Published Friday, January 17, 2014 at 10:53 pm / Updated at 9:25 pm
basketball | 7:07 p.m. Saturday
Creighton staying on guard against unfamiliar Providence
Creighton at Providence
When: 7:07 p.m. Saturday
Where: Dunkin' Donuts Center, Providence, R.I.
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 1620 AM KOZN

CREIGHTON (15-2, 5-0)
F Doug McDermott, 6-8, Sr., 25.2
F Ethan Wragge, 6-7, Sr., 11.9
G Austin Chatman, 6-0, Jr., 7.5
G Avery Dingman, 6-6, Jr., 3.4
G Jahenns Manigat, 6-1, Sr., 7.9

PROVIDENCE (12-5, 2-2)
F Kadeem Batts, 6-9, Sr., 12.8
F LaDontae Henton, 6-6, Jr., 12.8
F Tyler Harris, 6-9, So., 13.4
G Bryce Cotton, 6-1, Sr., 20.2
G Josh Fortune, 6-5, So., 6.3

Providence leads the series 6-4 and is 4-1 on its homecourt. The teams have not played since 2000.

Creighton forward Ethan Wragge, who has made at least two 3-pointers in his last 13 games, needs eight points to reach 1,000 for his career. The last Bluejay to have a similar streak was Kyle Korver, who ended his career in 2003 with 13 such games. Creighton started the week as the national leader in 3-pointers (184), 3-pointers per game (11.5), 3-point percentage (.436) and assists (19.1 per game). The Bluejays also were second in assists-to-turnovers per game (1.77 to 1).

If Doug McDermott scores his season average, he would move into a tie for 23rd place on the NCAA's all-time scoring chart. McDermott enters in 25th place with 2,644 points. Former Navy star David Robinson is 23rd with 2,669 points, while Oklahoma's Wayman Tisdale is 24th at 2,661 points.

Creighton's status as one of the new kids on the Big East block provides the No. 20 Bluejays with some advantages in early-season conference play.

First, league opponents are struggling to keep up defensively as they get their first look at Doug McDermott and CU's offense. Creighton has averaged 82 points in winning its first five games in the Big East.

Second, the Bluejays' newness with the reconfigured conference keeps them from overlooking any opponent, as might be the case with Saturday night's game at Providence. Creighton is coming off two emotional victories at home and faces a Monday showdown at sixth-ranked Villanova.

“In the past, this might be a trap game,” McDermott said, referring to the 7:07 p.m. meeting with the Friars at the Dunkin' Donuts Arena in Providence, R.I. “This is a whole new deal for us and a team we haven't seen.

“It makes it exciting and not as much of a grind. We could easily be celebrating right now but we have a tough opponent coming up right now. We're going to a new environment, and it should be pretty exciting.”

Creighton relies heavily on McDermott to set the tone, whether it's playing home or away. The two-time All-American is second nationally in scoring with a 25.2 average. In the Bluejays' five league games, the 6-foot-8 forward is averaging a Big East-best 26.2 points.

An even more amazing statistic is that McDermott has scored 158 points before checking out of a game for the first time. That's covered 145 minutes, 45 seconds of court time, meaning he has scored 1.08 points per minute to start games.

As valuable as McDermott has been to Creighton, senior guard Bryce Cotton has been equally key to Providence. Cotton ranks second in the league in scoring with a 20.2 average, and he leads the Big East with an average of 5.8 assists per game.

Cotton just missed a triple-double in Thursday's 84-83 double-overtime victory over St. John's: 21 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. His basket with 9 seconds left in the second overtime decided the game.

“Bryce Cotton is as good of a scorer as there is in our conference,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “He's so fast with the basketball. He's a very good 3-point shooter and he can get into the paint. He's got the floaters and everything else that goes with it.

“Because you have to pay so much attention to him, he makes everyone else on his team better. He creates a lot of opportunities for himself, and he creates a lot of opportunities for his teammates.”

In watching videotape, McDermott said, Cotton reminds him of Arizona State's Jahii Carson, whom the Bluejays have faced each of the past two seasons. Carson scored 30 points against them last season in the championship game of the Las Vegas Invitational.

Creighton did a much better job against Carson this season in the opening game of the Wooden Legacy tournament. The Bluejays held Carson to 15 points on 5 of 12 shooting.

Austin Chatman drew the primary responsibility of guarding Carson this season. Chatman likely will draw the opening defensive assignment against Cotton.

“The similarities I see between Carson and Cotton are that they're both really quick and they both like to shoot the ball,” Chatman said. “Other than that, Cotton is kind of his own man out there.

“He's a very good guard, and we're going to have to really execute our game plan in order to try to stop him.”

Like Creighton, Providence has shown itself to be more than a one-man gang. Three other players — forwards Tyler Harris, LaDontae Henton and Kadeem Batts — are averaging between 12.8 and 13.4 points per game.

The Friars rank second in the Big East in offensive rebounding, averaging 13.3 per game. They lead the nation in free-throw shooting, making 80.1 percent from the line.

“We have to figure out a way to guard them without fouling,” Greg McDermott said. “Defending the ball screen is going to be critical against them, and we also have to keep them off the offensive glass.”

Thursday's win against the Red Storm evened the Friars' Big East record at 2-2. One of the league losses was an 81-80, double-overtime setback against Seton Hall. That is Providence's only home loss this season.

“They're 8-1, and they probably shouldn't have lost the one they lost,” McDermott said.

The degree of difficulty in Saturday's assignment has kept the Bluejays from sneaking a peek at Monday's game against Villanova, a contest that matches the league's lone ranked teams.

“We have not said one word, one sentence about Villanova,” McDermott said. “We know what we're up against with Providence.”

Contact the writer: Steven Pivovar    |   402-679-2298    |  

Steven Pivovar is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and primarily covers Creighton athletics and the College World Series.

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