March 04, 2016

Xavier has locked up the No. 2 seed for the Big East tournament. Its next task is trying to nail down the same spot for the NCAA Tournament.

The fifth-ranked Musketeers (25-4, 13-4) host Creighton in their regular-season finale Saturday after being idle since a 90-81 loss at Seton Hall on Sunday. The letdown coach Chris Mack feared for his team after beating then-No. 1 Villanova in its previous game materialized as the Pirates stormed to a 19-point halftime lead and shot 50.0 percent overall.

The goal now is to bounce back ahead of next week's conference tournament at Madison Square Garden, though Xavier also has a chance to avenge one of its Big East setbacks. The Musketeers had their worst offensive performance of the season in Omaha on Feb. 9, falling behind 21-4 and shooting 1 for 21 from 3-point range and 30.0 percent overall in a 70-56 defeat.

"We had an opportunity to give our players a little more rest than they normally get at this time of year," Mack said Friday, referring to the break in his team's schedule. "They had our number in Omaha, were quick to tell us about it and our guys are competitive. Hopefully we're much better than we were the first time we faced them."

Though the Musketeers are seeking their 10th win in 12 games, defense is a concern. Xavier has allowed an average of 76.1 points over the last eight, well above its season mark of 69.7. One reason may be that Big East opponents appear to be scheming better against the Musketeers' 1-3-1 zone defense - four of the seven teams scored more points in the second matchup of the season.

It will be the last home game for Musketeers seniors James Farr and Remy Abell. Farr has averaged 13.7 points while making 15 of 23 shots in his last three games.

"They've sacrificed a lot, they've always put the team first," Mack said. "It says a lot about them that the guys younger than them play together and play hard. Xavier's always been led by its older players and this year isn't any different."

Creighton (18-12, 9-8) could be seeded from fourth through sixth for the Big East tournament and would claim the No. 4 seed with a victory and a loss by Providence at St. John's. The Bluejays are trying to avoid a fourth loss in five games following a 70-66 road defeat to the Friars on Wednesday.

James Milliken scored a career-high 26 points on 8-of-13 shooting, including 4 of 6 from 3-point range, but his teammates shot a combined 15 of 44. Maurice Watson Jr., who scored a career-best 32 points in last month's win over Xavier, was held to a season-low six while making 2 of 9 shots.

Supersub Cole Huff had a solid effort despite shooting 4 of 12 with 10 points and nine rebounds, and he's averaged 11.5 points and 8.3 boards in his last four games.

Perimeter defense has been a bellwether for Creighton's success in Big East play. The Bluejays have limited foes to 29.1 percent shooting from beyond the arc in their wins and 35.0 in their defeats.

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