Facing Evansville in the Missouri Valley Conference opener presents Creighton with some unusual challenges.
The Purple Aces have what Bluejay coach Greg McDermott calls an “old-school motion offense,” a free-flowing attack that utilizes player movement, passing, cutting and screening. Evansville coach Marty Simmons learned the intricacies of the offense while playing for Bobby Knight at Indiana and at Evansville for one of Knight's disciples, Jim Crews.
“There are not many coaches that teach the true motion offense anymore,” McDermott said. “You don't see it on the AAU circuit, so our guys don't have to defend it very much.
“It makes for a different preparation than anyone we'll see during the conference season. Their offense is predicated on what you do and the mistakes you make. If you make one, they'll take advantage of it. When they do, you just hope they miss the shot.”
Especially when it's Colt Ryan taking those shots. The senior guard has scored 1,731 points in his career, with 163 coming in seven games against Creighton. He's averaged 23.3 points against the Bluejays and has saved some of his best performances for when the Purple Aces play in Omaha.
He scored 31 points at the CenturyLink Center as a freshman, 20 as a sophomore and 43 as a junior. The latter, an arena record, came in an overtime loss last February that frazzled the Bluejays who tried to defend him.
“It was a special night for him, and we obviously didn't do a good job defensively against him,” Creighton guard Jahenns Manigat said. “We know what he's capable of and we don't ever want anything like that to happen again.
“We have to play him as hard as we can, we have to chase him as hard as we can and, once he catches the ball, we have to pressure him hard.”
Manigat likely will be one of the Creighton players chasing Ryan in the 7:05 p.m. game, but the No. 16 Bluejays know slowing the Evansville star isn't going to be a one-man show.
“He's one of the toughest guys I've ever had to guard,” guard Grant Gibbs said. “We have to defend him as a team. And as with any great scorer, we have to keep him off the foul line and make all of his shots tough.”
Ryan made 17 of 24 shots from the field during his record-setting performance in February. Four of his field goals came from beyond the arc, and he also made 5 of 8 free throws.
Ryan is 36th on the Valley's all-time scoring chart. Creighton junior Doug McDermott is 48th with 1,659 points.
Ryan comes into Saturday's game averaging 13.7 points, having been slowed by a hip pointer that forced him to miss two games and most of a third. Ryan has scored 107 of his 137 points in the past six games, an average of almost 18 per game. He had 25 in the Purple Aces' 75-67 loss to No. 18 Butler a week ago.
“He is a terrific player, and it's been fun to watch him develop over his career,” Greg McDermott said. “This is my third year coaching against him, and the progress he's made from his sophomore season to his senior season has been very impressive.”
McDermott learned last year that holding Ryan in check doesn't guarantee victory. Creighton limited him to 14 points in the teams' first meeting in Evansville but wound up dropping a 65-57 decision.
It took Gregory Echenique's basket at the buzzer to force overtime in the second game, which Creighton won 93-92. The Bluejays then easily handled Evansville 99-71 in the Valley tournament semifinals.
“The reality of it is that Evansville beat us at their place last year and had us down 14 with eight minutes to go at our place,” McDermott said. “We were very, very lucky to come back and win.
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“Evansville is a team that can beat anybody in this league on any given night. They're starting three seniors, and when you're starting three seniors, you're going to put a pretty good product on the floor.”
The Purple Aces were 7-5 in pre-conference play while the Bluejays went 11-1. Creighton has won five straight since Boise State posted an 83-70 upset Nov. 28.
Getting conference play started right is a priority for a Bluejay team with championship aspirations but McDermott knows it won't be easy.
“I don't think anyone gets excited about playing Evansville because of the way they play and how disciplined they are on the offensive end,” he said. “And they're tough and hard-nosed defensively even though they lack a little size at some spots.
“They make up for it with their aggressiveness and work ethic. That's why everyone in the league respects what they do.”
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