The Big East Basketball season has finally come for the Providence Friars and the Creighton Bluejays. The Friars are trying to continue theIr four-game winning streak, and Creighton looks to bounce back against a tough lost to North Texas. Here's my 5-on-5 preview along with Creighton writer and Big East Coast Bias manager, Christopher Novak.
1. After Creighton's bad losses in their nonconference schedule, can they pull it together to start the Big East season?
Chris Fairfield: After a great win against Oklahoma in the beginning of their season, the Bluejays have gone downhill suffering losses to Ole Miss, Tulsa, Saint Mary's, and North Texas. They barely beat South Dakota and the NCAA Tournament hopes for the Bluejays are slipping away. A win over Providence in their building would definitely restore the Bluejays' confidence coming off a loss against a .500 Conference USA team. In order to beat Providence, Austin Chatman needs to have a big game by knocking down shots from the 3-point line and getting his teammates involved. He's Creighton's senior leader, and in order to win games against quality Big East opponents, he needs to play at his best.
Christopher Novak: It's going to be a tough ride. The Bluejays don't nearly have the 3-point shooting they did to compensate for their deficiencies on offense. The issue of their forwards playing in non-aggressive fashion could very well plague them in ‘The Land of the Giants' for the second straight year. They got dismantled often by much more athletic teams last year and that could once again be the case. I don't think they're going to pitfall in conference play necessarily, but the prospects don't look great at this juncture.
2. How will Creighton defend two All-Big East guards?
CF: Tulsa and North Texas don't have All Big East caliber guards like Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton. Both have played well over the past few weeks, and Creighton needs to stop them from taking over the game. Creighton could come out in a zone to defend LaDontae from the 3-point line, and they can also clog the paint when Kris drives to the basket. When Providence met UMass at The Dunk, the Friars were getting out in transition more and having highlight reel dunks that got the crowd hype and energetic. The Bluejays need to get back on defense to stop the Friars from getting easy transition buckets and keep the Dunkin' Donuts Center quiet.
CN: It will be an interesting task for them. The Bluejays have Austin Chatman and Devin Brooks as their guards and do mostly run a man-to-man defense so they will likely be matched up with PC's guards in a major way. LaDontae Henton, as noted, will also likely be a threat and they're going to have to do their damndest to quell him. They've been stout at defending inside but outside it's been a major issue, as they rank 299th in 3-point field goal% defense. Teams have a 3-point FG rate of 35.1 percent against the Bluejays so defending any perimeter chances against Dunn and Henton will likely be the biggest threat they see on New Year's Eve.
3. Will Kris Dunn have another fantastic performance?
CF: To say Kris Dunn has been playing well lately is an understatement. He's playing with confidence and has been the best point guard in the Big East since their loss at the "Lexington D-League Team", otherwise known as Kentucky. In Kris' last game against a talented Miami team, he had 15 points and thirteen assists to finish the non-conference portion of their schedule. He also had 16 points and 11 assists against UMass and provided a putback dunk better than any poster I've seen so far this season. Considering Kris has played great against quality teams, look for him to have a big game and to play to his potential.
CN: Dunn's been stellar in his 2014 campaign thus far, with the highest usage rate of anyone on the Friars, and 30th best in the country. He's also got the second best assist rate in the country at 49.1 percent. Suffice it to say, he's a terrific player and has six straight games with 15 points or more. With how Creighton's defense has been this season, it's going to be very difficult for them to contain Dunn so I suspect he will have another great game on Wednesday evening.
4. What's the Friars game plan to beat the Bluejays?
CF: One of the greatest weapons in college basketball is the 3-point shot. Most upsets in the Big Dance occur when a school shoots a fantastic percentage from the three point line and are able to steal the game. The three point line is what made Creighton so successful last year, but Doug McDermott is not in Omaha anymore. Creighton's main weapon in this game will need to be the 3-point shot, as they'll have a tough go inside against seven-footers Carson Desrosiers and Paschal Chuckwu. I think the Friars will come out in a zone against Creighton, much like they did in last year's Big East Championship, to guard Creighton's shooters in order to repeat their success from March.
CN: They'll need to follow the blueprint that they used to win at The Dunk last season and at Madison Square Garden in the Big East Championship. Using the 3-point shot, as Chris Fairfield noted, will be key against the feeble perimeter defense that Creighton possesses. If that happens, and if LaDontae Henton can get it going as well, then it could be a very long night for Creighton.
5. Who should you bet on to win this matchup?
CF: I would put my money on the Friars to beat the Bluejays. Providence are in a really good grove and this should be one of the easiest games the Friars play until they play DePaul at home. Kris Dunn and LaDontae Henton have been playing great with no signs of slowing down, and unless Creighton out works Providence defensively and shoots well from the three point line, the Friars will win the game by a landslide.
CN: Providence. I think Creighton is simply overmatched in this contest and if Providence gets hot, it could get ugly in a hurry.