Doug McDermott (Getty Images)
Here's the only silver lining Villanova can extract from its second shellacking at the hands of Creighton: If the Wildcats meet the Bluejays in the NCAA tournament, it wouldn't come any earlier than the Final Four.
There wasn't much else comforting for Villanova about a 101-80 throttling at Creighton that closely mirrored the Bluejays' 96-68 rout of the Wildcats in Philadelphia four weeks earlier.
Again, Creighton built a commanding lead by halftime. Again, Villanova was powerless to defend the Bluejays' array of perimeter shooters. And again, the Wildcats got embarrassed in a showcase game they had hoped to use to tighten their grip on first place in the Big East standings.
The one difference this time was which Creighton player did the most damage.
In the first meeting, 6-foot-10 Ethan Wragge feasted on the lack of mobility of Villanova's big men, burying a career-high nine threes en route to 27 points. This time it was national player of the year favorite Doug McDermott who scorched the Wildcats for 39 points on a ruthlessly efficient 17 shots.
Hoping to keep Wragge from killing his team on the perimeter and limit McDermott's effectiveness in the post, Villanova coach Jay Wright began the game with a more mobile defender on Wragge and put center Daniel Ochefu on McDermott. That strategy didn't last long as McDermott took advantage of Ochefu being uncomfortable defending that far from the basket and buried two wide-open threes on Creighton's first two possessions.
No matter what Villanova tried the rest of the game, it couldn't prevent McDermott from scoring. He had success on the low block. He sank Dirk Nowitzki-esque turnaround jump shots from the elbow. And he navigated off-ball screens expertly to bury four of the six threes he attempted, the third of which moved him past Larry Bird on college basketball's all-time scoring list.
The 39 points McDermott tallied when he left the floor to a standing ovation matched his season high and marked the ninth time he has eclipsed 30 as a senior. McDermott's career high is 44 at Bradley as a sophomore, and you can bet he might have eclipsed that Sunday had his father left him on the floor for the final two minutes.
Creighton's victory elevates the Bluejays (21-4, 11-2) into first place in the Big East, a half game ahead of the Wildcats (22-3, 10-2). It also suggested that this year's Creighton team has a real chance to make a deep run this March after the program made the round of 32 the past two seasons.
One of the few types of opponents that has bothered Creighton this season are teams with a horde of mobile, athletic forwards who can switch screens and comfortably defend shooters on the perimeter. San Diego State enjoyed success against the Bluejays with that formula, as did St. John's on two occasions.
The other option is what Butler did to Creighton earlier in the week to hold the Bluejays to 63 points. The Bulldogs slowed down the pace and made Creighton defend for the full 35 seconds in hopes of having them expend as much energy as possible on that end of the floor.
Villanova has neither the patience nor the personnel for either of those strategies, which is part of the reason the Wildcats have allowed Creighton to shoot more than 60 percent from the field combined in their two meetings.
The good news for Villanova is it's done with Creighton for the rest of the regular season. The bad news for the Wildcats is they now have to hope the Bluejays stumble if they want to secure more than a share of the Big East title.
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