Creighton is convinced that the Nebraska team it faces Sunday is different on several levels from the one it routed a season ago.
One is the eye test.
“They look like a Big Ten team now,” Creighton guard Grant Gibbs said.
Another is the danger the Huskers will pose on offense. Nebraska was offensively challenged a year ago in Tim Miles' first season as coach, and the Bluejays held the Huskers to 42 points on their home court.
Nebraska is averaging 73 points after eight games and has scored 70 or more five times this season.
“I think they have a lot more players,” Creighton forward Doug McDermott said. “They're deeper and have a lot more scorers. They're very capable and very talented.”
What concerns Creighton coach Greg McDermott is that NU's newcomers are starting to meld with the veterans after experiencing some expected early growing pains.
“They're getting better day to day,” Greg McDermott said. “You can see them growing more comfortable with what Coach Miles wants them to do and with their ability to play together.”
Creighton comes into the 5:07 p.m. game at the CenturyLink Center off a 17-point victory over Long Beach State that could have been much more decisive. The Bluejays (6-2) scored just 10 points in the final 12 minutes, partly because of some experimentation with lineups and partly because McDermott didn't want to run up the score on his friend, Long Beach coach Dan Monson.
The victory capped a 2-2 trip to California that featured an impressive win over a highly regarded Arizona State team and a lackluster effort against a George Washington team that is off to a good start.
Sandwiched in between at the Wooden Legacy tournament was a San Diego State game that showed how good and bad Creighton can be.
The Bluejays were nearly unstoppable offensively at the start and end of that game. In between, they struggled both to score and to keep the athletic Aztecs from scoring.
The trip also reminded the Bluejays that they are a marked team that plays with a pretty big target on its back.
“The Long Beach guys were saying before our game that this was their biggest home game of the year,” forward Ethan Wragge said. “We have to know that we're going to take every team's best punches, and we can't start slow or sluggish.
“Against George Washington, we learned we're not talented enough or athletic enough to just show up and turn it on. We have to show up prepared and know the details and what all 10 guys need to do.”
The Bluejays also know that Sunday's game needs little hype to get both sides ready to play. It will be the 47th meeting of the in-state rivals, with Nebraska holding an overall 25-21 edge in the series but Creighton having won 11 of the past 14 regular-season meetings.
Unlike some seasons in the past, the teams aren't well-versed in the other's tendencies. The players no longer face each other in summer-league competitions. Creighton has just one Nebraskan on its roster, while the Huskers have four, although only Deverell Biggs plays significant minutes.
The lack of familiarity doesn't diminish the competitiveness that will fire both sides, Wragge said.
“They live 45 miles down the street, and we have to make sure that we bring it,” Wragge said. “I honestly don't know many of their guys personally, but it's still a big rivalry just because we're both in-state teams.
“Every year I've played them, it's been a big game. You always look at the schedule and you see that we're playing Nebraska this week. You know when you're playing them, and you want to be ready to go because it means a lot to both sides.”
Notes: Gibbs returned to practice Saturday after missing Friday's workout and will play tonight. ... Wragge aims to become the sixth player in program history to pick up a fourth win over the Huskers. Wragge played on winning teams in 2009, 2011 and 2012, while the Bluejays lost in 2010 when he was headed for a medical redshirt because of injuries. The other Bluejays who posted four wins over the Huskers were Kyle Korver, Joe Dabbert, Mike Grimes, Michael Lindeman and Tyler McKinney. ... Gibbs needs 10 assists to move into fifth place on Creighton's all-time chart. He had 10 assists last season against NU.
Austin Chatman, Guard, 6-0, Jr., 8.6, 4.5: Bluejays' offense performs at peak efficiency when the junior is playing well, as he did in recording 25 assists to four turnovers in opening four games.
Jahenns Manigat, Guard, 6-1, Sr., 5.6, 2.8: A player Creighton relies on for energy, he'll make his 95th straight start. Jays are 30-3 when he records three assists or more.
Grant Gibbs, Forward, 6-5, Sr., 5.6, 3.3: In two games against the Huskers, he's had 13 assists, 11 rebounds and five steals. He again leads team in assists with 34.
Doug McDermott, Forward, 6-8, Sr., 24.4, 6.8: He's averaged 25.5 points and 8.0 rebounds in past two wins over NU. The two-time All-American has scored 20 points or more in all but one game this season.
Ethan Wragge, Forward, 6-7, Sr., 12.1, 3.9: His 254 career 3-point baskets rank second in program history, and he's shooting a remarkable 50.8 percent (30 of 59) from beyond the arc.
Bench: Newcomer Devin Brooks has been Bluejays' most productive reserve (9.9 scoring average). Will Artino could give Creighton a nice change of pace in the middle.
Creighton will win if ...
Doug McDermott gets on an early roll. Nebraska has the athleticism up front that could cause the Bluejays’ star forward some problems, but if he gets it going it will open up things for Creighton’s offense.