Evansville Purple Aces (7-5) at Creighton Bluejays (11-1)
Missouri Valley Conference Game 1/18
Game Time: 7:05 p.m. Saturday
Location: CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb.
Broadcast: 91.5 WUEV, ESPN Full Court, ESPN3.com
Live Coverage: Follow on Twitter (@ECP_Lintner)
Spread: Creighton -15 at Vegas Insider
UE’s Probable Starters: Troy Taylor, Ned Cox, Colt Ryan, Lewis Jones, Egidijus Mockevicius
Creighton’s Probable Starters: Grant Gibbs, Austin Chatman, Jahenns Manigat, Doug McDermott, Gregory Echenique
Last Meeting: Creighton knocked off UE 99-71 at Arch Madness.
Series History: Creighton leads 27-10 all-time (15-2 in Omaha) and won two of three meetings last year. In addition to the conference tournament game, UE upset the Bluejays at the Ford Center and fell in overtime on the road during the regular season. The Aces haven’t won at Creighton since 1999.
Dec. 28: “No better way” for UE to open MVC play than with Creighton
Dec. 27: Cox a proven stopper, scorer for Aces
Dec. 27: Aces on how they’ll defend McDermott
Dec. 27: Creighton looking to fill void left by Jones
Dec. 26: Aces’ freshmen prepare for grind of MVC season
Dec. 25: Aces still seeking consistency
Dec. 24: Lithuanian duo chasing its dreams at UE
Dec. 23: UE still a work in progress heading into MVC play
Dec. 22: Butler holds off late rally by Aces, Ryan
Dec. 21: Jays refusing to rest on their laurels
—As UE begins its 19th Missouri Valley Conference season, the Aces are 136-188 all-time (42 percent) and 7-11 in league openers.
—UE has averaged 73 points in home games this season and 62.5 points on the road. Of course, road contests included games against Notre Dame (then ranked 22nd), Colorado State (receiving votes in national polls) and Butler (then ranked 19th).
—The Aces are 5-0 when out-rebounding opponents this season and 2-5 when they don’t.
—Senior Colt Ryan recorded five steals last Saturday against Butler, moving his career total to 151 — the most in UE’s program history. Reed Jackson held the previous record with 150 steals.
—Ryan also scored a season-high 25 points at Butler and has hit 22 of his 24 free throws this season. The Batesville, Ind., native has averaged 23.3 points a game in seven contests against Creighton. He set career highs in scoring in three of those, most notably a 43-point performance last season at the CenturyLink Center (a building record).
—Sophomore Ryan Sawvell is on the second three-game streak scoring double figures in his career. The 37 cumulative points against Alabama State, Oakland City and Butler mark his top collegiate scoring output across three games.
—Senior Troy Taylor is the only player in the MVC leading his team in rebounding (6.4 a game) and assists (48). Over his last five games, Taylor has averaged 8.2 rebounds.
—Creighton’s All-American junior, Doug McDermott, has earned MVC Player of the Week honors four times already this season. McDermott’s 23.1 points per game add to a Bluejays attack that includes center and leading rebounder Gregory Echenique (7.5 a game) and top assist man Grant Gibbs (6.3 per game).
—While Creighton’s only loss came to Boise State, the Bluejays are perfect in four games against teams from major conferences (Wisconsin, Nebraska, Arizona State and California).
—In Creighton’s 200 minutes played this month (five games), the Bluejays have trailed for a total of 4:21. They haven’t faced a deficit either in two straight games — against California and Tulsa. Creighton went unbeaten in December in both 2003 and 2008.
—Former UE head coach Steve Merfeld (2002-2007) is now on Creighton’s coaching staff as an assistant.
—UE has one win this season over Division I opponent that currently has a winning record. Western Illinois has won seven of its eight games since losing to the Aces and is 9-3 heading into a game Saturday against IPFW.
UE coach Marty Simmons breaks down Creighton: “They’re hard to guard. Obviously they’ve got (Doug) McDermott. He scores it inside, gets to the free throw line, gets to the glass – puts up some astonishing numbers. (Gregory) Echenique is as good as any post player in our conference. (Grant) Gibbs – even though he’s not a point guard, he puts up point guard numbers. It’s just amazing what they’ve got.”
Simmons on what the Bluejays do well: “They’re such a great passing team. They pass the ball extremely well and share the basketball. I’ve noticed their defensive numbers are outstanding. They seem to be guarding very well. You look at their success over the last year and a half, and they’ve been in the top 20 –close to the top 10 – the large majority of that time.”
UE senior Colt Ryan on watching film of last year’s regular-season games against the Bluejays: “What we take from it is just that there was a couple times throughout the game where we have mental lapses – don’t execute the way we want to. Every possession counts. There was a one-point game down at their place where we missed a block out late, and they got a tip-in that would have not even allowed it to go into overtime. It’s just little things like that.”
Creighton coach Greg McDermott on UE’s chances in this game: “It’s very difficult to go on the road in college basketball and win, and obviously Marty’s got a plan and believes in their ability to compete against those types of teams. They start four seniors, and anytime you have a group of guys who have been together that long — who understand the system — you’re talking about a dangerous team.”
McDermott on why the Aces always play his team close: “It starts with the job that Marty (Simmons) does. They’re as well a coached team as any team in our conference. They understand who they are. They run their offense very precisely and don’t turn it over much, so as a result, they get a lot of shots at the basket. And then defensively they make up for what they maybe don’t have in size with their intensity and toughness, and I think that’s all a reflection of the guy on the end of bench.”
Ryan on defending Doug McDermott: “We just have to be aware. We have to know where he’s at on the floor, but really we don’t do anything too different other than put a little more emphasis when someone’s in the post helping on the weak side. We have that built in whenever we play someone, but it’s a little more emphasized against them.”
Outlook: Perhaps Creighton’s game notes put it best: “The Purple Aces have lost to some of the nation’s top teams.” The Aces have still yet to prove they can beat one, and another opportunity comes Saturday. UE and Creighton typically play close games. This will be one against the highest-ranked opponent the Aces have seen all season and likely in front of the largest crowd all season.