Aaron Thompson (left) brings the ball down the court while Jordan Tucker (right) gets in position offensively during a game this season. Chandler Hart / Collegian file photo.
CHRIS BROWN | SPORTS EDITOR | firstname.lastname@example.org
Following a heartbreaking buzzer-beater loss at Seton Hall on Feb. 19, the Butler men’s basketball team travels to Omaha, Nebraska, to take on Creighton as the team continues to search for a signature road victory.
Back on Jan. 4, Butler picked up its second straight win to begin Big East play with a convincing 71-57 victory over Creighton. The Bulldogs held the Bluejays to just 24 first half points and 18% from beyond the arc and Kamar Baldwin scored 20 points in the final 20 minutes of that game.
In recent weeks, though, the Bulldogs and Bluejays have been trending in vastly different directions, with Butler dropping four of its last six games and Creighton winning five of its last six.
A loss would likely drop Butler out of the AP Top 25 for the first time since late November. A win would likely help them remain in roughly the same position. Here’s what you need to know going into the matchup:
Who: No. 21 Butler (19-8, 7-7 BE) vs. No. 15 Creighton (21-6, 10-4)
When: Feb. 23, 4 p.m. ET
Where: CHI Health Center Omaha, Omaha, Nebraska
How to watch/listen: FS1, 1430AM
- The Bluejays are the hottest team in the Big East right now.
After dropping three of its first five conference games, Creighton has won eight of its last nine contests, including a home victory against Villanova and road wins versus then-10th-ranked Seton Hall and No. 19 Marquette.
And the Bluejays aren’t just winning, they’re winning in convincing fashion. Six of their last seven victories, including against the Golden Eagles and Wildcats, have been by eight or more points. In the last month, Creighton has climbed 25 spots at KenPom, from 40th to 15th, and gone from unranked in the AP and coaches polls to 15th in both.
Creighton has only lost one game on its home court this season, a five-point loss to Villanova in early January. Setting the tone early will be especially crucial for the Bulldogs against the Bluejays. That’s one thing they did well against Seton Hall. They’ll need to do it again or this game could get out of hand in a hurry.
- Creighton has a deep, high-powered offense that can shoot from beyond the arc.
Creighton’s offense has simply been the best in the Big East – and the country – this season. The Bluejays aren’t led by one player averaging 25+ points, but rather have five players averaging in double figures in conference play, and are sixth in the country in offensive efficiency at KenPom.
Creighton has an experienced group of scorers led by one of the best guard trios in the country. Junior Ty-Shon Alexander leads the team with nearly 17 points per game, while sophomore Marcus Zegarowski averages roughly 16 points and five assists per contest and junior Mitchell Ballock contributes 12 points and 5.4 rebounds. Junior guard/forward Denzel Mahoney and junior forward Damien Jefferson are also averaging double digits in conference play.
Six different players have scored 15+ points for the Bluejays in Big East play this season. In short, their high quality scoring depth makes it extremely difficult for opponents to lock in on a few players to neutralize the Bluejays offensively.
The Bluejays are also one of the best perimeter shooting teams in the nation, ranking 17th in Division I in 3-point field goal percentage at 37.7%. Three players – Alexander, Zegarowski and Ballock – have combined to account for over three-quarters of the teams shots from deep this season, and each is shooting 38% or better from beyond the arc. Creighton has also been the best 3-point shooting team in Big East play knocking down 38% of their trifectas against conference opponents.
As mentioned, Butler held Creighton to just 18% on 3-point shots at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Jan. 4. After a 3-of-15 performance from deep in the first half from the Bluejays, it seemed inevitable that they’d catch fire down the stretch, but that never happened, and they were just 1-of-7 in the final 20 minutes. While it’s unlikely that Creighton will shoot that poorly from beyond the arc again, limiting open shots and playing aggressive perimeter defense could go a long way for Butler as it looks to sweep the season series.
- Controlling the interior will be key for the Bulldogs.
In addition to being the best 3-point shooting team in the Big East, Creighton is also good at defending the perimeter. In conference play, the Bluejays have held opponents to just 30% from deep, the third-best mark in the Big East.
Where Creighton struggles relative to the league is on the glass. The Bluejays, whose tallest starter is 6-foot-7-inch Christian Bishop, are 10th in the conference in rebounding offense, ninth in rebounding defense, and ninth in rebounding margin at -4.1. Conference opponents have outrebounded Creighton in 10 of its 14 Big East games this season.
In their previous matchup this season, the Bulldogs won the battle on the glass against the Bluejays 36-31 and scored 34 points in the paint. Butler is unlikely to win a 3-point shootout against Creighton, but controlling the interior is definitely something realistic, and important. With no update on Derrik Smits’ availability, it’ll be especially important that Bryce Golden and Bryce Nze stay out of foul trouble.