After a dramatic 78-68 upset of No. 14 Minnesota on Tuesday, Dec. 5, the Nebraska men’s basketball team has another tough test ahead of it this weekend. The Huskers travel to Omaha, Nebraska, to take on their in-state rival, the Creighton Bluejays.
The 6-2 Bluejays had a hot start to the season and were ranked No. 25 in the AP poll after wins over No. 20 Northwestern and No. 23 UCLA. However, they fell out of the rankings after losing to No. 15 Gonzaga on the road on Friday, Dec. 1, in a game the Bluejays led by seven points at halftime.
An NCAA tournament team last year, Creighton returns with three starters but is without standout freshman Justin Patton, who they lost to the NBA Draft.
One of the Bluejays’ main strengths is their phenomenal guard duo of Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas. Foster is the team’s top-scoring threat, averaging 19 points per game. He broke the 20-point mark in five separate games, but shot poorly in the team’s two losses to Baylor and Gonzaga.
Next to Foster is Thomas, who is second in the team’s scoring, with an average of 16.8 points per game. The native Omahan brings much more to the table than just scoring though, including a talent for rebounding and tenacious defense. His best game of the year came against Northwestern, when he posted a double-double with 24 points and 11 rebounds, but his biggest impact against the Huskers may be on defense. The 2016-17 Big East Defensive Player of the Year, Thomas will likely switch between guarding the Huskers’ top scorers in Glynn Watson Jr. and James Palmer Jr.
Watson may require added attention after a dazzling 29-point performance against Minnesota. While Watson has had his ups and downs, Palmer has been a consistent performer for the Huskers, averaging 14 points per game and breaking the double-digit mark in all but one of the team’s games.
While it may be tough sledding for Nebraska’s guards, the team’s front court may be the key to the game. While sophomore center Jordy Tshimanga had a difficult start to the season, forwards Isaac Copeland and Isaiah Roby showed their own talents at times. Both players struggled at points in the season, but they will have a golden opportunity against Creighton’s big men.
Creighton’s front court of Martin Krampelj, Toby Hegner and Manny Suarez are not known for their defensive prowess, giving the likes of Copeland and Roby the ability to take over the game.
Creighton enters the rivalry game with history on its side, given the Bluejays’ six-game winning streak against the Huskers. The series has been lopsided in the past 18 years, with Creighton winning 15 of those matchups. Additionally, Nebraska head coach Tim Miles has never beaten Creighton head coach Greg McDermott, with a 0-13 all-time record against the Creighton coach.
While Nebraska enters the game with the momentum of a top-15 victory, the Huskers face a tough challenge against the Creighton Bluejays. Watson will have to replicate his performance against Minnesota or the team’s big men will have to step up if the Huskers are to have any shot at ending their losing streak to the Bluejays.
Tipoff is set for 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Dec. 9, at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Nebraska. The game will be broadcast on FS1.