xavier did not have such an easy time in the quarterfinals. Facing sixth- seeded Marquette, the third-seeded Musketeers pulled out a 68-65 victory to push into this round. The win came after the Musketeers ended the regular season with back-to-back losses to Seton Hall and Villanova.
The last win Xavier earned in the regular season came against Creighton, when it upset the Bluejays in a 75-69 final at the Cintas Center. The Musketeers hold a slight lead in the all-time series (10-7), which has been short-lived as this is the first season these teams have been conference rivals.
Justin Martin scored 19 points and Semaj Christon had 18 points and five assists for Xavier in the win over Marquette. The Musketeers connected on 46.9 percent from the field and had a 17-8 scoring edge from the free-throw line to hold off the Golden Eagles, who they led the entire second half, but never by more than six points.
Xavier is used to being entrenched in low-scoring battles, as it is scoring a modest 72 ppg, while limiting the opposition to 67.4 ppg on 42.4 percent from the field. However, the Musketeers are an efficient offensive group, sinking a respectable 47 percent from the field. Christon (17.1 ppg, 4.1 apg) is one of the more talented guards in the conference. He leads the team not only in scoring, but also in assists, making him the playmaker to watch when Xavier is on offense. Martin (11.8 ppg, 5.2 rpg) and Matt Stainbrook (10.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg) anchor the team on the inside.
Doug McDermott was at it again in the first round, as he netted a tournament- record 27 points in the first half and finished with 35 total in leading Creighton over the Blue Demons. McDermott wasn't the only one knocking down shots, as the Bluejays hit 60.4 percent from the floor and 14-of-22 from beyond the arc.
At this point it is just a matter of time before McDermott claims the Naismith Player of the Year award. The senior forward leads the country in scoring (26.8 ppg), while shooting 52.6 percent from the field and 46 percent from 3- point range. He is also the Bluejays' top performer on the glass. With McDermott at the helm, Creighton has been outstanding as an offensive team, ranking among the top-five in the nation in field goal percentage (.499), while netting 80 ppg, which ranks 21st. There is a bit more balance outside of McDermott, with Ethan Wragge the next best option, followed by four other players averaging at least seven ppg.