On Sunday, November 21st, the Creighton Bluejays will play in the semifinals of the Paradise Jam against the Colorado State Rams. Colorado State will be Creighton’s highest rated KenPom opponent of the year (around 60th overall), headlined by preseason All-Mountain West selections David Roddy and Isaiah Stevens, who are scoring 20.5 PPG and 14.3 PPG, respectively. The Rams also happened to finish first in the preseason media poll for the Mountain West Conference while also receiving 15 votes for the AP Top 25 last Monday.
How to watch Creighton vs. Colorado State
Time: 5:45pm ET
Watch Online: ESPN App via ESPN3
Colorado State is daunting. The Rams are averaging 88.5 PPG with an offensive rating of 120.8. For those of you unfamiliar with offensive rating, that big number means every time CSU makes it down the floor, they average 1.208 points. That’s not just on possessions that end in shot attempts. Every time they go down the floor on offense, they average 1.208 points. This Rams’ team is the best offensive team Creighton has faced in their schedule so far, and the favorite to win this tournament.
This scoring barrage is not unexpected for a Colorado State team who has not been tested defensively and is returning 96.1% of scoring from last season’s team which made the NIT and won 20 games. David Roddy put up 28 against Arkansas-Pine Bluff on November 12th and 30 against Bradley on Friday. John Tonje, who has started only one game this season, is scoring 15.0 PPG after putting up 31 against Oral Roberts in the opener. Isaiah Stevens’s only game not in double-digits was Friday against Bradley, where he had 5 points. But, cut off a scoring option, and it seems like another one takes its place; Dischon Thomas had 11 in place of Stevens’s scoring on Friday. And, as if Creighton did not need any more scoring options to deal with, Kendle Moore came back from an injury against Oral Roberts in time for this tournament, where he played 29 minutes against Bradley. He scored 10.5 PPG last season, another proven option for the Rams to use.
But, as I said, Colorado State has not been tested defensively as well Creighton will (hopefully) test them. The lowest defensive rating of any team to have played Colorado State was Oral Roberts, who allowed 0.887 points per possession on an 88.7 defensive rating. Creighton has a defensive rating of 85.8, which is the lowest of any team Colorado State has faced or will face in the immediate future (including the Monday game between either Northeastern or Southern Illinois). Creighton also has the length in their starting lineup that the Rams simply do not have; Creighton will likely start three players above 6’6”. For comparison, Colorado State’s most recent starting lineup only featured one player above 6’6” (Dischon Thomas, 6’9”). Still, this is a very tough Colorado State team. Not only do they score a lot, but they score efficiently; 53.8% from the field, 40.0% from three, 82.1 % from the line. Similarly to Brown, the Rams do not often turn the ball over, foul at a low rate, and just generally excel offensively.
In order for Creighton to win...
...they really need to play their best defensive game of the season, keeping in mind that their game against Brown was a fantastic performance. Allowing a team like Brown to only score 57 points on 60 attempts with 17 turnovers was mighty impressive for this young Jays team, but it will require a more Herculean effort to stop, quite frankly, a better offensive team in CSU. How does Creighton do this? Smother smaller guards with the length you have. Alex O’Connell, Shereef Mitchell (not great for size, but a proven defender), Arthur Kaluma, and others will be important in stopping players like Roddy, Moore, and Stevens. All these players are smaller guards, and using players like O’Connell and Kaluma will disrupt the play of the guards.
Creighton also needs to clean up turnovers. Giving the Rams an opportunity at 17 more possessions, like what happened against Brown, will not result in a positive outcome. Additionally, remember that Colorado State shoots around 54% from the field. Creighton cannot afford to limit their chances at scoring and give CSU more possessions through bad turnovers. Colorado State’s scoring percentage is just too good to allow Creighton to win the game with the same amount of turnovers they have had in their past games.
(Credit: Sports-Reference for Creighton and Colorado State statistics)