Butler ready for Big East showdown with Creighton

Kelan Martin is averaging 17.4 points per game for the Bulldogs.
Doug McSchooler/AP

OMAHA, Neb. — When coach Greg McDermott and Creighton’s players were asked about the honor bestowed on the Bluejays’ basketball program Monday, they did not recoil thinking it’s bad to be proud of the highest ranking in school history.

Creighton moved up two spots to No. 8 in both the Associated Press and USA Today coaches polls after victories last week over St. John’s and Providence to improve to 15-1. That’s the highest ranking ever achieved by a Creighton team.

“There’s been a lot of expectations from the start of the season,” McDermott said. “And yet, at least up to this point, we’ve been able to live up and maybe exceed some of those expectations. Obviously, it’s more meaningful in two months, but it’s a nice honor for our program.”

McDermott said the players gave themselves a cheer in the locker room before practice Monday. They also realize that one bad stretch can make people quickly forget about that accomplishment.

“Our thought for today was ego is the drug of stupidity,” McDermott said. “We explained exactly what that means. You just have to understand that it’s nice to have people patting you on the back and congratulate you, but at the same time there’s been a reason we’ve been able to get where we are.”

That’s why the Jays have been hard at work preparing for Wednesday’s 8 p.m. CST home game against No. 12 Butler that is scheduled to be televised on Fox Sports 1. After all, the Bulldogs did something Creighton wasn’t able to do a few days earlier — upset previous No. 1-ranked Villanova.

The Bluejays fell 80-70 to the now No. 3-ranked Wildcats on New Year’s Eve. On Jan. 4 Butler handed Villanova its first loss, a 66-58 home victory that set off a Hinkle Fieldhouse celebration.

McDermott said the Bluejays know if they want to get back on the winning track at CenturyLink Center Wednesday, they need to find ways to stay hot offensively and put pressure on a smothering Butler defense.

“They do a great job of stopping you in transition and that’s where it kind of starts with them,” McDermott said. “They’re going to defend you. They don’t make a lot of fundamental mistakes defensively. They’re very true to what they do, and you have to earn it.

“We just have to make sure on the defensive end that we make them earn it as well. Those eight or nine mistakes that we made against Villanova could have made the difference. We have to show from Villanova to Butler that we can clean some of those game prep-type mistakes up.”

Creighton is still one of the nation’s most powerful offensive teams, averaging 87.5 points per game (11th nationally) while leading the country in field-goal percentage (53.7) and fifth nationally from 3-point range (42.1).

The 14-2 Bulldogs simply don’t give up those kinds of numbers. Opponents have made just 42.1 percent of their field-goal attempts this season and have shot a paltry 29.9 percent from 3-point land.

Butler has two starters averaging in double figures — forwards Kelan Martin (17.4) and Andrew Chrabascz (11.9). Both players are averaging five rebounds per game, as is forward Tyler Wideman.

Both McDermott and Creighton guard Marcus Foster said a focused approach at both ends of the court is necessary for the Bluejays to begin this stretch of three games in six days on the right note.

“Butler’s got some physical players,” McDermott said. “Defensively we’ve progressed. We’re a much better defensive team than we were a month ago, and for us to get where we want to get in the postseason and in the Big East tournament, we’re going to have to be better a month from now.”

After Wednesday’s game, Creighton hosts Truman State on Saturday in its final nonconference game of the season before traveling to Cincinnati to play No. 15 Xavier on Monday.

Foster said he watched the second half of Butler’s win over Villanova and was impressed with how they stuck to their style of play and didn’t get rattled by the Wildcats.

“I like how Butler played that,” Foster said. “They played disciplined and kept playing their game. Even when Villanova made that run, they stuck with it.”

While the success to this point has been nice, Foster said the Bluejays have a long way to go.

“It definitely makes us feel good as a program,” Foster said. “We have to go back to work and keep grinding so we can get even higher. With this team, we want so much more, and it just motivates everybody to keep working harder and harder every day.”

After its home victory over Villanova, Butler had to struggle to get past Georgetown 85-76 in Washington on Saturday.

“It wasn’t always like we wanted it to be, but much like it is on the road in most situations, you’re going to have to weather that,” Butler coach Chris Holtmann said.

The Bulldogs face a tougher road challenge in Creighton, and they will need scoring from a number of players.

“I think that’s why our team is special,” Kethan Savage said. “We come out and believe in each other. We know everyone has the ability to make plays.”