A Big Test With The Big Ten
If you would’ve told Dave Gavitt before his death that Creighton and Wisconsin would’ve been playing in an early season non conference pseudo-tournament named in his honor he probably would’ve shrugged his shoulders. If you went a bit further and mentioned how Creighton was in the BIG EAST and that the so called ‘Gavitt Games’ pitted his upstart conference’s teams against the Big Ten’s, I imagine he probably would’ve smiled warmly and nodded his head. Although, I can also imagine Dave Gavitt riding a triceratops through the St. Louis Arch so take it for what it’s worth.
That’s just the kind of guy Dave Gavitt was: always smiling and nodding his head, maybe riding a dinosaur through the gateway to the west, always being a champion for the BIG EAST I guess.
What we’re treated to tonight is a match-up of two top-25 teams. One team has a good defense, the other a better offense. We’ll expand more as you scroll, but first here’s how to follow the game:
How to Watch, Stream, Listen, Follow
Game Time: 7:30pm CT
Location: CenturyLink Center, Omaha, NE
TV: FS1 / FoxSportsGo
Radio: 1620AM the Zone & 101.9FM the Keg in Omaha / 101.5FM in Madison
Odds & Ends
According to OddShark it’s looking pretty even.
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Verba de Ludis
This is the big one.
This is only the second game of the year.
I’ve been pondering how much stock to put into this affair considering how early in the season this takes place, how unknown the depths of this team are, how an untested yet revamped Bluejay squad could handle a tournament tested team at home, and I came to the conclusion that it’s a lot. Maybe I’m overthinking it.
This is the sort of match-up Creighton fans daydreamed about during the Valley days. A top-25 ballgame with two teams whose style of play are at opposite sides of the spectrum.
One run-and-gun, Let it Fly, break a defense with speed and athleticism. The other a stationary, defense-first squad that can break the will of their opponent. One team with swagger, the other with military-like discipline.
Maybe I’m overthinking it.
Wisconsin returns all five of their starters from last year’s Sweet-16 team. At center they feature the 6’10 232lb sophomore in Ethan Happ, who scored 8 points on 4-4 shooting against Central Arkansas. In the 4 slot they’ll start Vitto Brown, a 6’8 235lb senior who has acquired a touch from beyond the arc. At the 3 they’ve got overall superstar and relatively unstoppable force in senior Nigel Hayes (6’8 240lbs). At the two, they’ll start Zak Showalter - a 6’3 185lb senior. Finally, starting at point guard will be Xavier killer Bronson Koenig, a 6’3 190lb senior.
This team will bang down low with a lot of options waiting on the wings, especially in terms of depth. Freshman guard D’Mitrik Trice - brother of former Sparty guard Travis Trice - scored 8 points in Wisconsin’s season opener. Khalil Iverson (6’5 212lbs) will also come off the bench and pick up some boards.
Statistically, if Creighton wants to win, they’ve got to poke at the Badger offense and get them a little off balance while playing to their statistical norm on the offensive end. Wisconsin’s offense isn’t anything too spectacular; last year their offense was very similar to Nebraska’s (Wisconsin at 90th in adjusted offense, Nebraska at 87th). The difference between a loss and a win as far as points scored was pretty minor; just a twelve point swing on average (72PPG in wins / 60PPG in losses).
Conversely, Creighton had an 18 point swing in points per game between wins and losses (87PPG in wins / 69PPG in losses). Though, this offense has a few more weapons this time around which could offer a completely different look, especially with an offensive spark plug like Marcus Foster.
According to the numbers (albeit from last year, I’d be damned to take one game’s statistical presence and try to draw predictive conclusions from it) Creighton’s EFG% (kenpom statistical sighting! effective field goal percentage = (.5x3FGM + FGM) / FGA) in wins equated to 58.3% while Wisconsin’s rounded out at 53.1%. In those wins, Creighton allowed their opponents to shoot at roughly 45% - which is on par for where Wisconsin was at. Thus, one must believe whoever dips below that 45% threshold will most likely drop the game, which brings me to my next slide.
In losses, Creighton allowed opponents to shoot at a 54% clip on average. Wisconsin, meanwhile, allowed opponents to shoot at a 53% clip. Creighton tended to drop games when they shot below 48% via EFG. Wisconsin at 42%.
Again, the Creighton offense has a lot of new pieces. Perhaps it isn’t as streaky and volatile this year, but it’s difficult to come to such a conclusion with just one game to look at.
If Creighton can keep Wisconsin’s shooting 4% lower than their norm while operating at a steady clip on offense, they’ve got one helluva shot at accomplishing this task. The only thing that stands in their way is, well, that damn Badger defense. Creighton only won three games last year when their eFG% dropped below 50% while losing 13. Wisconsin won 16 games last year when they kept their opponent below 50% and dropped eight when that number crept north of 50%.
If those folks from the Gavitt Games wanted fireworks and two polar opposite teams chomping at the bit, then bravo. They certainly got it.
Creighton and Wisconsin rarely meet, yet there’s one thing that binds them together and that’s Creighton’s 6’10 power forward Toby Hegner.
In Hegner’s freshman year he saw starts in 28 of the team’s 33 games, averaging 6.7 points and 3.4 rebounds per contest. He was hyped as potentially being McDermott-esque, with his height and prolific shooting ability fueling that comparison. In the much maligned 2014-15 campaign that saw the Jays dropping tilts in the final moments, the shining beacon for the future seemed to lay in Hegner’s lap.
What followed was a lackluster season - call it a sophomore slump. A 42% shooter in his freshman season, Hegner’s percentage dropped 6 points as he was relegated to the bench to fight for minutes with Cole Huff taking a majority of the starts.
Regardless, his accomplishments in the classroom were far more impressive than his basketball prowess as he notched his third appearance on the BIG EAST’s All-Academic Team while collecting his second appearance on the Dean’s list.
Now Hegner seems more comfortable in his role as a spark plug off the bench, a guy who can come in and give the Jays solid minutes without the pressures of starting.
Born in Berlin, Wisconsin, Hegner’s ties to the Badger team are pretty deep. He’s played against Frank Kaminsky, grew up with Bronson Koenig, was around Sam Dekker and Zak Showalter while playing ball in America’s Dairyland.
“I’ve known Sam Dekker, I’ve known Zak Showaler, I’ve played against Frank Kaminsky,” Hegner told me, “I’ve played against all those guys growing up - like Bronson Koenig, I’ve known him since eighth grade. Playing them is going to be something pretty sweet for the fact that we’re in college - I mean, we’re in the BIG EAST, they’re in the Big Ten - our dreams were to be huge, to be who we are now, and to be playing each other is going to be crazy.”
I asked him if the game carried any extra weight.
“I wouldn’t necessarily put a weight on it, I would more or less say that it’s a self driven goal.”
I imagine it’d be similar feeling for when Akoy Agau visits Omaha with Georgetown in February. An Omaha kid who went to Central High who spurned the Bluejays by initially going to Louisville, then ending up with the Hoyas.
I asked Hegner if it helped that the Badgers were visiting Omaha instead of the other way around.
“Yeah, it would’ve been awesome to play in the Kohl Center. I’ve always had that dream of playing there, obviously being a Wisconsin boy, playing in the Kohl Center, playing division one basketball in the Kohl Center, for sure.”
The benefit for Agau is that his family and friends live relatively close to Creighton’s campus to see him come February - something Hegner’s ties don’t easily have access to, especially since there won’t be a return trip to Madison. Fortunately, that won’t stop them from coming to town.
“So it would’ve been so cool and I know a lot of people would’ve came out and watched from my hometown and all that, and everyone from around the state that knows who I am, and actually cares. I’ve heard a lot of people say that they’re about to come down to Omaha for the first time to watch us play the Badgers and it’s truly amazing what’s gonna happen.”
If the Jays pull off the victory, I don’t think amazing will quite encapsulate the feeling.
I’ve been thinking about Badgers a lot lately. I didn’t know a lot about them, so I did what all Americans do - I went to wikipedia! Here’s an excerpt that doesn’t make sense:
American badgers are generally nocturnal; however, in remote areas with no human encroachment they are routinely observed foraging during the day.
How the hell would anyone know this if there’s no human encroachment? That’s just preposterous. I’m now logging ‘badgers’ into my ‘garbage animal’ folder on my desktop.
According to wikipedia they eat squirrels, which I now assume is something everyone in Wisconsin does. I certainly know that badger looking prosecutor from Making of a Murderer eats lots of roadkill. I know this because I’ve seen him foraging in remote areas with no human-based empathy.
See, we here in Nebraska like to keep our Badgers where we can observe them - in our zoos. That’s where they belong. I don’t want to be traipsing along in famous Nebraska sandy loam soil only for a Badger to bite my leg, give me rabies, and run away like some no goodnik.
Here’s a textbook example of how badgers are clearly inferior animals:
Thanks Troy McClure for proving what might be the second time today that badgers are no match for the mighty Bluejays.
Also badgers are now Milhouse.
Oh, and here’s Dave Gavitt riding a triceratops through the St. Louis Arch. Can’t introduce a gun in the first act and not let it go off in the third, right?
Song of the day - ‘Because I’m Me’ by The Avalanches
Enjoy the game!