“The three certainties in life: Death, Taxes, and Miles loses to McDermott,” Tim Miles said in his Friday press conference.
Nebraska (7-3) is well aware of the fact that it has lost to the Creighton Bluejays (6-2) six years in a row.
However, the two in-state rivals entered the season with very different teams from a year ago when No. 10 Creighton topped Nebraska 77-62 in Lincoln.
Nebraska entered this season with three transfers, all of which have been key in the rotation thus far. The additions of James Palmer Jr., Isaac Copeland Jr., Duby Okeke, and even senior Anton Gill (another former transfer who just played in 12 games last season), have been vital. Palmer and Copeland are second and third on the team in scoring, while Gill averages 9.9 ppg on 50 percent shooting from beyond the arc. In addition, Okeke has been an important rim protector off the bench.
With a new core of players, Nebraska has spent the majority of its first 10 games finding an identity, which they may have just found in Tuesday’s 78-68 win over No. 14 Minnesota.
“We needed this (the win over Minnesota). Earlier we played some good teams, but this team right here, this is what’s going to test us,” senior center Duby Okeke said. “We needed to build confidence and just build our momentum, because for weeks we’ve been trying to figure out what our identity is.. can we get things clicking. But this win really helped us because now we can get stuff on a roll.”
Despite being ranked near the bottom of the Big Ten in the preseason rankings, Minnesota coach Richard Pitino said that this Husker team could be a tough play.
“They’re (Nebraska) a good team, and I think they’ll continue to get better as they get continuity with their transfers,” Pitino said. “And they’ve got a terrific one in Glynn Watson. I like their team. I think they’re going to be difficult to play.”
The Huskers are led by junior Glynn Watson Jr., who finished with a game-high 29 points, nine rebounds, and zero turnovers in his teams win over the Gophers. Watson leads NU in points per game (14.5), assists (3.5) and steals (2.0). Watson is the only player in the Big Ten conference to average 14.5 ppg, 3+ apg, 3+ rpg and 2.0 steals per game.
Miami transfer James Palmer Jr. is second on the team in scoring at 14.0 ppg, while Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland Jr. adds 12.0 ppg and a team-high 6.2 rebounds per game.
Copeland has played Creighton five times during his previous time with Georgetown, posting a 4-1 record against the Jays. The last time he stepped on the court against CU, Copeland flirted with a triple-double with seven points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists.
Creighton enters Saturday’s contest with a 6-2 record with losses coming to No. 22 Baylor and No. 15 Gonzaga. While losing two games to ranked opponents, the Jays have also taken down No. 20 Northwestern and No. 23 UCLA. All four games were played away from home.
The Bluejays are led by strong guard play, which features senior guard Marcus Foster and junior guard and Omaha Benson product Khyri Thomas. Foster leads the Creighton scoring attack with 19.0 ppg, while Thomas averages 16.8 ppg on 54 percent field goal shooting, 86 percent shooting from the free throw line, and 46 percent from 3.
“They’ve got four guards that could start for most teams, if you look at it,” Miles said. “Those two freshman guards are terrific. (Ty-Shon) Alexander and (Mitch) Ballock are really really good, and of course then those wings, Khyri (Thomas) and (Marcus) Foster are really strong, powerful wings. They remind me of like a Petteway-Shields kind of duo, and they shoot it better.”
Bluejay center Martin Krampjel also averages double figures at 12.6 ppg and a team-high 7.8 rebounds per game, while point guard Davion Mintz has a 3.3 assist-to-turnover ratio, and stretch-four Ronnie Harrell averages 7.4 rebounds while comfortably handling the ball and making plays for others (2.4 apg).
The Jays have also gotten back senior forward Toby Hegner from a high ankle sprain, who averages 9.6 ppg and shoots 38.5 percent from 3 at 6’10”.
“Their role guys are stars in their role, they play to their role really well, their go-to guys are go-to guys and then they’ve always played solid defense and they’ve really defended us well,” Miles said.
The Bluejays are led by 8th-year head coach Greg McDermott, who is 172-84 at Creighton and has never lost to Tim Miles (12-0, 5-0 at Nebraska). McDermott has helped lead the Bluejays to the 5th-ranked scoring offense in the country at 92.5 ppg on 52 percent shooting from the field and 39 percent from 3. At the CenturyLink Center, Creighton is averaging over 100 points per contest.
“This is a heck of a team” I think they have exceeded expectations. They’re really good,” Miles said of the Bluejays.
When asked if he would make any changes to how NU would play Creighton this time around, Miles said: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” Miles said this time around guarding Creighton’s guards on potent offense will be huge.
“As we go forward we have to look at how we can get them under control,” Miles said. “Pace down the floor is something they do really well. They’ve also always put a lot of shooters on the floor, guys that can score.”
“They’ve really defended us well because we haven’t shot well against them. We’re really going to need a good shooting night from the perimeter, and it’s hard to say that because it’s hard to control.”
By The Numbers
- The all-time series between Nebraska and Creighton is tied 25-25.
- Nebraska is 25-3 under Tim Miles when scoring at least 80 points. When the Huskers have eclipsed 80 this season, they are 4-0.
- Nebraska is 21-2 under Miles when recording 15 or more assists in a game. This season when tallying over 15 assists, NU is 4-0.
- After a loss to UCF at the AdvoCare Invitational, the Huskers have shot 42 percent from 3 since.
- Nebraska is 7-0 when three players finish in double figures. Watson, Palmer and Copeland have all recorded 20+-point games.
- Nebraska is averaging assists on 57.5 percent of its field goals, which is the highest rate in Miles’ 13 years as a head coach. The last time he averaged over 50 percent was in 2011-2012 when he took Colorado State to the NCAA Tournament.
- Glynn Watson Jr. in team’s seven wins: 17.5 ppt on 51 percent shooting. In losses: 7.3 ppt on 21 percent shooting.
- Isaac Copeland Jr. – When Copeland scores in double figures, Nebraska is 5-0 with an average margin of victory at 14.2.
- As simple as it may sound, guarding the perimeter against Creighton isn’t simple at all. Creighton has a strong core of guards that can and will score points in a hurry. While having a defender like Evan Taylor to help contain Foster (likely matchup), the Huskers’ team defense will certainly be tested Saturday.
- Who will Khyri Thomas guard? Given the co-Defensive Player of the Year can guard almost anybody, does Thomas face off against Palmer, who plays a similar position? Or does he face off against Watson… given the impact he has on NU’s wins? While he may guard both at different times, who Thomas is guarding has a huge effect on Nebraska’s scoring attack and will force guys like Copeland and Palmer (if Thomas is indeed on Watson) to step up.
- Creighton has a plethora of talented guards, but can the Jays compete on the interior? On Tuesday night, Nebraska was able to win the battle inside against the Big Ten’s leading scorer and rebounder, and the nation’s leading shot-blocker. Winning the battle inside significantly helps a defense that was key in NU’s win over the Gophers.
- Creighton 84 – Nebraska 75
The tip between the in-state rivals is set for 1:30 and will be televised via FS1. You can listen live via Huskers.com or the IMG Husker Sports Network.
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