The Creighton Bluejays are streaking after a successful trip to Las Vegas, routing Rutgers and UMass before the Thanksgiving holiday. Now Creighton meets their toughest match-up outside of Indiana in the Western Illinois Fighting Leathernecks.
Here's 3 things to watch out for in this (surprisingly) interesting late-November match-up.
1. Creighton needs to play two-way ball to win
Creighton has long been one of the more dangerous outside shooting teams in the league, but in this short season, WIU has charged out of the gates as the nation's best 3-point shooting club, hitting at a 51.9 percent clip, and they rank in the top 10 in field goal percentage at 52.9 percent. Head Coach Billy Wright loves to move the ball around and find guards JC Fuller and Garret Covington on the perimeter.
The offensive success of the Leathernecks may be stunning, but their defensive effort is another day at the office. The Necks are holding opponents to 32.6 percent shooting, a trait that's held since Wright's days on Jim Molinari's staff years ago. On the other end, Creighton has been inconsistent. At times they are maddening defensively, and other times they find a rhythm and ratchet up the intensity.
Greg McDermott needs a complete game from his players to beat WIU. Mo Watson and Cole Huff are crafty enough to get open and knock some open jumpers, but the perimeter defense that held UMass to 3 of 16 Wednesday have to show up in order to stop an upset.
An interesting nugget: WIU has not allowed more than 67 points this season. Creighton has lost its last 16 games when scoring 67 or fewer. So basically, shoot the J. SHOOT IT!
2. Staying out of foul trouble is key
Wednesday's championship game saw 59 total personal fouls called, 31 of them whistled on Creighton. Eight Bluejays were in foul trouble, all five starters, including Khyri Thomas, playing a season-low eight minutes. Western Illinois loves to penetrate and will goat defenders into some bad fouls. Creighton must be disciplined and keep WIU off the free throw line.
3. November Rain
CenturyLink is a tough road environment for anyone, but this especially holds true in November, where Creighton has won 52 of its last 53 regular-season home games in the month of November. The last lost? Exactly three years ago today vs. Boise State. That might not mean much to Western Illinois, the same team who stunned defending runner-up Wisconsin on opening night, but it should give Creighton fans some relief as their Jays defend home court.