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Players to watch, three keys to victory for No. 11 Creighton at Providence
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Players to watch, three keys to victory for No. 11 Creighton at Providence

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Jon Nyatawa discusses the Jays' win over Xavier on Wednesday.

It’ll be a full 10-day break between games by the time the Jays (7-2, 3-1) take the floor against Providence on Saturday. How much rust will they need to shake off? The Friars won’t make it easy on Creighton. They proved to be the toughest matchup for CU last year.

When: 11 a.m. Saturday

Where: Alumni Hall, Providence, Rhode Island

TV: Fox

Radio: 1620 AM KOZN

Online: Fox Sports

Getting to know Providence

2020-21 Record: 7-3, 3-1 Big East

Coach: Ed Cooley, 10th season

Offense ranking (KenPom): 49th (CU: 8th)

Defense ranking (KenPom): 80th (CU: 38th)

Outlook: The Friars seem to be figuring out solutions for their early-season defensive woes, but they’ll find out for sure what's been fixed (and what needs work) Saturday against Creighton's efficient attack. One would presume there's considerable improvement potential for Providence this year. Its rotation is reliant on three transfers, including point guard Jared Bynum (who had 12 points and six assists in maybe his best game of the year against Butler on Wednesday).

Recent history vs. CU: Providence’s 73-56 win on Feb. 5, 2020, snapped a three-game losing streak to Creighton

Three players to watch

Junior guard David Duke (#3) — He can beat you in so many different ways. He can create his own jump shot (40.9% from 3). He’s electric going downhill and his athleticism makes him difficult to stop in close. He knows how to get to the free-throw line (second in the Big East in free-throw attempts).

Senior center Nate Watson (#0) — He’s not sharing playing time at center as much and he’s taking advantage of those extra minutes. Watson’s scoring 19.0 points per game, shooting 62.8% from the floor (76.0% at the line) and grabbing 6.9 rebounds per game. He’s so strong on the block. And he’s more consistent with his mid-range J.

Junior guard A.J. Reeves (#11) — Providence definitely needs him to make shots. Reeves averaged 9.1 points and went 19 of 38 from 3-point range during the Friars’ 8-2 finish to last season. This year? He’s 15 of 54 (27.8%) from long range. Though he has delivered in the clutch.

Three keys for Creighton

1. Push the pace: Providence does look for favorable opportunities to score in transition. And it has a good group of athletes who seem to like playing in the open floor. So maybe Creighton can lure the Friars into a higher-possession game. CU hasn’t been as lethal this year on the break — if CU’s effective field goal percentage in transition (57.4%) stays where it's at, it’ll be the lowest in six years, according to Hoop-Math.com. But that could simply be an execution issue. The Jays think they can be more aggressive early in possessions.

2. Limit fouls: CU has to match Providence’s physicality without going over the line and getting whistled for fouls. Not easy. But this is crucial. For so many reasons. The Jays don’t want the back-and-forth action to be bogged down by trips to the free-throw line, they don’t want their starters (namely Christian Bishop) limited due to foul trouble, and they don’t want Providence (73.2% at the stripe as a team) getting easy scoring opportunities. So Creighton has to be disciplined.

3. Defend the 3: This may seem like a relatively simple task when facing a team that’s made just 27.3% of its 3-pointers this season (295th nationally). Providence’s strength is attacking on the interior. Whether it’s the compact flex offense or one-on-one playmaking. But the challenge is to avoid overcommitting and getting defenders sucked in too far, to where you’re so preoccupied by the interior attacks that you surrender good, in-rhythm looks along the perimeter. Creighton did that at Providence last year and got burned — the Friars went 23 of 48 (47.9%) from long range against CU in two games.

Predictions

ESPN’s BPI: Creighton’s win probability is 59.0%

KenPom: Creighton wins, 75-71

Jon Nyatawa’s take: Does CU need time to get into game shape and build up its stamina again? Will Providence show signs of fatigue in its third game of the week? Hard to know. The final segments of both halves will be interesting in this one. That's probably where the game gets decided. This one feels like a coin toss. I’ll take the Jays, 80-74.

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