Creighton is well aware of the problems Arizona State guard Jahii Carson will pose in Thursday's meeting at the Wooden Legacy tournament.
The point guard leads the Sun Devils in scoring with a 23-point average. He's already put up 40 points in a victory over UNLV, and he's shooting 54.8 percent from the floor and 56 percent from 3-point range.
“With the new rules, you're not going to stop someone that's as quick as he is,” said Creighton guard Austin Chatman, who will draw the assignment of guarding Carson. “You just have to try to contain him, but he's going to get to the basket.”
As dangerous as that might be, Creighton coach Greg McDermott is as concerned with another matchup that could have an even bigger impact on the game at Cal State Fullerton's Titan Gym.
Jordan Bachynski, the Sun Devils' 7-foot-2 center, is a potential game-changer inside with his ability to block shots, score and rebound. He's posted double-doubles in each of the Sun Devils' six wins, and his blocked shot in the final seconds Monday night preserved Arizona State's 79-77 victory over No. 25 Marquette.
Bachynski is averaging 14 points, 11.8 rebounds and 3.8 blocks per game. Maybe the most impressive number he's posted this season is 39, his minutes played in the win over Marquette.
Early in his career, Bachynski found himself spectating more than he would have preferred because his strength and conditioning levels didn't allow him to play long stretches. That's changed, and the senior from Alberta, Canada, is averaging almost 30 minutes per game this season.
“At no point previously in his career could he have ever played in a game this physical and combative for 39 minutes,” Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said after the Marquette win. “He would need to come out every few minutes, but he has so improved himself that he is able to play at a high level now for much longer periods of time.”
As a freshman, Bachynski averaged 2.8 points and 2.3 rebounds and played an average of 10 minutes. He increased that to 17 minutes per game as a sophomore, when he averaged 6 points and 4 rebounds.
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Bachynski averaged 9.8 points and 5.9 rebounds while playing 25 minutes per game last season. He scored eight points and grabbed two rebounds in the Sun Devils' 87-73 loss to Creighton in the championship game of the Las Vegas Invitational last November.
“I have been saying all year,” Sendek said, “and I think at some point the national media will pick up on it as well: If there is a more improved player over the span of these past four years, I don't know who it is.
“I do know Jordan has to be in the conversation.”
Creighton managed to keep Bachynski in check last season while playing a smaller lineup for long stretches against the Sun Devils. Gregory Echenique, who had the strength to match up with Bachynski, played only 12 minutes because of foul trouble.
Echenique has graduated, which means junior Will Artino will draw the opening assignment against Bachynski. Artino will be giving up three inches and about 20 pounds in the matchup.
Artino has been playing about 16 minutes a game. McDermott hasn't been reluctant to go with a smaller lineup that teams 6-7 senior Ethan Wragge with 6-8 Doug McDermott. Offensively, that pairing causes matchup nightmares because of the ability of both players to shoot from the perimeter.
Wragge has made 56 percent of his team-high 25 3-point attempts, while McDermott is 11 of 22 from beyond the arc. The smaller lineup has worked because the Bluejays have not played a team with a big-bodied inside man as talented as Bachynski.
Nor have they faced a team that can stress a defense in as many ways as Arizona State. It all starts with Carson, the redshirt sophomore who, like Doug McDermott, passed on a chance to move on to professional basketball last spring.
Arizona State lists Carson at 5-10, but even his coaches admit he's probably closer to 5-9. Opponents could try to play bigger defenders against him, but Carson's quickness counteracts that strategy.
“You just have to do the best job you can of staying in front of him,” Chatman said. “This is going to be a good challenge for me and the team, but I think we have a pretty good game plan to try to contain him and try to get the ball out of his hands.”
Carson is averaging 6.3 assists per game, and he's been adept at setting up Jermaine Marshall and Jonathan Gilling on the perimeter. Marshall, who considered Creighton when he was looking to transfer after graduating from Penn State with a season of eligibility remaining, is averaging 16 points and shooting 43.6 percent from 3-point range with a team-high 17 baskets from beyond the arc.
Marshall finished sixth in the Big Ten in scoring last season with a 15.3 average.
“Jermaine gives us a proven, experienced player on the perimeter,” Sendek said. “He has a lot of poise, and he is doing a terrific job providing leadership for our team as well.”
Gilling is 11 of 27 (40.6 percent) from 3-point range and averages 7 points per game.
“They have all the pieces you need to be successful,” Greg McDermott said. “They're a much improved team over a year ago. They have more guys that can really shoot the basketball.”