One of the major differences between Creighton and its next opponent leaves Bluejays coach Greg McDermott shaking his head.
St. John's comes into Tuesday's night game at the CenturyLink Center leading the nation in blocked shots. The Red Storm are averaging 8.4 blocks per game, and twice this season have rejected 15 shots in a game.
“Nine blocked shots a game is really hard to fathom, to think you're starting the game 0 for 9 from the field,'' McDermott said. “I don't know if we have a guy that has nine blocked shots in his career.”
Actually, the Bluejays have four but it underscores the respect McDermott has for the game-changing ability that the Red Storm have around the rim. It's the same kind of respect that St. John's coach Steve Lavin has on Creighton's difference-making abilities from multiple points on the floor.
“They put five players on the floor that can pass, catch, handle the ball and shoot it from range,'' Lavin said. “And they do it at high speeds. That makes for a very difficult matchup.
“You have to pick your poison. They beat you from long distance, they beat you off the bounce and they can beat you at the rim. It makes for a long night when they're torching the nets from a distance.''
The Bluejays, who used a pair of impressive wins last week over Villanova and Georgetown to return to this week's Associated Press rankings at No. 20, have done the latter better than any other team in the country this season.
Creighton leads the nation in 3-point field goals per game (11.2), 3-point attempts (223) and 3-point percentage (.423). And with four players having already logged at least 60 assists this season, the Bluejays also are first in assists per game (18.6).
Creighton's unselfishness has allowed it to counter some of the increased athleticism it has encountered in its first season in the Big East. The Bluejays have started league play 7-1, and a win over St. John's would assure them of reaching the midpoint of the conference race with at least a share of first place.
Villanova is tied with Creighton, which is 17-3 overall. St. John's is 12-8, having won its last three games, including posting its first two conference victories after a 0-5 start.
The rough opening was a shocker for a team that many observers believe is the most physically gifted in the league. St. John's opened Big East play with a 10-point loss to Xavier and got bounced around in a 17-point setback to Georgetown.
The Red Storm then dropped a seven-point decision against Villanova before losing by a basket at DePaul and by a point in double overtime against Providence.
Those three losses, Lavin said, provided St. John's with a bit of encouragement.
“We didn't feel we played with the sense of urgency and competed the way we needed to against Georgetown,” Lavin said. “We made progress since the Georgetown game but unfortunately, we didn't get the outcomes we would have preferred.
“We were competing hard but we just continued to come up short.”
A nonconference win over Dartmouth stopped the skid, and the Red Storm followed it up by pulling out a 77-76 win over Seton Hall before posting a 17-point victory at Butler last Saturday.
The win was St. John's first conference road victory in more than a year.
“It's no secret we've struggled to close out games,'' Lavin said. “I thought our team exhibited poise and composure down the stretch.''
Creighton will need to play with those characteristics against a St. John's team that reminds the Bluejays of San Diego State. The Aztecs handed Creighton its first loss of the season, 86-80, at the Wooden Legacy tournament in late November.
The contest marked one of the few times the Bluejays appeared to get rattled, especially in the middle portions of the game, by a more athletic team. San Diego State went on a 49-18 run that overcame a fast start by Creighton, which eventually got back within three points in the closing seconds.
“St. John's is like San Diego State in that they're long and athletic across the board,” Creighton forward Ethan Wragge said. “It will be interesting to see how we adjust.
“Hopefully, that San Diego State game taught us something and can be good preparation for this one.”
NOTES: Wragge was named the Big East player of the week after averaging 19.5 points and making 12 of 20 3-point attempts in the victories over Villanova and Georgetown. ESPN's Andy Katz also named the 6-foot-7 Wragge his national player of the week. … St. John's leads the series 5-2, with the most recent meeting coming in 1971. Creighton has won the two games played in Omaha. … Doug McDermott needs 12 rebounds to become the fourth player in program history to grab 1,000 in his career. … Creighton ranks 329th nationally in blocked shots with 1.8 per game. The Bluejays have not recorded a blocked shot in their last three games, and do not have a player with more than seven rejections this season. St. John's has six players with at least seven blocks, with Chris Obekpa ranking fourth in the country at 3.5 blocked shots per game.