On Friday, November 19th, the Creighton Bluejays will play the Brown Bears in the U.S. Virgin Islands as part of the Paradise Jam. The field, which features Bradley, Brown, and Colorado State on Creighton’s side of the bracket, will be surprisingly competitive; Brown took North Carolina to the wire in Chapel Hill and Colorado State is undefeated after returning 96% of their scoring from last season. Needless to say, the Bluejays will have to play some of their best basketball of the season to be able to make noise in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
How to watch Creighton vs. Brown (Neutral Site)
Time: 3:15pm ET
Watch Online: ESPN App via ESPN3
What makes Brown so dangerous? Simply put, Mike Martin’s team does not beat themselves with turnovers. The Bears have totaled 43 turnovers all season (10.8 per game), and only 16 of those turnovers have been opponent steals (4 per game). For example, they turned the ball over just five times against UNC. This puts a pace-and-space team like Creighton at a disadvantage, as Brown will not give the Bluejays many chances to get out and run, hurting their gameplan. CU is able to play in the half-court; they only had ten fastbreak points in a good win at Nebraska, indicating that they did damage in non-transition opportunities. Though, you could imagine a team like Creighton, whose mantra is “Let It Fly”, would want to push the tempo and force Brown into inopportune transition situations.
The lack of turnovers also leads to a massive amount of potential shots for the Bears. Through four games, Brown is averaging 33 made field goals and 68.5 attempted field goals as a team, both top-50 values in those categories. This leads to a large point total in games, and though two of their games have been against sub-DI opponents, the Bears are still hanging 87.2 PPG on opponents. Even shooting an average percentage from the field will put Creighton in a bit of trouble given the total number of shots Brown can put up.
Brown is led by Kino Lilly Jr., the reigning rookie of the week in the Ivy League, who is actually the sixth man for Brown; he has not started a game in his short career with the team. Lilly Jr. is averaging 13.3 PPG, shooting 60% from the field on 7.5 attempts per game and 57.1% from three on 5.3 attempts per game. If Lilly Jr. continues to come off the bench for the Bears, Creighton will need big defensive minutes from a combination of Shereef Mitchell (assuming he is good to go for this tournament) and Ryan Nembhard, with a chance that Creighton disrupts Lilly Jr. with size in the form of Alex O’Connell or Trey Alexander. Brown also features three other double-digit scorers in Nana Owusu-Anane (11.8 PPG), Paxson Wojcik (11.8 PPG), and Dan Friday (10.8 PPG), all of whom have started the bulk of the games for the Bears.
In order for Creighton to win...
...two things really need to happen. First, Creighton needs to pressure the primary ball-handlers, Lilly Jr. and Friday, with those proven defenders that can force Brown into turning the ball over. Creighton has proven defenders, like Mitchell, who have been effective in the past at disrupting the opponent’s guards. O’Connell has also stepped up, helping to shut down Bryce McGowens in Creighton’s last game, allowing the red-hot McGowens (who was averaging 27 PPG before the Creighton/Nebraska matchup) to make only three shots for six points against Creighton on ten attempts. Both Lilly Jr. and Friday are scoring threats as well, so the Bluejays need to stay on Lilly Jr. and his above-50% three-point shooting, as well as avoid the high-usage scoring chances that Friday puts up.
Second, Creighton cannot allow any extra possessions for a Bears team that shoots 48.2% from the field with a ton of attempts. This means defensively rebounding at a high level, ball security, and taking smart shots, something that Creighton was good at against Nebraska. The rebounding needs to come from the center position; Creighton will have a massive size advantage over a Brown team whose tallest rotation player is 6’9”. When Creighton can have Ryan Kalkbrenner, the 7’1” center down low, be effective at rebounding the ball or disrupting shots around the rim, Creighton has a recipe for success. But it isn’t just a one man job for Kalkbrenner; Ryan Hawkins (10.3 RPG) and O’Connell (8 RPG), both also starters, need to do what they have done in their past games in terms of rebounding if Creighton wants a good chance at winning this game.
(Credit: Sports-Reference for Creighton and Brown statistics)