Shatel: Nebraska-Creighton worth watching, one way or another - Omaha.com
Published Thursday, December 6, 2012 at 1:00 am / Updated at 6:56 am
BASKETBALL
Shatel: Nebraska-Creighton worth watching, one way or another

There's only one show in the state tonight.

And it will be played on a basketball floor, the way it should be.

A funny thing happened on the way to the message board forum: We have a basketball game between Creighton and Nebraska tonight at the Devaney Center.

That's a good thing.

Instead of worrying about who is big brother and little brother, who makes the NCAA tournament, who drinks beer, which coach said this and which player said that, there's actual buzz about this game. And the buzz is about the actual game.

Oh sure, there are Bluejays reciting NU coach Tim Miles' quote, “We're the only show in the state,” to the point that there are rumors of “Only Show” T-shirt sightings tonight.

And there are Husker fans who underlined Josh Jones' quote saying the Jays will “prepare like they're (NU) a tough team to play.”

The games people play outside the game will always be played.

But the stuff folks should pay attention to will happen on the basketball court, not the bulletin board.

Is Creighton ready to play 30 seconds of defense every time down the floor?

Are the Huskers prepared to make them play defense?

Can the Jays defend the type of player who often gives them trouble — a hot-shooting guard or small forward? In this case, Ray Gallegos?

Can 6-foot-10 Husker senior Brandon Ubel use his length to bother Jays All-American Doug McDermott? Or will McDermott put Ubel in foul trouble and accomplish coach Greg McDermott's goal: get to the depleted Husker bench?

Who will win the battle of the international date line: Creighton center Gregory Echenique of Venezeula or Nebraska center Andre Almeida of Brazil?

And if the two big guys get into it, will we need an interpreter?

Will Miles announce his presence and energize this program with a win over what he calls Creighton's “team of a lifetime?”

Tempo. Foul trouble. Depth. Bragging rights for the cubicles and bar stools, the summer gyms and the coaches' golf outings.

It hasn't set up to be this much fun in years.

For that, we have Miles and his Huskers to thank.

Before the season, this looked like one of the big mismatches in the series' history. One of Creighton's best teams against what appeared to be one of NU's worst.

Apparently broadcasters thought so. ESPN has rights to the game but is showing it only over the Internet at ESPN3.

“I don't think anyone predicted we would be 6-1,” Miles said.

But here they are, 6-1, after winning at Wake Forest by 16 and then thumping USC on Monday night. Led by Gallegos' energizing 10 3-pointers in the last two games, NU has opened eyes, nationally and locally.

It will be eyes wide open if the Huskers can take down 16th-ranked Creighton.

This is not the NU team Creighton expected to face or the challenge the Jays thought they would have. The last CU-NU game in the Devaney Center should be full of life and full of red, thanks to a Husker team that doesn't have a lot of bodies but has more than enough chemistry, energy and confidence.

Miles said his team has transformed in the last three weeks.

It started, of all places, after a 14-point home loss to Kent State. At Wake Forest, Gallegos (8-for-13) and Almeida (9-for-10) both went for 20 points. Gallegos filled it up against USC, too. But hot shooting is only part of the story.

Ubel points to Miles' attack-the-rim philosophy, which helps explain how the Huskers outrebounded both Wake and USC. The defense has been active. They've lit a spark. And now they want more. Miles said after the USC game, “half the team thought they played well, the other half didn't.”

“We had a light walk-through and watched film yesterday (Tuesday, day after USC),” Miles said. “I heard a ball bouncing on the court. It was Ray in there, going through a workout. If I were him, I'd be walking around with my iPod, showing everybody what I done. He's out there working.”

CU can't let Gallegos get loose, like Boise State's Derrick Marks did last week, scoring 35 in the Jays' only loss. The effort needs to be more along the lines of Saturday, when the Jays disposed of St. Joe's quickly and efficiently.

“This is a big test for us,” Doug McDermott said. “On the road, packed house. They're a really confident group.”

Maybe the Jays can end their Lincoln losing streak. For all the perception that Creighton owns the state, CU hasn't won at Nebraska since 2004, when Kellen Miliner hit a shot before the buzzer, Greg McDermott was coaching at Northern Iowa and Miles was at North Dakota State.

The two have taken their turns over the years in a less-than-memorable series. If only they could meet on the same level, a high level. CU and NU haven't made the NCAAs in the same year since 1991.

Don't look now, but there's talk that the series could go on hiatus, if the Big Ten expands its league schedule to 20 or 22 conference games. That's why it was refreshing to hear Miles say on Wednesday that this is a series that needs to be played, no matter what the Big Ten does.

“We need to play Creighton as long as it doesn't hurt us,” Miles said. “If they beat us and beat us and beat us, we just have to do better. Whatever we do (with the league schedule), the Creighton game has to be on there.”

How about that? A Husker coach who says bring on the Jays. Good for him. Good for the state. That kind of attitude may cut down on the off-the-court drama, though there's always something. On Wednesday someone in the Omaha media asked Doug McDermott if he was concerned about this game because CU gave up 74 points to Wisconsin and Nebraska gave up 70 to the Badgers.

Doug looked puzzled. He didn't get it. The question referred to last Saturday's Big Ten football championship game.

The All-American searched for something to say, and finally said, “I'm just really looking forward to the game.”

Good answer.

Contact the writer:

402-444-1025, tom.shatel@owh.com, twitter.com/tomshatelOWH

Contact the writer: Tom Shatel

tom.shatel@owh.com    |   402-444-1025    |  

Tom Shatel is a sports columnist who covers the city, regional and state scene.

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