For the first time since joining the Big East Conference, Creighton is the top seed, and if the Bluejays are going to win the Big East tournament, they will be forced to do so without dynamic guard Marcus Zegarowski.
Zegarowski will miss the entire tournament with a knee injury, and Creighton will find out if it can compensate for his absence Thursday afternoon when it faces ninth-seeded St. John’s in the quarterfinals at Madison Square Garden in New York. Fans will not be permitted to attend as a precaution due to the coronavirus pandemic that forced the suspension of the NBA season.
The winner of the game will advance to the semifinals to face the winner of fourth-seeded Providence and fifth-seeded Butler.
Creighton (24-7, 13-5 Big East) finished in a three-way tie for the regular-season conference title with Seton Hall and Villanova but won the tiebreakers. The Bluejays secured their first title since joining the conference in 2013-14 with Saturday’s 77-60 home win over Seton Hall.
Zegarowski was injured in the regular-season finale when he scored 23 points and hit five 3-pointers. The school later announced he had a meniscus injury, and he underwent surgery Wednesday.
“Any time you take someone that has his fingerprints all over your team both on offense and defense and off the floor, it has an impact,” coach Greg McDermott said. “We haven’t played a lot with him or Mitch (Ballock) or Ty-Shon (Alexander) off the floor. If we have to play without him, obviously it’s going to be an adjustment.”
Creighton led the Big East by averaging 78.3 points and shooting 47.1 percent and Zegarowski aided one of the nation’s top offenses. He was second on the Bluejays in scoring with 16.1 points per game, and his 42.4 percent shooting on 3-pointers ranked third in the conference.
Zegarowski along with Alexander and Ballock averaged at least 35 minutes during the regular season that Creighton ended by winning seven of eight games. Alexander leads the team at 16.9 points while Ballock averaged 11.9 points.
Creighton’s only loss in its hot stretch was to St. John’s on March 1 when Ballock, Alexander and Zegarowski were a combined 7 of 36 from the field. The Bluejays shot 37 percent and were 4 of 27 from 3-point range while St. John’s hit 14 3-pointers.
St. John’s advanced to the noon game in the quarterfinals for the third time in four seasons after an impressive finish in a 75-62 win over Georgetown on Wednesday. LJ Figueroa scored 22 points while Marcellus Earlington added 10 of his 19 in an impressive game-ending 23-0 run as St. John’s did not allow a point for the final 6:31.
“They’re the Big East champs,” St. John’s coach Mike Anderson said of Creighton. “And so, it’s going to be an awesome challenge, but at the same time, it’s a great opportunity and one of the greatest tournaments there is — the Big East Tournament. So look forward to the opportunity and the challenge.”
St. John’s has not advanced to the semifinals since winning the tournament in 2000 and is hoping its latest appearance in the noon quarterfinal game goes better than the previous two appearances.
In 2017, the Red Storm beat Georgetown in the 8-9 game and then absorbed a 108-67 loss to top-seeded Villanova. In 2018, St. John’s also beat Georgetown and then took an 88-60 loss to Xavier.
–Field Level Media