With the game against Creighton quickly approaching we decided to reach out to Alex Sindelar the resident Creighton Expert at our fellow SB Nation blog Big East Coast Bias to give us an update on this years Bluejay team.
Corn Nation: Creighton is off to one of their best starts in years. What were your thoughts on this team coming into the season?
Alex Sindelar: There was a lot of hype and extraordinary expectations coming into the season. It was clear that Marcus Foster was going to make a huge impact right away, but it wasn’t quite clear how big of an impact. To have both Foster and Justin Patton on the scout team all of last year gave them both a great opportunity to learn McDermott’s system, which has paid off in dividends this season. During practice it became clear that there were a lot of pieces to this team finally beginning to gel that would lead to a great deal of success. My pre-season prediction is awfully close to what’s transpired so far and I felt I was being overly optimistic in those predictions.
I think the thoughts of the fanbase coming into the year were tepid; there were a lot of question marks, but eventually a consensus was reached in acknowledging Maurice Watson Jr., as the central cog to the offense and that his abilities could carry the team pretty far. There were a lot of concerns about defense and rebounding, both of which have become Creighton’s achilles heel in McDermott’s tenure, but both have improved quite a bit. As it turns out, rebounding margin doesn’t mean much if the opposing team can’t score on the boards they grab.
CN: Creighton is a team that can score from just about anywhere and can play pretty decent defense. What is an area that an opposing team can could take advantage of against Creighton?
AS: As previously mentioned, rebounding. If a team can blast the Jays on the boards and turn them into points, then they’ve got a pretty good shot at winning.
The other thing is pace. Ole Miss was able to quell Creighton’s lightning fast transition by running a half court zone-trap to contain Watson Jr., at mid court, slowing down the offense a great deal while forcing him to make pressured decisions. This was the best game plan Creighton’s faced so far this season as far as slowing down their tempo, but it’s foolish to think a team can do this for 40 minutes if their bench is only 3-deep. If a team has enough depth then it could work, in theory.
Creighton also likes to double the post on defense, leaving a guy in the corner wide open for three. This was evident against Wisconsin, who went 8-13 from 3 in the first half. As some of you may know, Wisconsin isn’t a three point shooting team, and eventually regressed to their mean in the second half. If a team can interchange players in that corner three slot, force the double team in the post, and kick out for the open jumper, a team theoretically could score enough to outpace the Jays. You’ll need a whole lot of luck and a hot hand though.
CN: Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster is easily the shining star on this years team. Following him is a great supporting cast that can keep opposing teams from making any headway. Who else should Husker fans keep an eye on Wednesday night?
AS: Benson High product Khyri Thomas has been one of the best players on the Bluejays so far this year. He’s got all the intangibles a basketball fan loves to see: hustle, grit, enjoys dunking, can hit transition threes. His defense is the strongest aspect of his game and he can lock down against the best players in college basketball. Foster may have the flash but Thomas is the best all-around player the Jays have.
Boston U transfer Maurice Watson Jr., is another. He runs the entire offense, is very fast, and may be one of the best point guards in the country. Last year he carried the team offensively as the Jays didn’t have a lot of weapons, but now that they’re fully stocked with superstars he’s been averaging 9 assists per game. He’s truly a marvel to watch.
Last but not least, 7’0 redshirt freshman Justin Patton - from Omaha North - has been absolutely electric this year. He’s averaging just north of 12 points per game but has been a central player in Watson Jr.’s assist distribution, as he’s averaging 1.5 alley-oop receptions per game. He’s fun, fast, and probably going to the NBA relatively soon.
CN: What concerns do you have with the Husker team that Creighton will be facing? Is there anything the Huskers have or will do that could be problematic for the Bluejays?
AS: I’ve seen the Huskers play a few times this year, and though I’m not a huge fan of the Cornchuckers, I have to admit that I’m overjoyed that Tai Webster has finally come into his own. Though he won’t be much of a factor against Creighton since Khyri Thomas will most likely be matched up against him, he does run a pretty mean pick and roll with Morrow that could potentially kill the Jays.
I’ve always been driven to an early bedtime due to the the glacial pace Tim Miles runs in the half court, but the defense is always pretty spectacular. The defense alone may be able to stop the Jays, especially if Nebraska is able to slow the tempo down to their liking.
CN: How far will Creighton make it this year? What’s the ceiling for this team?
AS: In pre-season I had them finally making the Sweet 16 and I think that’s still about right. Anything further than that will be gravy. I think their ceiling could potentially be a trip to Phoenix but I’d rather wait and see what they do in the BIG EAST before going that far.
CN: It has been a few years since Dana Altman has left Creighton. What do Creighton fans think of him now and his success at Oregon?
AS: I think every Creighton fan is really happy for Dana. He wanted a bigger recruiting footprint and he certainly got it at Oregon. What he did at Creighton - taking a mediocre mid major program and turning them into a mid major power - will never be forgotten.
Plus, I think the Jays won out on the deal long-term. McDermott is a pretty excellent coach but an even better human being and all Bluejay fans adore him.
CN: Final question, What will happen Wednesday night in Lincoln and what will be the final score?
AS: I think Creighton’s tempo will be way too much for Nebraska. The first half will be pretty close, but Creighton will go on one of their patented runs and pull away mid-way through the second half. Nebraska will claw back and make a game of it late, but it’ll be too little too late. 84-70 Bluejays.
Thanks again to Alex for taking time to answer our questions. If you want to know more about Creighton and Alex’s take on the game I suggest you check out www.BigEastCoastBias.com and Alex’s twitter account.