Creighton Bluejays

Villanova guard Jalen Brunson (1) dribbles the ball down court with Creighton guard Khyri Thomas (2) guarding him during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Saturday, Dec. 28, 2016. Villanova defeated Creighton 80-70. (AP Photo/John Peterson)
AP Photo/John Peterson

Defending champ Villanova is undefeated, No. 1 and still flying under the radar

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OMAHA, Neb. — It was almost camouflaged, but still visible. On the back of the reigning national champions’ warmups, in a darker shade of blue than the rest of the shirt, read “VILLANOVA.” You almost had to squint to see it, as if it was hiding in plain sight.

In a year where Grayson Allen’s antics, Kentucky’s freshmen and UCLA’s resurgence have gobbled up headlines, conversation and college basketball oxygen, right in front of everyone stands Jay Wright’s group, somewhat unnoticed, certainly underappreciated and, after beating 10th-ranked Creighton at CenturyLink Center on Saturday, still undefeated.

The Wildcats are the country’s top-ranked team, but they’ve never been the sport’s top storyline this season. They’re respected, but not revered.

In their 80-70 win over Creighton, they showed why history will be in their grasp this spring.

Facing down a 10-point deficit, a crowd of 18,831 and a Bluejays team that had previously vanquished all challengers behind one of the country’s best offenses spearheaded by one of its best backcourts, the No. 1 Wildcats simply prevailed to win their 20th-straight game and run their record this season to 14-0.

“There’s a lot of guys there that just won a national championship,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said, “and they don’t get shook. They don’t get rattled.

“If you’re not going to get rattled the way that crowd was (with the early score at) 24-14, you’re not going to get rattled because they won’t play in a tougher environment all year.”

Beyond the record and the accolades accumulated by Villanova, it’s their demeanor that stands out. It’s an uncanny resolve in the face of adversity.

Villanova head coach Jay Wright gives instructions to his players during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Creighton in Omaha, Neb., Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016. Villanova defeated Creighton 80-70. (AP Photo/John Peterson)
AP Photo/John Peterson

The Wildcats, after taking Creighton’s best in the first half and still taking a leading into the locker room, led for nearly all of the second half until Isaiah Zierden’s 3-pointer with 4 minutes, 47 seconds remaining tied the game and sent the crowd into a frenzy. It was exactly the moment when a road team against a top-10 opponent folds under the weight of momentum and pressure.

“We knew we had to stick with doing what we were doing,” senior Josh Hart said, “and that’s being solid, playing Villanova basketball for 40 minutes. Against the best teams, it’s going to take 40 minutes. (Creighton) is a great team. One of the best teams in our league so we knew when that happened, come closer together and play Villanova basketball.

“Don’t try to go win it yourself. Don’t try to go outside of doing what we do. Stick with Villanova basketball, and we’re going to live and die with that.”

Live, Villanova did.

After Zierden’s 3, Villanova made 4 of 5 shots (rebounding and converting their one miss), made all six of their free throws and held Creighton to just one field goal.

It was a masterclass of poise and execution. When a big shot needed making, Villanova cashed in. When the defense needed a stop, the Wildcats buckled down. It wasn’t just the results, though, that were impressive. Villanova didn’t luck into made shots or Creighton turnovers. Almost every dribble, switch and rebound was executed with cool precision belying the circumstances.

Of course, for this group, a Saturday afternoon in Omaha isn’t as daunting when you’ve played on a Monday night in April.

“I think (the experience) is what it is,” coach Jay Wright said. “We have three seniors that are just amazing. Not just Xs and Os and making shots, but communicating and leading the team in tough times because they’ve been through it.”

Villanova guard Mikal Bridges (25) gets the rebound ahead of Creighton forward Cole Huff (13) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Saturday, Dec. 31, 2016. Villanova defeated Creighton 80-70. (AP Photo/John Peterson)
Villanova guard Mikal Bridges (AP Photo/John Peterson)

Villanova’s foundation is its experience and its maturity, but what gives the Wildcats the best chance at a repeat national championship since Florida a decade ago is their multitude of weapons. Josh Hart is a national player of the year candidate. Kris Jenkins hit one of the biggest shots in the sport’s history and came into the afternoon averaging nearly 13 points per game. It was the third – and youngest – option that kept Villanova afloat amid the volleys Creighton fired their way in the first half. With Hart bottled up and Villanova floundering some, Jalen Brunson hit four consecutive shots, three of them from distance and scored 11-straight points for the Wildcats.

“You go through their run in the NCAA tournament,” McDermott said, “they’re so good at taking what the defense gives you. They’re so intelligent that way.”

It’s impossible to separate last year’s Villanova team for this season’s. Yes, Ryan Arcidiacono and Daniel Ochefu are gone, but that’s it. There’s also the matter of the fact they just keep winning. Six to end last season, 14 to start this one. Wright, however, won’t let this version of Villanova take credit for last year’s success, even if the public wants to draw a line from the team that showered under confetti in Houston last April to this undefeated start.

“It’s completely different,” he said. “It’s a different completely different crew. A completely different team. We’re playing differently.

“But they have to deal with everyone else’s impact from last season. They have to deal with everybody treating them like the No. 1 team, treating them like the former national champions. Still talking about last year. They all have to deal it. It’s part of the responsibility. It’s a good challenge to have, but it’s a totally different team this season.”

It’s not, of course, a totally different team. Not exactly the same, sure, but certainly not far removed. This is a team with national championship pedigree. It has one of the best players in the country, and a supporting cast that can star when called upon. Experience, talent and no apparent complacency make for a dangerous team.

Only two programs – Duke and Florida – have repeated as national champions since UCLA’s run in the 1960s and ‘70s. Villanova is equipped to potentially join that group. It’s the biggest story in the sport, and it’s happening in front of the entire country. You don’t even need to strain to see it, let alone appreciate it.

Four takeaways from No. 1 Villanova beating No. 10 Creighton

OMAHA, NEBRASKA-DECEMBER 31:  during their game at the CenturyLink Center on December 31, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***
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No. 1 Villanova continued its unbeaten season and stretched its win streak to 20 games as they outlasted N0. 10 Creighton for a 80-70 Big East road win.

Here are four takeaways from the Wildcats’ win on Saturday.

1. Nothing is going to fluster Villanova: Early in the game, the Wildcats found themselves down 19-9 and 24-14. Three-pointers weren’t falling and the underrated Creighton fanbase was loud and engaged. It didn’t bother Villanova one bit.

The Wildcats heated up from the perimeter and sophomore Jalen Brunson played one of the best games of his college career, going for a career-high 27 points and coming up with a big steal late in the game.

Villanova already has two closers in Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins. Hart can get shots late in games and get points when Villanova needs them while Jenkins is a great second option who isn’t afraid to take any shot. If you add in Brunson playing this well? You can see why Villanova is still unbeaten and sitting at No. 1 at this point in the season.

2. Villanova finishing the regular season unbeaten is picking up steam: Villanova might have just won the toughest possible test they’ll receive by winning at Creighton on Saturday.

Villanova will still get a solid test at Butler during their next game but the Bulldogs just lost to St. John’s on the road and had to deal with a scary flight situation on the way home. We don’t know if Butler is mentally prepared to hang with the defending national champions.

That means Villanova only has tough road games at Seton Hall and Xavier if they beat Butler next game and the schedule looks more-and-more favorable for them to finish unbeaten. Obviously, the Wildcats have to avoid slip-ups against lesser opponents and still beat the Big East’s beat teams at home. There’s an intriguing non-conference clash with Virginia that also looms for the Wildcats.

But we need to start looking at Villanova potentially going unbeaten as a serious threat since this team has some good road wins at Purdue and Creighton in which a lot of other teams would have folded.

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3. Creighton remains a solid Big East threat: We shouldn’t forget about the Bluejays just because they lost this one at home. Creighton is still going to be a premier team in the Big East with a great chance at a top-4 seed in the NCAA tournament as their potent offense puts them in any game.

The backcourt of Mo Watson Jr., Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas is a quality trio while center Justin Patton has improved so much over the course of the season. Senior forward Cole Huff remains an intriguing forward who can stretch the floor or go in the mid-post and score on turnaround jumpers.

Creighton still has to figure out how to get stops in close games like this one but they at least traded punches with the champion for 10 out of 12 rounds of a prize fight. They ultimately fell short in this one but Creighton hasn’t reached its ceiling yet — which is fun to think about.

4. Creighton goes as Mo Watson goes: One of the interesting things about Creighton’s loss to Villanova was seeing how this team looked with and without Mo Watson Jr.

Watson played most of the game but he did battle foul trouble in both halves before eventually fouling out during Creighton’s rally with a few minutes left. With Watson playing at his best, he’s one of the finest floor leaders in the country as he sets up others for shots while also handling pressure and limiting turnovers.

But you have to wonder if Watson is afraid to look for his shot sometimes. Against Villanova, Watson played his typical pass-first style but he passed up multiple open looks that he could have taken instead of making dangerous passes to guarded teammates.

Villanova is a different caliber of team defensively so Watson needs to look for his own offense more than usual when facing a team like them. But for the Bluejays to also be in this game despite an average game from Watson also shows how good they can be if he’s playing at his best.

Foster has 22 points, Creighton rallies to beat Oral Roberts

OMAHA, NEBRASKA-NOVEMBER 26: Marcus Foster #0 of the Creighton Bluejays take s a break during their game against the Loyola (Md) Greyhounds at the CenturyLink Center on November 26, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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OMAHA, Neb. — Marcus Foster scored 22 points and No. 10 Creighton rallied to beat Oral Roberts 66-65 on Saturday night.

The Bluejays (11-0) led by as many as 13 early in the second half, but saw the Golden Eagles (2-10) claw back to take a five-point lead with 6:08 left in the game. Creighton held Oral Robert the rest of the way, talking the lead on Foster’s short jumper in the lane with 3:28 left.

Owens led Oral Roberts with 23 points, and Jalen Bradley had 16 for the Golden Eagles.

The Bluejays used a zone press to trigger a 9-0 early second half run that made it 54-41. Then Creighton went cold, hitting just two of its next 14 shots while Oral Roberts scored steadily, taking the lead at 60-58 on Albert Owens’ short jumper with 8:45 left. Oral Roberts went up 65-60 on Owens’ banked-in 3-pointer.

The Golden Eagles didn’t score again while Creighton managed just three field goals, a layup and a dunk from Justin Patton and Foster’s short jumper. Neither team scored again as Creighton missed the front end of two 1-and-1 free-throw opportunities in the final minute.

Creighton, which shot 58 percent and had 21 fast break points in the first half, hit just 37 percent of its shots in the second half and didn’t have a fast break point. The high-scoring Bluejays, who have averaged 91.6 points per game, scored just 21 points in the first half

Foster had 10 points in the first three minutes as Creighton raced out to a 12-5 lead and went up by 10 on Maurice Watson Jr.’s layup with 14:27 left in the half. But Oral Roberts stayed within striking distance with strong inside play and trailed by seven at half.

Maurice Watson Jr. had 13 points and 10 assists for Creighton. Patton finished with 10 points.

BIG PICTURE

Oral Roberts: Oral Roberts coach Scott Sutton was born in Omaha, the son of former Creighton coach Eddie Sutton, who led the Bluejays from 1969 to 1974 in his first Division I coaching post. The Sutton family was recognized by Creighton before Saturday’s game with a jersey presentation to Scott and his brother and assistant coach Sean Sutton..

Creighton: With Saturday’s victory, the Bluejays have won 97 straight home games against teams that enter the contest with a record of .500 or worse, a streak that dates to 2002. The Bluejays who led 45-38 at halftime have now won 67 straight games when scoring 42 or more in the first half.

UP NEXT

Oral Roberts” Hosts Little Rock on Monday night.

Creighton: At Arizona State on Tuesday night.

THE UNDEFEATEDS: Which of those seven teams will last the longest?

LEXINGTON, KY - DECEMBER 03: Lonzo Ball #2 of the UCLA Bruins reacts after making a three-point basket against the Kentucky Wildcats in the second half of the game at Rupp Arena on December 3, 2016 in Lexington, Kentucky. UCLA defeated Kentucky 97-92. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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There are now just seven undefeated teams left in college basketball after TCU, Saint Mary’s, Notre Dame and Butler lost last week.

Today, we’ll take you through each of those seven teams, letting you know whether or not they are truly contenders or simply a product of their schedule while letting you know precisely when they are going to take their first loss.

TOP 25 TEAMS

No. 16 South Carolina (8-0): The Gamecocks are the easiest team on this list to pick. They’ve been steadily climbing in the polls because they’re undefeated and own wins over the likes of Michigan and Syracuse, and their defense is legit. As of today, they’re ranked fifth in KenPom.com’s defensive efficiency metric, and that’s not a fluke. Frank Martin’s club has veteran, tough and athletic guys at every spot on the floor that thrive in his overplaying, half-court man-to-man defense. The Gamecocks are real in the sense that they’re probably the second-best team in the SEC this season, but A) that isn’t saying all that much and B) those wins over Syracuse and Michigan looked much more impressive at the time than they do right now.

  • First loss will be 12/12 vs. Seton Hall, 8-0: The Gamecocks will be playing a game in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn against a good team from New Jersey without their best player in Sindarius Thornwell. Seton Hall isn’t going to be intimidated by over-aggressive defenses.

No. 24 USC Trojans (9-0): Once again, the Trojans are playing above their heads. For a team that entered the season with just four players that had played a second of basketball for USC prior to the season, it’s impressive that Enfield has managed to steer them to a 9-0 with wins at Texas A&M, at home against SMU and over BYU on a neutral court. It’s worth noting they’ve won four of those games without Bennie Boatwright, their starting four-man who has dealt with knee an back injuries.

  • First loss will be 12/30 at Oregon, 13-0: The Trojans will playing their second road game in three days when they play in Eugene, and by then, it’s probably fair to assume that this Oregon team, who was in the top five in the preseason will get things figured out. The key? When does Boatwright get back.
PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17: Johnathan Motley #5 of the Baylor Bears looks on in the second half against the Yale Bulldogs during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Johnathan Motley (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

THEY CAN MAKE A FINAL FOUR

No. 4 Baylor (8-0): Baylor has been the most surprising team in college basketball this season. The Bears have piled up wins over Oregon, VCU, Michigan State, Louisville and Xavier, which is impressive of a résumé as you’ll find at this point in the season. If they can find a way to beat Kansas at some point during the regular season and win either a share of the Big 12 regular season title or the Big 12 tournament, the Bears could realistically end up getting a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament. I’m not yet ready to say that Baylor is in the same class as the likes of KU, Kentucky, Duke, Villanova or UCLA, but I am ready to say that every single one of us missed wildly on how good Baylor would be this season.

  • First loss will be 1/10 at West Virginia, 15-0: The Mountaineers are another team we missed on in the preseason, and I think they provide a nightmare matchup for Baylor. The Bears strength is their front court, but that can get taken away by the pressure WVU provides. As good as he’s been this season, I’m not totally sold on Manu Lecomte yet. I think pressure can beat the Bears, and no one has a tougher press than Press Virginia.

No. 10 Creighton (10-0): Through the first month of the season, the Bluejays look like they might be the second-best team in the Big East as Xavier continues to try and figure out how they are going to make threes this season. Creighton doesn’t have that issue, as they rank second nationally in both effective field goal percentage and three-point percentage. Their top six three-point shooters are all shooting better than 40 percent from beyond the are, and three of those six are knocking down more than half of their three-point attempts. This team is more talented than the team Creighton had during Doug McDermott’s senior season.

  • First loss will be 1/16 at Xavier, 18-0: Xavier is still trying to find themselves, but there are two things you can count on with a program run by Chris Mack: toughness and defense will never, ever be an issue. They’re hard to beat in the Cintas Center and there’s a chance that Myles Davis will be back by then. I don’t want to bet against Xavier in a situation like that were they really need a win.
OMAHA, NE - NOVEMBER 15: Maurice Watson Jr. #10 of the Creighton Bluejays drives to the hoop past Jordan Hill #11 of the Wisconsin Badgers during their game at the CenturyLink Center on November 15, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Maurice Watson Jr. (Eric Francis/Getty Images)

THEY CAN WIN A NATIONAL TITLE

No. 1 Villanova (10-0): The Wildcats managed to remain unbeaten thanks to a masterful performance from Josh Hart, who had 37 points and 11 boards to send No. 23 Notre Dame to their first loss of the season. Villanova is the reigning national champion, so of course they have the ability to repeat as national champs; like Buddy Hield and Denzel Valentine last season, Hart has really improved as a senior.

Villanova is also playing without Phil Booth, who has a knee injury. This group deserves to be in the same conversation as the likes of Duke, Kentucky, Kansas and UCLA, the biggest brands with the most talent in the sport. Jay Wright may not have NBA scouts beating down the doors of practice to get a look at the guys on his roster, but this veteran group is greater as a whole than the sum of their parts.

  • First loss will be 12/31 at Creighton, 13-0: Creighton has always been a tough matchup for Villanova because Creighton plays the same kind of small-ball, four-around-one style. What’s traditionally made Villanova so difficult for opponents to matchup with is that they create mismatches offensively because their players are versatile defenders. Creighton, however, can do the same thing. Cole Huff, the Bluejays four-man, can play as a small forward and is most comfortable on the perimeter. He will have no issues defending the lines of Eric Paschall or Kris Jenkins. Throw in the fact that Creighton packs 17,000 fans into their home games, and I think they can hand the Wildcats their first loss.

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No. 8 Gonzaga (10-0): Of the seven teams left without a loss, I think Gonzaga probably has the best chance to get to the NCAA tournament unblemished. Part of that is because they play in the West Coast Conference, a league every road game is their opponent’s Super Bowl but those opponents are decidedly mid-major competition. Gonzaga? They’re as high-major as high-major gets and have a roster that is stocked with talent.

Nigel Williams-Goss and Josh Perkins have played really well together in the back court, while Jordan Mathews works as a floor-spacer and Silas Melson has seemed to embrace his role within the team. But the front court is where this team is so exciting. Przemek Karnowski and Johnathan Williams III are veterans that fit well together, but there’s an argument to be made that their freshmen backups – Killian Tillie and Zach Collins – are the second-best front court pairing in the league. I think this is the best team that Mark Few has had in Spokane, and that includes the Adam Morrison and Kelly Olynyk years.

  • First loss will be 2/11 at Saint Mary’s, 25-0: This year is the first time that the Zags have reached 10-0 since joining Division I. They’ll have three real tests before their road trip to Moraga – they’re at Tennessee this weekend, they host the Gaels in mid-January and visit BYU in early February – but if they can get to this game unscathed, they’ll likely have a shot to be undefeated when the postseason comes around.

No. 2 UCLA (10-0): We mentioned earlier how Creighton’s offense is a powerhouse. Well, UCLA is the only team in the country that has a higher effective field goal percentage, a higher three-point percentage and they play at a faster pace. In fact, UCLA is currently shooting 47.1 percent from three. Only one team since 1997 has shot better than 45 percent from three, and that was Northern Colorado in 2011-12. That UNC team shot 16 threes per game. This UCLA team shoots 24.

In other words, it’s not crazy to say that this UCLA team could end up being the best three-point shooting team in college basketball history if they can find a way to keep up this pace through league play. But even if they don’t, this is not a team that relies entirely on the three-ball. They have a guy named Lonzo Ball – I don’t know if you’ve heard of him, he’s not bad – that makes them lethal in transition and has transformed that roster into one of the most unselfish in the country.

  • First loss will be 2/25 at Arizona, 28-0: I think UCLA can get past their road trip to Oregon three days after Christmas mostly because I think that the Bruins will have a bit of an advantage over USC; they play the Ducks on the first day of the road trip. The trip to play the Mountain teams (Colorado and Utah) is always tricky given the altitude, and that starts a stretch where they play five of seven on the road, including at USC and capped with a visit to Markelle Fultz and Washington. But I think this group gets through all that mostly because I think the Pac-12 is down this year. Where I think they get tripped up is at Arizona, who should have Parker Jackson-Cartwright (and maybe/hopefully Allonzo Trier) back and who should be getting the best out of Kobi Simmons and Rawle Alkins. That’s a fierce rivalry that only has fuel added to the fire by T.J. Leaf, a UCLA player that was originally an Arizona commit.
NEWARK, NJ - DECEMBER 10: Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats takes a shot against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the first half of a college basketball game at Prudential Center on December 10, 2016 in Newark, New Jersey. Villanova defeated Notre Dame 74-66. (Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images)
Josh Hart (Rich Schultz/Getty Images)

College Basketball Talk Top 25: Duke is back in the No. 1 spot

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 10: Grayson Allen #3 of the Duke Blue Devils watches as he sinks a 3-point shot against the UNLV Rebels during their game at T-Mobile Arena on December 10, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Duke won 94-45. (Photo by Isaac Brekken/Getty Images)
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I made some changes in my top 25 this week, and I did it for one reason and one reason only: I think Duke is the best team in college basketball.

And I get it. I might be the only one that ranks Duke No. 1 this week, because there are so many other teams with valid argument to be ranked above Duke.

  • Villanova was No. 1 last week and all they did was beat a city rival and then knock off No. 21 Notre Dame.
  • Kansas has already beaten Duke this season on a neutral court.
  • UCLA owns the most impressive win of the season, picking off Kentucky in Rupp Arena. Duke has beaten Florida, Rhode Island and Michigan State and played Kansas tough.
  • Baylor has the best résumé of anyone to date.

But these rankings are supposed to be used to determine who is the best team in the country, right?

RANKINGS: AP Poll | Coaches Poll | NBC Sports Top 25

And I think that Duke is the best team in college basketball. We all had them there in the preseason, before all of the injuries. Now that they’re getting back to full strength, we’re just going to ignore that fact because Frank Mason II hit a jumper and Villanova hasn’t given us a reason to drop them?

I guess I understand the logic, but it just seems silly to rank someone else No. 1 when you don’t think they’re the best team in the country.

Anyway, here is the NBCSports.com Top 25:

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1. Duke (10-1, Last Week: 4)
2. Villanova (10-0, 1)
3. UCLA (10-0, 2)
4. Kansas (9-1, 3)
5. Kentucky (9-1, 5)
6. North Carolina (10-1, 6)
7. Gonzaga (10-0, 7)
8. Baylor (8-0, 8)
9. Creighton (10-0, 9)
10. Indiana (8-1, 10)
11. Wisconsin (9-2, 11)
12. Louisville (9-1, 12)
13. West Virginia (8-1, 15)
14. Purdue (8-2, 14)
15. South Carolina (8-0, 17)
16. Xavier (8-2, 13)
17. Saint Mary’s (7-1, 14)
18. Virginia (8-1, 18)
19. Butler (9-1, 19)
20. USC (9-0, 21)
21. Notre Dame (9-1, 24)
22. Cincinnati (7-2, 19)
23. Oregon (9-2, NR)
24. Arizona (8-2, NR)
25. Texas A&M (7-2, NR)

DROPPED OUT: No. 21 Florida, No. 23 Syracuse, No. 25 Iowa State
NEW ADDITIONS: No. 23 Oregon, No. 24 Arizona, No. 25 Texas A&M

No. 10 Creighton blows by Nebraska

Creighton's Maurice Watson Jr., left, drives to the basket ahead of Nebraska's Michael Jacobson (12) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Lincoln, Neb., Wednesday, Dec. 7, 2016. Creighton won 77-62. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
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Creighton’s offense does what so many other programs want to do on that end of the floor. The Bluejays push the pace, they share the ball and the shoot the heck out of it.

That was all on display in the 10th-ranked Bluejays’ 77-62 victory over rival Nebraska in the Huskers’ home gym Wednesday night.

Initially it looked as though Creighton (9-0) was going to absolutely dismantle Nebraska (5-4) when the Bluejays jumped out to an 18-4 lead in the early going, but Tim Miles’ group showed some grit to head into the locker room down just a point and a chance to pull off a top-10 upset.

That’s when Creighton’s offense found its groove. It’s a groove so well worn and natural to the Bluejays that when they settle into it, they operate as one of the best offenses in the country. Even on a night like this one when their most potent weapon, their 3-point shooting, mostly misfired, Creighton’s offense was still spectacular at times.

With the game knotted at 33, Creighton big Justin Patton blocked a shot that led to a Marcus Foster layup in transition. Then came a Maurice Watson layup, a Foster jumper and another Watson layup, again on the fast break. Two more layups followed from the Bluejays and then Cole Huff knocked home a 3 to put the exclamation point on a 15-4 run.

It proved to essentially be the knockout punch, its power coming from an offense running efficiently, even if it was using its Plan B.

Creighton came into the game shooting 44.8 percent from 3-point range, ranking in the top-five in the country. The ‘Jays made just 5 of 15 (33 percent) against the Huskers, but they converted 56.8 percent of their 2-point shots. Only four of their 44 attempts came from outside the paint, according to shot chart data. There’s little chance for a defense to try to slow Creighton if they can get to the rim that frequently.

Watson is a terror in both transition and the halfcourt. He puts so much pressure on defenses with his quickness, and Nebraska had little answer for him during his 25-point, eight-assist performance this night. Foster is the other headliner of the Creighton offense, but he was just a pedestrian 3 of 9 for seven points.

Watson and Foster are just two key pieces of the offense, though, as Greg McDermott has plenty of firepower. Patton (9 points) is emerging as a real threat. Cole Huff (13 points) stretches the floor. Khyri Thomas (7 points, 10 rebounds) is the unsung hero.

Creighton’s defense remains a question mark, but its offense can win a game by itself in more ways than one. Or two. Or three.