No. 15 Creighton, which has played its way into contention for the Big East Conference regular-season championship, begins a crucial home stretch in Omaha, Neb., on Sunday in a showdown with No. 21 Butler.
The Bluejays (21-6, 10-4 Big East) ride a four-game winning streak into the Sunday matchup. During the streak, Creighton knocked off conference-leading Seton Hall, doing its part to slash the 16th-ranked Pirates’ three-game advantage in the race for the league title down to one.
Creighton closes its regular season at home with Seton Hall on March 7, and it potentially could sew up the No. 1 seed in next month’s Big East tournament if it keeps pace.
That places particular significance on Butler’s visit to Omaha. The Bulldogs (19-8, 7-7) come to town off a two-point loss at Seton Hall on Wednesday in which the Pirates’ lob play at the buzzer thwarted the Bulldogs’ last-minute rally.
Butler jumped out to an early lead, fell behind by five points with one minute to play, then roared back to tie the game with just 0.6 seconds remaining. The roller-coaster game reflected the Bulldogs’ up-and-down Big East season, which includes three losses in the past four games.
“There were big shots and big stops. When they swung at us in the second half, we responded well,” Butler coach LaVall Jordan said in his postgame press conference. “But it doesn’t come down to just one play. You want a few of those plays back along the way.”
When Butler and Creighton last met, the Bulldogs were on the decided upswing of their season. Their 71-57 win on Jan. 4 helped propel them to a peak of No. 5 in the AP Top 25.
In the weeks since, Butler is 5-7 and Creighton is 9-3. The most recent in that spell for the Bluejays was a 73-65 win at No. 19 Marquette on Tuesday in which they held the nation’s second-leading scorer, Markus Howard, to 13 points — less than half of his season average.
“You have to commit a lot to try to slow Markus down,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said in his postgame press conference. “By doing that, you give up some things. Fortunately for us tonight, the (3-pointers) we let up weren’t going in. You need that good fortune sometimes.”
Creighton may need a similar bout of good fortune against Butler while defending the Bulldogs’ hot-scoring guard Kamar Baldwin.
Baldwin is coming off a 20-point performance at Seton Hall — the same total he posted in Butler’s defeat of Creighton last month — and his six assists against the Pirates reflect his ability to exploit the defense when it overcommits to stopping him.
Sean McDermott, a 40.1 percent 3-point shooter, is a leading beneficiary. He knocked down 3 of 7 from long range last time out vs. the Bluejays.
Creighton, which has the nation’s sixth-ranked offense in terms of adjusted efficiency per KenPom.com, counters with Marcus Zegarowski, Ty-Shon Alexander and Mitch Ballock, who have made a combined 208 3-pointers on the season.
–Field Level Media