Fresh off an upset win over No 14 Minnesota, Nebraska (7-3) will make the short trip up I-80 on Saturday to take on in-state rival Creighton (6-2).
The Bluejays have won six straight meeting to even the all-time series at 25-25.
Coach Tim Miles, 0-12 in head-to-head match-ups with Creighton’s Greg McDermott including 0-5 against him with the Huskers, said he’s trying not to make too big a deal out of the game as only three players on Nebraska’s roster — including Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland — have even played Creighton more than once.
However, the players understand the situation.
“We came off a big win so we came into practice kind of nonchalant, I guess you could say, and Coach Miles, he was’t having any of that,” sophomore forward Isaiah Roby said. “He’s ready to go. He’s fired up. He wants to beat those guys bad and we do too.”
Seats have already sold out for Saturday’s game and standing room only tickets are all that remain. The Huskers are expecting a packed house and a raucous atmosphere at CenturyLink Center Omaha.
“This will be my first game at Creighton so I’m hoping it will be a good one,” Roby said. “I’ve heard it’s going to be a fun crowd to play against. It’s a rivalry game, so it’s big for us. It’s almost as important — not conference-wise, but it’s a big game for us. I’m looking forward to competing with them and hopefully come out on top.”
The Bluejays are averaging 92.5 points this season (fifth in the country) and that figure is in triple digit for home games.
“They’re averaging I think 104 at home, so that’s the first challenge — stopping them from getting 100 points,” Roby said. “I don’t think we’ve scored over 100 this year yet.”
Creighton features one of the most talented backcourts the Huskers will encounter this season and the defensive effort starts by slowing down the guards.
“We have to look at how we can get them under control,” Miles said. “They’ve got four guards who could start for most teams, if you look at it. Those two freshman guards are terrific — [Ty-Shon] Alexander and [Mitchell] Ballock are really, really good. And of course those wings, Khyri [Thomas] and [Marcus] Foster are really strong, powerful wings. They remind me of like a Petteway-Shields kind of duo, and they shoot it better.”
Inside, Martin Krampelj is having a breakout sophomore season (12.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game), point guard Davion Mintz is sporting a 3.3 assist-to-turnover ratio and forward Ronnie Harrell is snagging 7.4 rebounds and dishing out 2.4 assists per game as a stretch-four. Senior Toby Hegner recently returned from a high-ankle sprain as well and is shooting 38.5 percent from 3 at 6-foot-10.
“Their role guys are stars in their role, they play to their role really well, their go-to guys are go-to guys and then they’ve always played solid defense and they’ve really defended us well because we haven’t shot well against them,” Miles said. “We really are going to need a good shooting night from the perimeter. It’s hard to say that, because it’s hard to control.”
The Huskers have shot 40 percent or better from 3-point range in five of their last seven games, but they only shot 6-of-21 against Minnesota on Tuesday.
Roby said it is going to be important for Nebraska to continue to play together throughout the game rather than getting caught up in the moment and trying to do too much individually.
“Just staying in the moment, not letting the crowd get to us, not having anybody try to play hero-ball and take it one-on-one because they play as a team,” Roby said. “They average like 20 assists a game so they’re not going to try to go hero-ball on us, so we can’t do it to them either.”
Junior point guard Glynn Watson Jr., who Creighton also recruited heavily coming out of high school, is coming off of a 29-point, nine-rebound performance against the Golden Gophers and could draw the challenge of reigning co-Big East Defensive Player of the Year Khyri Thomas. However, Miles isn’t worrying too much about what the match-ups will be on Creighton’s side.
“The one thing I try not to get into is dreaming up their match-ups,” Miles said. “Some people get ahead of themselves, but then you start bringing into play situations that don’t exist. I already do that in my own mind enough, so why do more to it? I think were just going to take it as it goes. We know if there’s a bigger, stronger body on him what some of Glynn’s advantages are to that — Glynn can really get separation on anybody, but Khyri is one of the best defenders out there.”
If Thomas does indeed guard Watson and limit his effectiveness, Copeland and junior guard James Palmer Jr. will have to shoulder a heavier offensive load and take advantage of the opportunities they get.
Tipoff on FS1 is set for 1:30 p.m. on Saturday. Justin Kutcher and Nick Bahe will have the call.