Creighton has a pretty good idea of what's in store in Wednesday night's game against Marquette.
The always physical Golden Eagles will probably try to ratchet up the physicality in an attempt to pick up a marquee win in their quest to find their way to the NCAA tournament bubble.
“Tomorrow night could resemble a wrestling match more than a basketball game,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.
In the past, that might have been a recipe for disaster for McDermott's team, which had a reputation for being more finesse than fighter. But trading elbow and body blows through 13 games of a Big East schedule appears to have toughened up the Bluejays.
They aren't about to back down when opponents start to play rough.
“A big question mark coming into the year was how were we going to handle the day-in and day-out physical nature of Big East play,” Creighton guard Jahenns Manigat said. “I think we've all gotten used to it.”
“We've seen a lot of physical play,” he said. “That's just the nature of this league. As I watch other leagues on TV, I think our league is just as physical as any in the country.
“You're not going to change it, so you better figure out how to adapt and how to execute through that physicality.”
The Bluejays have adapted quite well, winning 11 of their first 13 Big East games to grab a share of first place. Villanova, which won at Providence in two overtimes Tuesday night, also is 11-2 with the stretch run approaching.
Creighton's 21-4 overall record has helped the Bluejays grab the No. 11 spot in the Associated Press rankings. That makes them the kind of prize that a team such as Marquette could use to help salvage what has been a somewhat disappointing season.
Tagged as the preseason Big East favorite, Marquette brings a 15-10 record into the 7 p.m. game at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee. The Golden Eagles are tied for third with Xavier, but they've needed a three-game winning streak to climb out of the league's second division.
The Golden Eagles went six weeks without back-to-back victories. That kind of streak can leave a team playing desperate basketball heading into the last third of the league schedule.
In fact, desperate is the word Marquette coach Buzz Williams used to describe his team's situation with six Big East games remaining. But Williams can see that the Golden Eagles have company with teams such as St. John's, Providence and Georgetown.
“I think there is a group of teams that by the time we get to New York will have solidified themselves one way or another,” Williams said. “I think this year, more so than any year that I've been in the league, that there are more teams trying to figure out what they need to do to put themselves in a concrete position for NCAA play.
“It's a higher percentage than in the past, partly because the league is smaller, but partly because those teams are beating up on one another. That leaves everyone looking at where they might be able to get ahead.”
Marquette came through the first half of league play 4-5 but has used wins over Butler, Seton Hall and Xavier to create hope for a second-half turnaround.
Meanwhile, Creighton has its sights set on winning the championship in its first season of Big East competition. The Bluejays picked up a crucial win Sunday when they defeated Villanova 101-80 to sweep the season series with the Wildcats.
Villanova's win at Providence on Tuesday does leave the Wildcats with one slight advantage: Four of their final games will be played at home. The Marquette game is one of three on the road for Creighton in the last weeks of league play.
The Bluejays also will visit Xavier on March 1 and Georgetown on March 4. Creighton's remaining home games are Sunday against Seton Hall and March 8 against Providence.
With the exception of the Seton Hall contest, all of Creighton's remaining games are against teams in dire need of wins to enhance their postseason profiles.
“We know teams that are on the bubble have an urgency that is going to be higher because every game is going to be important to them,” Creighton guard Grant Gibbs said. “At the other end of the spectrum, we're trying to win a conference championship, so every game for us is equally important. “
The Bluejays know their first-place standing puts a target on their backs.
“Then you add to it the fact that there's a sense of desperation for some of the teams we're playing,” McDermott said. “We're going to see everything that they have in terms of energy and effort, and I think you probably get some new wrinkles thrown at us.
“These are must-win games for a lot of these teams we're playing the rest of the way.”