Wednesday night’s game against BYU is an opportunity for Creighton to score some perception points in a positive way. With missed opportunities against Iowa State and Northwestern, the Bluejays need a win against BYU, one of the nation’s best teams.
The Cougars come to Omaha ranked #23 in the country, led by preseason All-American Jimmer Fredette. They are the first non-conference opponent for the Bluejays to enter Qwest Center Omaha ranked nationally since Xavier came to town a few years back. Creighton beat the Musketeers. Can this year’s Bluejays beat BYU?
To give us a better perspective of the Cougars and their chances in Omaha we enlisted the help of BYU beat writer Jay Drew, who covers the Cougars for the Salt Lake Tribune. Here is what he had to tell us:
White & Blue Review: BYU has started off undefeated and ranked in the top 25 coming into Wednesday’s matchup with Creighton. What are the expectations for BYU this season?
Jay Drew: Expectations are fairly high for the Cougars, but not off the charts. They were picked to finish second in the MWC behind San Diego State, and they lost several key contributors off the team that won an NCAA Tournament game last spring (first NCAA win since 1993). Freshman starter Tyler Haws went on a two-year LDS Church mission, sixth-man Jonathan Tavernari graduated, and guard Michael Loyd (26 points vs. Florida in the NCAA win) was kicked off the team. The loss of Loyd knocked expectations down a notch or two.
BYU still expects to make the NCAA Tournament for the fifth straight year, but with a low seed.
WBR: Jimmer Fredette gets a lot of notoriety for this Cougar basketball team. What makes him such a special player? Could he have another career night against the Bluejays?
JD: Fredette simply does not look like a college basketball star. He’s not real athletic, he’s a bit slow afoot and he doesn’t jump real well. But he’s one of the most creative players you will ever see, and he’s relentless on the offensive end with a killer crossover move. He just finds ways to get off shots, and his shooting range is phenomenal. Get ready to see some looong shots.
Hard to say whether Fredette will have a career night. He’s faced double- and triple-teaming this year — he’s no longer a secret like he was when he put 49 on Arizona.
WBR: Head Coach Dave Rose has fought his own battles off the court. What kind of inspiration does he bring to the program?
JD: Diagnosed with a cancerous tumor on his spleen in the summer of 2009, Rose has fully recovered from that bout with cancer and has a clean bill of health. The ordeal has changed him as a person quite a bit, and also changed the way he coaches.
The Cougars take a lot more chances, are not as serious, and look to simply have fun a lot more than they used to. They seem to value every game, every practice, a little bit more. Rose has said many times that he doesn’t take losses as hard as he used to.
WBR: Besides Fredette, who do the Bluejays need to look out for?
JD: BYU’s second-best all-around player is Fredette’s running mate in the backcourt, senior Jackson Emery. An all-league defender last year, Emery got off to a slow start shooting the ball, but had a nice two-game run at a tournament in South Padre Island, Texas, over the weekend and is taking advantage of all the extra attention being paid to Fredette.
Emery’s specialty, though, is stealing the ball, and he will likely end his career as the school’s all-time steals leader. The team’s third-leading scorer, junior forward Noah Hartsock, is capable of a big game, but inconsistent at times.
WBR: What kind of weaknesses does BYU have that Creighton could try to exploit?
JD: There are times when the other players stand around and watch Fredette do his thing too much. The Cougars have a propensity to turn into a one-man team on offense, and Fredette tends to over-dribble at times.
The Cougars historically have trouble rebounding, because they are not all that athletic. That will be even more of a concern against Creighton because starting forward Chris Collinsworth has a sprained ankle and will not play.
WBR: How deep is BYU and what kind of defenses do they employ regularly?
JD: The Cougars are deep at guard and wing, but thin in the frontcourt, especially now that Chris Collinsworth is injured. Rose plays 10-11 guys per game, but mostly because of foul trouble. Post player Brandon Davies gets in foul trouble every game, it seems, and backup center James Anderson is OK defensively, but a liability on the offensive end.
The Cougars usually play man-to-man defense, but employ the zone defense more than the typical college basketball team. Look for Rose to use a lot of zone on Wednesday night, at times switching defenses every other possession.
WBR: What are your thoughts about the MWC/MVC challenge that was put together by the two leagues? It seems the Mountain West has been at a different level of play over the past few seasons compared to the Valley.
JD: The challenge doesn’t get a lot of buzz out here; I’m not sure why. Seems like a good idea, and a good way to get teams to play better non-conference games. Bradley gave BYU a great game at the Marriott Center last year before fading in the final five minutes.
The Mountain West is enjoying a nice run, as UNLV, New Mexico, BYU, and San Diego State have all been strong the past few years. The MWC has three ranked teams this week (UNLV, BYU, SDSU) for the first time in its history.
Most observers out here view the MVC as an equal to the MWC, or perhaps just a hair below.
WBR: With BYU leaving the Mountain West next season along with Utah and it appears TCU in 2012, what kind of impact does that have for the Mountain West as a whole?
JD: The moves will hurt the MWC in football a lot more than they will in basketball. TCU’s basketball program is weak and usually finishes at the bottom of the league standings. Utah’s basketball program has been historically strong, but has dropped off sharply under the direction of coach Jim Boylen. There are fears that the Utes will become even less relevant in the Pac-12 in hoops.
BYU has been a perennial NCAA Tournament team and its departure to the West Coast Conference in all sports but football will certainly hurt the MWC in basketball. The schools coming into the MWC — Boise State next year and Nevada and Fresno State in 2012 — are OK in basketball but as a whole not up to the level of BYU and Utah, historically.
WBR: What are your final predictions for this game?
JD: This will be BYU’s first true road game, so it is difficult to predict how the Cougars will respond to their first hostile environment of the season. Not having Chris Collinsworth inside will hurt a lot, and one of the team’s other strengths — free-throw shooting — has been abysmal this year. Last year, the Cougars led the country in free-throw shooting percentage.
If the Bluejays can keep Fredette in check, they should be able to win this game.
I’m going to pick Creighton in a close one, something like 77-73.