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Creighton hosts Butler as pressure mounts for the Jays

The Creighton Bluejays host the Butler Bulldogs on Thursday night, in what has quickly become a game of high importance for both teams. Creighton enters this one on a six game losing streak - having not won a game since being ranked #7 in the AP Poll on November 28th.

Butler, meanwhile, comes into Thursday's matchup having a pretty clean 8-4 resume. The Bulldogs worst loss came at the hands of NC State (#54 in KenPom) on a neutral floor. They boast two quality wins; victories over Yale and Kansas State. However, Butler was dominated by UConn in their last time out, losing 68-46.

Ryan Kalkbrenner has missed three straight games with a non-COVID related illness. However, it is expected that he will play Thursday night against Butler. Even though Kalkbrenner is expected back - he will likely be on some type of pitch count.

This sets the stage for Fred King to have his toughest matchup yet in Manny Bates. The 6'11 NC State transfer, Bates is averaging 14.1 ppg and 6.7 rpg. He also is an elite rim protector, averaging 2.7 blocks per game - which ranks 11th nationally.

The last ten regular season contests between Creighton and Butler have resulted in a home team victory. Both of these teams desperately need to pick up their first Big East win here. With a win, Creighton would snap a six game losing streak and look to place itself right back in the thick of things in the Big East conversation. With a Butler win, the Bulldogs could cement themselves as a true at-large potential team, notching their best victory to date.


Scouting Butler

When talking about Butler, you've got to start with the defensive end of the floor. They defend the three quite well, with opponents shooting under 30% on the year. While some three point percentage defense falls into the category of luck, with Butler I credit most if it to solid perimeter defenders.

This only is boosted with Ali Ali back on the floor. Ali was a standout at Akron last season (13.9 ppg, 2.6 apg) and spent the first 11 games of the season recovering from a concussion and broken nose that left him sidelined. He played in his first game this season against UConn, tallying six points and an assist in 13 minutes.

Butler mirrors Creighton in that they play hard defense without fouling. In fact, Butler is 2nd in defensive FT rate, while Creighton is 3rd. There shouldn't be too many points at the stripe in this one. However, despite not fouling frequently, Butler holds opponents to a fairly low shooting percentage, which has resulted Butler giving up only 63.7 points per contest.

Offensively, five Bulldogs are averaging double digits, with Chuck Harris (14.3 ppg) leading the way. Simas Lukosius is a key name to remember; Lukosius shoots nearly 43% from three point range, and can get hot in a hurry. When all on the court together, Butler's starting five is among the best +/- in the country.


Creighton: The Bright Side

There has been a bit of a 'the sky is falling' type of mentality regarding Creighton's six game skid. And while sure, it hasn't been great -- there's been a lot that has went into Creighton's recent misfortunes.

First, let's take a look at Creighton's recent schedule: Nov. 21 vs. Texas Tech (neutral)

Nov. 22 vs. 10 Arkansas (neutral)

Nov. 23 vs. #5 Arizona (neutral)

Dec. 1 @ #7 Texas

Dec. 4 vs. Nebraska

Dec. 10 vs. BYU (neutral)

Dec. 12 vs. #25 Arizona State (neutral)

Dec 16 @ Marquette

So, of their last eight games, they've played one game at home, and seven of the eight games have been against power conference competition. And let's not forget, Ryan Kalkbrenner has been dealing with an illness throughout that stretch. Now, it's easy to make excuses, but that schedule is bound to take a toll on any team -- especially a team that isn't considerably deep and down their best player.

Another note is that basketball is, at least somewhat, a game of luck. Creighton ranks sixth in the country in Shot Quality. So, the Jays have gotten good shots (shots that they would typically make) and simply haven't hit them. They've also forced opponents into contested jumpers that they've knocked down. The funny thing about shooting luck, though, is that it has a way of working itself out. If you look at previous years renditions of Shot Quality, it ends up being an accurate representation of team success. Six games is a (very) small sample size this early in the season. Sooner or later, Creighton will start hitting those shots and playing upper echelon basketball again. There's a reason this team had sky-high expectations in the preseason.


Creighton: The Not-So-Bright Side

When fully healthy and hitting shots, Creighton will be a really, really good basketball team. As outlined above, the majority of Creighton's struggles are a combination of Kalkbrenner's injury, shooting luck, a tough schedule, and growing pains for a still fairly young team.

However, the Bluejays are nowhere near a finished product. There are real questions moving forward regarding bench production and offensive flow. Greg McDermott touted that this was the 'deepest team he has ever coached' in a podcast with Jon Rothstein prior to the season. We simply have not seen that come together on the floor yet.

Shereef Mitchell and Francisco Farabello have gotten nearly all the backcourt minutes off the bench for the Bluejays. In their combined 25.1 minutes per game, Mitchell and Farabello are shooting a paltry 32% from the field and 27% from three point range. Both of these guards are quite experienced and have played in NCAA Tournaments - yet at points this season they've felt a bit outmatched.

A second problem facing the Jays is in relation to the entire offensive flow. With Kalkbrenner sidelined, Creighton has struggled to even get into their sets at times. People are seeing just how important Kalkbrenner was for the spacing and penetration of Creighton guards and wings. But if one player being out prohibits you from running your offense, that's a big time problem.



Butler has had a tendency to get frustrated against solid defenses so far this year. Against Tennessee, Butler put up 45 points and had 23 turnovers. When taking on UConn, the Bulldogs scored 46 points and again had more turnovers than assists. Creighton will be the third best defense Butler has faced.

After a bit of reset this past week, I think Creighton comes out motived in this one. On a cold, cold day in Omaha, the Jays will heat up CHI Health Center by making a few more shots from the perimeter than in recent games.

Give me Creighton in this one, 71-63 heading into a Christmas Day game hosting DePaul.


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