It's a rivalry game, or as close to one as Nebraska has in basketball. The Devaney Center looks like it's going to be sold out and the feelings around the program are as good as they've been in in a long time, but they face what is unquetionably their toughest test of the season with the Creighton BlueJays paying their last visit to the Devaney Center. Will the highly ranked Jays be too much or will the Huskers find a little more magic in the old building?
Tonight's the big night. Nebraska and Creighton face off at the likely to be sold out Bob Devaney
Sports Center. Creighton comes in 5-1 and ranked #13 in the USA Today poll. the Huskers,
meanwhile, sit at 6-1 and are coming off back to back double digit wins over BCS teams and riding the hot shooting of Ray Gallegos. The Huskers and Jays have traded home wins every year since 2005 and the Huskers look to continue that pattern tonight.
I exchanged some questions with Jacob Padilla of the Creightonian about the game. You can find my responses to his questions here. Here's what Jacob had to say:
1. Six years ago, Creighton came into the Devaney Center in the first year of Doc Sadler’s tenure. Similarly, Doc featured a rather depleted squad but was able to find a way to stun the Jays. Since then, the teams have traded home wins, mainly blowouts in Omaha and tight games in Lincoln. Any fear of history repeating?
Something always seems to go wrong for the Jays in Lincoln, regardless of the respective talent and records of the two teams at the time. And after seeing the way the team has responded to Tim Miles, the Huskers can't be overlooked. However, after the loss to Boise State I don't think there's any way the Jays don't come out ready to play. The gap between the two teams in terms of depth and talent is wider than it has been for a while, and of course Creighton has that Doug McDermott guy.
2. Creighton has seen a variety of guards go off for career games the past couple of seasons. I’m sure that has become a redundant topic in Creighton circles, but those are the kinds of guards CU will face if they want to go deep into March, how does CU plan to address that issue?
It hasn't been pretty. Even just this season the Jays have been lit up by Arizona State freshman phenom Jahii Carson and Boise State's talented Derrick Marks. The defense does need to improve. And actually, it has already. Outside of the Boise State game where the guys just didn't show up and a couple second halves where the team was up big, Creighton has played very good team defense. Just look at what the Jays did to St. Joe's and Carl Jones, who lit Creighton up last year.
The key is going to be sophomore point guard Austin Chatman. Chatman may be short in stature, but he's big in effort and is incredibly quick. As Antoine Young's back-up last year Chatman came in and locked down Long Beach State's star Casper Ware, and he is also the one who held Carl Jones to just nine point on 10 shots last Saturday. After the St. Joe's game head coach Greg McDermott called him the Jays' best perimeter defender, and I can't argue with that. As Chatman - who took over the starting point guard spot vacated by the departed Young this season - continues to improve and learn the tricks of the trade, I think he's going to be special. However, as Chatman is generously listed at just 6-feet (I'm about 6-foot-1 and having stood next to him, there's no way that's accurate), he can't take on bigger wings. That falls on the four-man rotation of Jahenns Manigat, Grant Gibbs, Josh Jones and Avery Dingman. Manigat is the weakest link here. He's good at taking charges, but struggles to stay in front of his man. Gibbs isn't the quickest guy, but he's very smart and is great at getting into the passing lanes for steals and deflections. Jones has turned himself into a solid defender off the bench and Dingman has shown potential. The Jays don't have lock down defenders, but with hustle and smart team play they should be able to get the job done better than last year.
3. Coach McDermott has made no secret of this season being Sweet 16 or bust. What obstacles will keep the Jays from realizing that goal?
We've already talked about the defense, and that will always be the Jays' biggest issue. Offensively, a lot of teams are going to pack the paint to shut down McDermott and Echenique. That's going to lead to a lot of open shots on the perimeter for a team shooting over 40 percent from deep. However, there are going to be a couple games where shots just don't fall. Hopefully it doesn't happen during big games. Not drawing top-seeded North Carolina in the North Carolina regional in the round of 32 would be nice as well (A No. 8 seed? Really?).
4. Other than McDermott, what should non Bluejay observers keep an eye on in tonight's game?
Keep an eye on the Jays' ball movement and offensive execution. When Creighton gets the ball swinging around the court they are a lot of fun to watch. Creighton is second in the country in field goal percentage, and a big reason for that is that they are 11th in assists.
The catalyst behind Creighton's offensive execution is Gibbs. You'll probably see the 6-foot-4 senior both on the wing and at the point (if McDermott doesn't play true freshman Andre Yates), but no matter where he's playing he gets the ball where it needs to go. He's a terrific post entry passer and always makes the extra pass out on the perimeter, but can also score when he needs to. His head coach had high praise for Gibbs after his nine assist, zero turnover performance against St. Joe's.
"He’s unbelievable," McDermott said. "I hope our fans are enjoying what they see, because you may never see it again. I’ve never coached a wing player that has that kind of savvy."
5. Prediction time:
Creighton 81, Nebraska 62
Thanks, Jacob. Good luck to your Jays the rest of the way, just not tonight.
Who wins this interstate rivalry?
Nebraska (15 votes)
Creighton (11 votes)
26 total votes