LINCOLN, Neb. – Facing two top 10 opponents in one week is always tough, but when one of those is an in-state rival the intensity is raised to another level. That is where Nebraska basketball finds itself this week as the Huskers will host No. 10 Creighton on Wednesday before heading down to Lawrence on Saturday to take on the No. 3 Kansas.
“We’re excited for the week,” Coach Tim Miles said. “Obviously it’s a huge week for Husker basketball, a little bit unprecedented in the non-league. It’s been a while since we’ve had a chance to play two top 10 programs in the country. Of course, you’ve got your neighbor to the north, Creighton, that’s got an unbelievable team, and your perennial power Kansas just down the road. So it should be a lot of fun.”
Sophomore forward Michael Jacobson, a native of Waukee, Iowa, compared the Creighton and Nebraska series to a rivalry he’s familiar with back home.
“A lot of people care about it,” Jacobson said. “It’s a huge deal in the state of Nebraska. I would say maybe something similar would be Iowa-Iowa State in the state of Iowa. I would say definitely they’re on the same level and it’s a big deal for the whole state and a lot of people care.”
The Bluejays have won five straight meetings, but Jacobson said the team is looking at it as just another opportunity against a good team.
“This is kind of what you sign up for, to play top 25 teams on a regular basis,” Jacobson said. “That’s just kind of how we look at it. We try not to get caught up in it emotionally I would say just because I think that can be bad, that can turn bad for teams at times. Even though it is a special opponent maybe on Wednesday, we just try to keep it the same and just prepare our game plan and do what we do because we need wins.”
Miles’ history against Creighton Coach Greg McDermott goes back even beyond their time at their current schools, as McDermott is a perfect 12-0 against Miles in their coaching careers. However, Miles is trying to keep that out of his mind.
“I don’t want it to be personal,” Miles said. “We know that Mac and I have gone back from since 1996 or whatever it is and played each other. I played him before when he was a top 20 nationally-ranked team when we were D-II, but nobody knew about it. He’s had good teams. We know that Creighton’s won 15 of 20 or whatever; we know all that stuff. What do you do about it? It’s just like any other past – what do you do about your past? Nothing … Let it go and coach for the moment.”
The Jays are one of the best offensive teams in the country and slowing them down will be a tough task for the Huskers.
“They push the ball,” sophomore point guard Glynn Watson Jr. said. “They’ve got guys that can shoot the ball, spread the floor, and then they’ve got a good big man who can finish around the rim well. Maurice Watson finds his guys. Transition defense is going to be big for us, getting back, because they push the ball very well, so that’s a big thing for us is just getting back and making them play halfcourt offense instead of getting open shots and attacking.”
Maurice Watson Jr. is Creighton’s senior point guard and the driving force behind its high-powered attack, according to Miles.
“Mo Watson is a one-man fast break and he is the essence of that transition and that speed,” Miles said. “You have to get to him somehow … He’s such a facilitator too. He impacts the game in a way that’s – his assist rate is like 42 percent, which means for every two shots he takes almost one of them he’s got another assist on the way. He shares the ball so well. He’s so fast. He gets guys to over-help and then he finds the open player right-handed, left-handed, it doesn’t matter. He was a great get. As far as Division I transfers, you can hit or miss, and they hit a home run with him.”
Miles said it is going to take a team effort to slow Creighton’s Watson down, but Nebraska will need a big game from its own Watson as well. Miles said he doesn’t think Glynn Watson has played his best in the last couple of games but expects to see a bounce-back performance on Wednesday.
“Some guys slump, and some guys after a bad game they have a great game,” Miles said. “That’s what I expect out of Glynn because he’s a competitor and he knows how to get himself back on track. And he’s got great skill and ability; talent, he’s a very talented person and he works hard at his craft.”
Inside, the jays have a home-grown big man in Justin Patton, a redshirt freshman 7-footer from Omaha who is third in the country in field goal percentage.
“He appears to have all the qualities the NBA would love,” Miles said about Patton. “You look at his ability to run the floor, he’s fast. It helps that he doesn’t miss a shot and gets high-quality shots. He’s really, I think, got a bright future. His development has been terrific. You look at a kid when he was a junior in high school he probably didn’t average 10 points a game or whatever it was … He’s done a great job and those guys have done a great job developing him even further.’’
Miles also praised the other Omaha native in Creighton’s starting lineup, sophomore guard Khyri Thomas.
Creighton likes to play fast, but Glynn Watson said the Huskers aren’t going to change what they do.
“We’re going to stay with our game plan and run,” Watson said. “I don’t think we’re going to change our game plan. We just have to adapt to what we need to do and do good things on defense.”
Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. on Wednesday night and the game will be shown on BTN. Nebraska native Kevin Kugler along with analyst Stephen Bardo will be on the call.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.