DEPAUL AT CREIGHTON
1 p.m. Saturday • CenturyLink Center • FSN • 1620 AM KOZN
Creighton is wrestling with some weighty questions as it attempts to right itself on the basketball court.
The three-game skid Creighton takes into Saturday's home game against DePaul has taken the starch out of the solid start to Big East play.
The Bluejays hope the skid is just one of those rough patches that most teams endure during the course of a long season. They also know if they can not steer themselves off their current course it could lead down a path that could ultimately define the season.
"We have to make sure that's not the case," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. "We have eight games left, and we're a game out of third but we're also a game out of eighth. That's the reality of our league. "I think there's six other teams across our league that have similar feelings about the fragileness (of) how the end of the season can be and how you need to get yourself playing well at the right time."
Saddled with minimal expectations heading into conference play — the Bluejays were ninth in the league's preseason poll — Creighton raised the bar with a 5-2 start that included a loss at the buzzer to No. 10 Providence.
They were 2 1/2 minutes from nailing down a sixth Big East win before Georgetown pulled off a stunning finish that resulted in a 74-73 loss. The late collapse was followed by a subpar performance in a 10-point home loss to Seton Hall and getting routed Wednesday at No. 3 Villanova.
"We really played well for the first eight games in conference, and we haven't played as well the last two," McDermott said. "We have to try to snap out of this as quickly as we can.
"We have to learn from our mistakes, correct things on the practice floor and then flush it and get ready for the next one."
The flushing process included a players-only meeting after Thursday's practice.
"As you go through tough times like these, you have to bond together to keep things from falling apart," guard Maurice Watson Jr. said. "We talked about things we need to do to make sure we're not happy doing some things that people didn't expect out of us.
"We got some things off our chests, and everyone seemed opened to suggestions. I think we're going to be so ready to play tomorrow."
The Bluejays weren't when they took the court a week ago against Seton Hall, which turned in a dominating performance in posting a 75-65 win. After a good start in the first 12 minutes against Villanova, Creighton unraveled quickly in the 25-point loss to the league-leading Wildcats.
A hodgepodge of missed shots, poor execution, lack of physicality and mental lapses has contributed to his team's troubles in the last two games, McDermott said. So has the quality of the competition.
"We just lost to two NCAA tournament teams, in my opinion," McDermott said. "We didn't play great and they played well. When you're playing a team at that level, if you don't hook it up and play your best, you're going to get some lopsided scores.
"That's what happened. Now, as cliche-ish as it sounds, we just have to take things one day at a time. We have to make sure with each practice that we're moving forward because we'll need a great effort on Saturday."
DePaul is 8-14 and ninth in the Big East at 2-8. The Blue Demons are coming off Tuesday's 77-70 victory over Providence, their biggest win in more than a decade.
"They're playing at a pretty good level right now," McDermott said.
At this point, Villanova and Xavier have separated themselves from the conference pack. If they could have avoided their skid, the Bluejays would have had an opportunity to creep closer to those teams.
Instead, they've slipped back into a pack of teams playing a-step-forward, a-step-backward brand of basketball.
"We know we were a couple of stops away from being 7-1 at one point," Watson said. "We realize that we're also not doing the things now that will give us a chance to win. That has to change.
"Things can change, and we just have to control what we can control. We're not OK with these losses, and we're going to give everything we can to get this back on track."
Guard Isaiah Zierden did not practice Friday after injuring his surgically repaired right knee on Thursday. Zierden's status for Saturday's game is uncertain, McDermott said. "They don't think it's as serious as the last two times he's hurt it," McDermott said. "At first, everybody thought he might have did it again.'' Zierden is Creighton's leading scorer, and he torched DePaul for a career-high 31 points in the Jan. 17 win in Chicago.
One of Creighton's priorities Saturday is trying to find a way to slow DePaul's initial surge. The Blue Demons jumped out to 11-2 leads in their past two games against nationally ranked Xavier and Providence. DePaul scored the first 11 points in its first meeting against Creighton this season, and went on a 15-2 opening surge in last season's win in Omaha.
Creighton holds a 6-1 edge against DePaul in Big East play and has won eight of the last nine meetings. Overall, the Blue Demons lead the series 16-13.