The #19 Providence Friars at 14-3 and 6-0 in the Big East are the top team in the conference. They take on the enigmatic Creighton Bluejays. Creighton, the preseason Top 10 squad and dark-horse national championship contender, is 9-8 on the year and 3-3 in the Big East. So, why are the Friars 6.5 point dogs? Good question.
Creighton has an abundance of talent, but haven’t quite yet figured out how all the pieces work together. Familiar foe Baylor Scheierman transferred over from South Dakota State and is putting up impressive numbers at 13 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists, but that hasn’t translated to the season most Big East fans were anticipating. The Ryan Kalkbrenner injury earlier in the year was also a speed bump Creighton had trouble getting over, but he now appears to be healthy. With all the pieces now in place, Creighton is going to look to make a stretch run to solidify their spot in the NCAA Tournament and push for a run at the Big East crown. More importantly, today is an opportunity for them to show why they were thought of so highly coming into this season.
Conversely, Providence has a chance to quiet any remaining critics. A win on the road against the Creighton Bluejays makes quite a statement that the Friars are undoubtedly the team to beat in the Big East.
Below, we preview the game, what to look for, and provide our game predictions.
Keys to Game
Breed Needs to Ring the Bell – Jared Bynum, still suffering from an oblique/core injury, is listed as day to day, but I don’t see how there is any way he plays. The Vegas line somewhat indicates that as well. There is too much on the line this year for Providence, and it is not as if this game is “do or die”. If I were Cooley, I’d ensure Bynum is 100% healthy for the critical stretch run in the Big East and NCAA Tournament. You cannot risk re-injury, and it’d be incredibly foolish to roll him out there at anything less than 100%.
Enter the selfless Alyn Breed. He was a net positive in his start against St. John’s, and I anticipate a similar showing. Where I’d like to see him improve is taking care of the ball a bit more. He had 5 turnovers against St. John’s, but I’ll chalk that up to the pestering defense of St. John’s. If he can minimize the turnovers, we’ll be in a good place.
On the offensive end, he’s likely going to be guarded by Ryan Nembhard. I’d love to see Breed attack him on the defensive end, which isn’t something we often ask of Breed. Breed has about 3-4 inches on Nembhard, and I think there are opportunities for Breed to put Nembhard in precarious defensive positions. This Creighton offense goes as Nembhard goes, so I want to see Breed try and force some fouls driving to the lane.
With Bynum out, Breed needs to be ready to log 30+ minutes today. I think he’ll be up for the task personally.
PC Big Men Need to be on Their Game – A staple of the McDermott offense is the high ball screen at the top of the key from their bigs with a rim roll shortly thereafter. PC has gotten exposed a bit on the pick and roll defense, and Creighton is almost certainly going to put them to the test here.
While it’s imperative that the guards have to fight through those screens, the bigs need to be quick on their feet, assignment sound, and be ready to protect the rim when the lob inevitably comes for Kalkbrenner and King.
It will be very interesting to see if Cooley on the defensive end elects to not switch on the high ball screen or if he will have the big hedge out and force a quick pass out of the double team. This aspect of the game will be fun to watch, but is a potential problem area for the Friars.
Stiff Test for Locke Defensively – I don’t think there is a player on Providence oozing with more confidence than Noah Locke right now. He’s playing his best ball as a Friar, and it is coming at a time where that is needed due to the Bynum injury. I’m not concerned with the offensive end here. McDermott scheming his guys open on their offensive end is what concerns me for Locke.
When looking at the defensive match-ups, Providence actually matches up REALLY well with Creighton. Breed has size on Nembhard. Devin Carter presumably matches up against Scheierman and makes his life a living hell. Hopkins I presume will go against Kaluma and frustrate him with his size and physicality. Croswell will have his hands full with Kalkbrenner, but his strength will give Kalk some fits as well. That leaves the Locke – Alexander match-up.
McDermott is an amazing coach. It wouldn’t shock me to see him try to exploit this match-up. If Locke can play steady man D against Trey Alexander, Providence’s chances of a win increase exponentially. Locke needs to be ready to be a true two-way player today because Alexander can fill it up if given the opportunity.
Carter – Scheierman Match-Up – This is going to be fun. Scheierman may still be having nightmares from his NCAA tournament match-up last year against Justin Minaya and the Friars. Part of me thinks he transferred to Creighton to seek revenge on the Friars after Minaya put the clamps on him. Little did he know Cooley had a plan of his own and cloned Minaya in the form of Devin Carter. Carter doesn’t have the size, length, and height of Minaya, but may actually be a better defender. Scheierman has the measurables on Carter, but Carter is put together physically and is going to make life tough for Scheierman. This will be a back and forth, and whomever gets the better of this match-up likely is on the team that gets the win.
Providence on the Glass – As Mike pointed out on our latest pod (give it a listen before the game!), Providence has a significant rebounding advantage over Creighton on the offensive glass. Providence averages 12.6 offensive rebounds a game while Creighton only averages 8.8. This is another game where the Friars have a chance to be a bully and make this a street fight of sorts. Attacking the glass and imposing their will via second chance points is a way to break the spirit of Creighton.
Get Creighton in Foul Trouble – Creighton only has 7 players that average more than 10 minutes a game. PC has a propensity for getting teams in foul trouble. The formula here is pretty simple and has been working all year. If they can get Creighton in foul trouble, the Bluejays don’t necessarily have the bench talent to overcome that.
BOC: 80-78 Creighton. Ultimately, I think Creighton comes out the more desperate team given where they are at in the season. Compound that with the Bynum injury and road game in a hostile environment, and I’m not feeling overly optimistic here.
The Crier: 80 – 72 Creighton.
I’m ready to order some crow for the boys for dinner. Prove me wrong, PC. A win on the road against Creighton means the quest for a repeat is back on.