Teams: Creighton (8-2) vs. California (8-3)
Day: Sunday, Dec. 22
Time: 7:07 PM ET
Location: CenturyLink Center Omaha; Omaha, Neb.
TV: FOX Sports 1
Radio: 1620 KZON-AM (Creighton) or KGO Radio 810 AM (California)
Fresh off of a very impressive victory against the lackluster Arkansas Pine Bluff Golden Lions, the Creighton Bluejays are set to welcome the California Golden Bears. How can Creighton pull off what would be a very good non-conference victory heading into conference play on New Year's Eve? It all starts with what Creighton does best: shoot the 3-point ball effectively. The California Golden Bears are one of the worst teams in the nation in defending the 3-point shot. While the Division 1 average is 34 percent, the Golden Bears are allowing 35.8 percent of 3-pointers to be made. This has them ranked 236th in the country in this department. As we have learned this season, the Bluejays have an array of 3-point sharpshooters at their disposal, and if they get hot early, it could help build a wide lead from their adversaries.
Coming into this game, Will Artino has been one of Creighton's best performers off the bench. Since accepting his role off the bench in favor of Ethan Wragge, Artino has become a significant contributor in the offense. He now accounts for 21.1 percent of possessions used by the Bluejays, and has sharpened up his shot. He has a 62.5 2P% this season on 48 attempts. His rebounding rate has increased as well, now standing at 16 percent in DR% (Defensive Rebounding%). While that will not find him scratching the surface, it is a pleasant sight to see him increasing his abilities at collecting rebounds. HIs play will be something to look at both in this game and going forward.
While Mike Montgomery's squad has feasted on most of their schedule, they have come away with significant losses against their quality opponents. They have suffered losses to Syracuse, Dayton, and UC Santa Barbara by an average margin of defeat of 12 points. The biggest loss they suffered was to Dayton, losing 82-64 on a neutral floor. What is most noticeable from those defeats is that their Effective FG% in those games sharply declined from the rates that they are getting when they are losing games. In fact, against Dayton and UC Santa Barbara, California picked up their worst Effective FG% of the season at 41.2 and 41.8 percent respectively. It might sound incredibly simple, but California has to convert on their opportunities. Creighton is not the greatest defensive team, although they are getting better as the season progresses, but California has to make the most of their opportunities against a team that can score in bunches.
California should find themselves leaning on the shoulders of their point guard and center in this upcoming contest. On the season, they are getting 22.4 percent and 20.4 percent respectively from those positions. That is due in large part to the play of seniors Justin Cobbs and Richard Solomon. Cobbs wields a 54.6 TS% and Solomon holds a 53.9 TS%, so it is clear that both are making it count when they have the opportunities. Additionally they are two of California's top three scorers on the season, with Cobbs leading the pack with 13.9 points per game, and Solomon in third with an average of 12.0 points per game. Solomon is coming off of a season high 17 point performance against Fresno State, so we will have to see if he can continue that momentum. With Creighton's small lineup to start things off, and the rotation of Artino in the lineup off the bench, Solomon could provide a huge matchup problem for the Bluejays should he get it going.
Devin Brooks has been finding his rhythm lately and he could very well get it going in this contest. He had a very good performance against Arkansas Pine Bluff, coming away with eight points, six rebounds and five assists, truly showing that he could do it all. He will face a much taller task against the Golden Bears, but he has proven that he can get it going against the schools in power conferences. Remember, Brooks had his best game of the season against Arizona St. in the Wooden Legacy Tournament. If Brooks finally can get out of his slump, watch out.
Along with Richard Solomon, David Kravish has been a very good player underneath for the California Golden Bears this season. He has skied for 8.7 rebounds and has scored 12.4 points per game, good for second-best on the team in both categories. Kravish has also performed well swatting away the basketball, as he has a Block% of 6.4 percent, which puts him in Top 150 among all player sin the entire country. Before scoring just six points in his previous outing against Fresno State, the junior big man from Lee's Summit, Mo. scored in double figures in six consecutive games.
In perhaps the last test that Creighton must pass before heading into conference play, they will be welcoming a California Golden Bears team that is hungry for a quality victory this season. The Bluejays are undefeated this season at CenturyLink Center Omaha and other than a few slow starts at the beginning of the season, they have yet to have a very big test on the inside their home arena. That should be expected to change this Sunday night. Creighton should come away with a victory in this game, as their shooting and scoring abilities are just too potent for California to keep up with. But, make no mistake, this will not go as the other home games for Creighton have gone this season.
Creighton 81 California 73