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No. 8 Creighton at Butler: Players to watch, three keys to victory
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No. 8 Creighton at Butler: Players to watch, three keys to victory

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The Jays (10-2, 6-1) are on a six-game winning streak but they’re set to travel to an arena where they haven’t had much success lately. On Saturday they're at Butler, which has won its past three home games against CU by an average of 17.3 points. Creighton hopes this one ends differently.

When: 1 p.m. Saturday

Where: Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indianapolis

TV: FS1

Radio: 1620 AM KOZN

Online: Fox Sports

Butler info

2020-21 Record: 3-7, 2-5 Big East

NET ranking: 167th (CU: 14th)

Coach: LaVall Jordan, fourth season

Offense ranking (KenPom): 118th (CU: 7th)

Defense ranking (KenPom): 87th (CU: 31st)

Outlook: It’s been a tough start to the season for the Bulldogs. They were out for almost a month due to COVID-19. They’ve dealt with injuries to key players. They knew all along that they’d be relying on newcomers to play key roles and there’s been an adjustment period. But Butler has shown flashes of potential — like the near-upset of Seton Hall on Jan. 2 when it went 11 of 22 from 3-point range.

Recent history vs. CU: The Jays beat Butler 81-59 in last year’s final meeting but Creighton hasn’t won at Hinkle since 2017.

Three players to watch

Senior guard Aaron Thompson (#2) — He’s quick with the dribble and aggressive on the drive. So it’s difficult to keep from going downhill against you. Because of his ability to create (for himself and others), he’s an integral part of Butler’s offense. Thompson’s also one of the league’s best perimeter defenders.

Senior forward Bryce Nze (#10) — A versatile big man. He can work for deep position and post you up. He can also put the ball on the floor with his face-up game. He’s 5 of 14 from 3-point range on the year. And he’s good at drawing fouls and getting to the free-throw line.

Senior guard Jair Bolden (#52) — He’s been Butler’s best shooter (43.1% from 3-point range). And he doesn’t need much space. He’ll hit guarded jumpers, one-dribble pull-ups and off-balance tries from deep. But since he’s 12 of 38 (31.6%) inside the arc so far this year, the Jays will surely attempt to run him off the line.

Three keys for Creighton

1. Push the pace: Butler doesn’t want a track meet. It’ll hold the ball and eat clock offensively, hoping to grind down the game flow to where it feels like a slugfest. The Bulldogs’ average possession length is 19.4 seconds, which ranks 331st nationally, according to KenPom. Creighton can’t get lulled into playing at a slower pace when it has the ball. Plus, trying to score before Butler’s normally stingy defense gets set is always a preferred strategy for CU in this matchup.

2. Protect the paint: The easiest solution here is to guard the dribble and play solid post-up defense to prevent the ball from even reaching the paint. But that’s difficult against the Bulldogs, who’re intentional about trying to attack inside. You’d rather not to bring help against them — because they’re especially good at making quick interior passes when they collapse the defense. But then again, they can win one-on-one matchups inside. The Jays just have to be sharp. Seal off paths to the rim, whether your man has the ball or not.

3. Maintain your edge: Creighton just had a week off. There’s some uncertainty at point guard due to injuries. The Jays are playing against a team tied for eighth place in the Big East standings (with rematches against Providence and UConn looming). So there are some built-in excuses CU could reference if things don’t go well Saturday. But that’s not a standard Creighton wants to set. It’s in a Big East title race and it has goals of making a deep run in March. Now’s not the time to let up.

Predictions

ESPN’s BPI: Creighton’s win probability is 84.1%

KenPom: Creighton wins, 75-66

Jon Nyatawa’s take: The Jays had two of their better offensive performances of the season last week. If they can move the ball like that again Saturday, they should be able to create more than enough high-percentage looks to build a lead against Butler. I’ll take CU to win 74-60.

Omaha World-Herald: Local Sports

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