Assuming no last-minute changes, the Jays will take the court Thursday in an arena left mostly empty to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease. The scene will surely be a surreal one. For those curious about the action on the court, here’s a preview:
When: 11 a.m. Thursday
Where: Madison Square Garden
Radio: 1620 AM KOZN
Online: Fox Sports Go
NET ranking: No. 62 (CU: No. 11)
2018-19 postseason: NCAA tournament play-in game
KenPom offensive efficiency: 104th (CU: 3rd)
KenPom defensive efficiency: 53rd (CU: 78th)
Trending: Look out. The Johnnies flexed their muscles during the final six minutes against Georgetown in the opening round of the Big East tournament Wednesday. They finished on a 23-0 run. Said sophomore Marcellus Earlington: “I feel like we could beat anybody in the country.” They definitely are playing with a ton of confidence.
Series history: Creighton leads 11-10 (The two teams split the regular season series)
Injury update: Guard Mustapha Heron and forward Josh Roberts have been ruled out for the season … CU’s Marcus Zegarowski won’t play Thursday because of a knee injury.
Three players to watch
Junior guard LJ Figueroa: He’s got length and agility and quickness. Those traits aid him on both ends of the floor. He’s a creative scorer on the interior and he led the Big East in steals (1.94 per game).
Sophomore guard Greg Williams Jr.: Normally a player averaging 5.7 points per game wouldn’t appear too high on Creighton’s scouting report. But he went 7-of-10 from 3-point range in the Johnnies’ win over CU earlier this month.
Freshman forward Julian Champagnie: Wednesday marked the first time in eight games that he failed to finish in double figures. He still had seven points, six rebounds and two steals. He’s been on a roll. And his athleticism makes him a tough matchup.
Three keys for Creighton
1. Defend without fouling: The Johnnies went to the free-throw line 20 times against Creighton back on March 1, matching the second-highest total by any of the Jays’ Big East opponents. St. John’s had a season-high 36 free-throw tries in a win over Marquette last week. And given CU’s depth situation (with no Zegarowski), it really can’t afford any foul trouble.
2. Take care of the ball: CU hasn’t had an issue here against St. John’s this season, recording just 15 turnovers in two games. But Zegarowski was on the court. He’ll be watching from the bench Thursday. So how do the Jays handle the Red Storm press? And even in the halfcourt, are they able to get comfortable against an attacking perimeter defense?
3. Withstand the surge: The Johnnies are streaky. Really streaky. And when they get going, they can be tough to stop. Creighton found this out the hard way in the first meeting. It surrendered 37 points on the final 23 St. John’s possessions that day. So the Jays need to be ready with a response if the momentum starts to turn.
ESPN’s BPI: Creighton’s win probability is 72.3%
KenPom: Creighton wins, 80-73
Jon Nyatawa’s take: Hard to know what to expect in this one, especially given the unprecedented impact the coronavirus has had on this sport. Basketball's taking a backseat. But the games haven't been cancelled. So Creighton has to prepare to play. And the Jays will have to operate differently without Zegarowski. However, they should be on high alert given their shortcomings against St. John’s earlier this month. I think CU wins. But it’ll be close. 76-72.