Creighton probably isn’t of the caliber of Villanova or Xavier. The Bluejays aren’t likely to truly challenge for the Big East title.
But they sure are fun – and pretty darn good, too. They claimed their second-straight win over a ranked opponent with a 100-89 victory Monday against 23rd-ranked UCLA, showing the offensive chops that are going to make highly entertaining and extremely dangerous all winter long.
It was a fantastic showing from Greg McDermott’s team against the Bruins, who remain shorthanded with three of its players serving indefinite suspensions for their indiscretions in China. The Bluejays didn’t dominate – their defense isn’t good enough to truly impose their will in a game – but they did just unload a torrent of buckets for 40 minutes.
The Bluejays, who beat No. 20 Northwestern last week, shot 49.3 percent overall and 11 of 29 (37.9 percent) from 3-point range. Marcus Foster had 23 points and Khyri Thomas added 16.
The true revelation for Creighton, though, was freshman Mitchell Ballock. The 6-foot-5 freshman from Eudora, Kan., was simply superb. He scored 22 points, converting 7 of 14 shots overall and 4 of 9 from deep. Ballock has the reputation has a sharpshooter and it is absolutely a deserved one, but he’s not simply a catch-and-shoot sniper. Ballock can score all over the court in multiple ways and has the athleticism and strength to attack the rim. Given his ability to shoot it from distance, that’s a potentially devastating combination for defenses to have to account for.
It’s especially important for Creighton, which will need a consistent third scorer behind Foster and Thomas. Foster is a potential All-American who looks to have fully regained the swagger that made him one of the country’s most electric young players as a freshman at Kansas State before things went askew his sophomore year. Thomas is one of the country’s best players that few people realize how good he really is, though that distinction is likely not going to stick around for long as he keeps putting up numbers and Creighton keeps winning.
That means if Ballock can do more than just stretch the floor as a potential 3-point threat and be a real offensive worry, this Creighton offense is going to have a chance to purr.
It’s impressive given all that the Bluejays lost off last year’s team. A Creighton team that loses Justin Patton and Maurice Watson should take a significant step back. This team isn’t as good as the one that was 18-1 in the middle of January last season, but it’s a solid one nonetheless. They’re getting solid point guard play as well from Davion Mintz and Ty-Shon Alexander.
It’s hard to gauge what to make of this game for the Bruins as they are down three important players and have become embroiled in a controversy of a truly global scale. In Kansas City this day though, they got promising performances from Aaron Holiday (25 points, seven assists), Thomas Welsh (16 points, 2 of 3 on 3s) and Prince Ali (18 points in just 25 minutes). There’s loads of potential with this team, but overcoming the loss of Cody Riley, LiAngelo Ball and Jalen Hill while the president of the United States stokes the controversy seems like a tall – and unique – task for Steve Alford’s program.
This result, though, was more about Creighton. When it is firing, the Bluejays’ offense is an education in pace, spacing, ball movement and shotmaking.