The challenge Creighton faces in Tuesday’s meeting with fifth-ranked Xavier rivals the ones it faced against a pair of teams with No. 1 rankings beside their names.
The Bluejays lost a nonconference game in December to an Oklahoma team that eventually rose to the No. 1 spot in the polls. Creighton lost two Big East games to Villanova, which on Monday took over the top spot.
The Bluejays now must strap it up for a game against the Musketeers, who bring a 21-2 record into the 7 p.m. game at the CenturyLink Center. Xavier has won five straight to keep pressure on Villanova in the race for the regular-season championship.
“They have all the pieces,’’ said Creighton coach Greg McDermott when asked what’s keeping him up at night in preparation for the Musketeers. “Their point-guard play is really good. They have multiple guys that can shoot the 3-point shot, and they have the green light to shoot it in transition.
“Their inside rotation gives them three guys that they keep throwing bodies at you. They have a lot of spurtability on offense, they play defense and they’re the best rebounding team in the league. There are not a lot of holes there.’’
The Bluejays hope that filling in a couple of their own potholes with Saturday’s win over DePaul will smooth over a three-game losing skid and leave them better prepared for Xavier.
Creighton played with more intensity in the 88-66 win and shored up some of its rebounding and defensive shortcomings in the victory that left them 15-9 overall and 6-5 in the league.
The players know that one win does not make a turnaround, but ...
“We have to take the good things we did and build on them,’’ guard Isaiah Zierden said. “When you lose one, you can let that momentum keep going. We need to make sure we don’t get too high over the win, but we have to keep the momentum going.’’
Said teammate Maurice Watson: “It was a step in the right direction. We have to stay together and try to ride this wave.’’
Xavier has the ability to strip any opponent of its momentum. The Musketeers have made strides defensively as they navigated through the season, and they lead the conference and rank 14th nationally in rebounding margin at plus-8.9 per game.
They also have the third-most productive offense in the Big East, averaging almost 81 points a game and can put up points in a hurry.
They have hit opponents with runs of 21-0, 21-0, 17-1 and 21-4 already this season.
“We can’t allow them to go on one of those runs that they seem to go on every other game,’’ McDermott said. “If you do that, you’re asking for big trouble.’’
While the Musketeers don’t lack for elite talent — sophomore Trevon Bluiett has blossomed into one of the league’s top players and freshman guard Edmond Sumner is a star in the making — it’s a former role player who has made the major impact this season.
Senior James Farr averaged 3.9 points and 4.1 rebounds in his first 84 career games. The 6-foot-10 forward enters Tuesday’s game ranked third in the league in rebounding (8.3 average) while scoring 10.3 points.
“Confidence is everything, and as the season has moved along, James has continued to gain more and more with each practice, with each game,’’ Xavier coach Chris Mack said. “Not only does he know he belongs, but he feels like he’s the best player on the floor.
“He’s really made a huge impact on our team. He’s been a guy that affected the game around the rim on both ends of the floor. His confidence has soared, and so has our confidence in him.’’
McDermott said the transformation Farr has made in his game is impressive.
“Two years ago, he was a pick-and-pop, stretch-four guy,’’ McDermott said. “That’s all he did. We switched ball screens on him, and we didn’t care if he went into the post.
“Now, he’s a terror in the paint. He’s getting everything off the glass and playing with unbelievable physicality. He’s scoring around the rim. He’s found a way to impact his team, and anytime you see someone improve like that over the course of his career, you have to feel good for them.’’
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