GAME NOTES: Both the Marquette Golden Eagles and Creighton Bluejays will begin their first trek through the new-look Big East Conference on Tuesday night, as they square off at CenturyLink Center Omaha.
The Golden Eagles, a holdover from the former Big East, were considered by many to be a favorite in this new rendition. However, they have struggled a bit more than expected, going 8-5 through the non-conference slate, although the losses came against some stiff competition, including nationally-ranked Ohio State, Wisconsin and San Diego State. Marquette will face a more familiar conference foe next time out, when it hosts DePaul.
Once the bully of the Missouri Valley Conference, Creighton is now adjusting to life in a bigger spotlight. The early returns, at least in non-league play, have been good, with the Bluejays sitting at 10-2 entering play on Tuesday. A 90-58 victory over Chicago State on Sunday pushed them to a fifth straight win. Next up, Creighton visits Seton Hall on Saturday.
Even though these teams are not familiar as league foes, there is a fair amount of history between them. Marquette owns a 48-28 series advantage, which includes an 80-68 win in the most recent meeting, which occurred in the first round of the 1998 NIT.
Marquette didn't have a particularly challenging task in its final non- conference game, as it dispatched Samford by a wide margin (71-48) on Saturday. The Golden Eagles did not have a single starter score in double figures but, led by 14 from JaJuan Johnson, got 50 points from the bench.
The win also featured another fine defensive performance from the Golden Eagles, who are holding foes to a mere 61.5 ppg and 38.5 percent shooting. Each of those marks ranks among the top-25 in the country. Marquette limited Samford to 41.7 percent shooting. The Golden Eagles are used to relying on scoring from their reserves. Davante Gardner (13.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg) was the Sixth Man of the Year in the Big East last season, and has continued to be a critical piece off the bench, leading the team in scoring. Jamil Wilson (11.7 ppg) is the only other player averaging in double figures, although Todd Mayo (9.6 pg) is performing well in just 20 minutes per game as a reserve.
Ethan Wragge buried five shots from beyond the arc and Doug McDermott added four as the Bluejays erupted from 3-point range to blow past Chicago State. Creighton knocked down 16-of-25 attempts from beyond the arc, part of a 56.3 percent overall shooting performance.
The Bluejays also play well defensively, keeping teams to just 65.2 ppg and an even 40 percent shooting. They are a more impressive offensive unit than the Golden Eagles though, netting 82.9 ppg and shooting 49.3 percent from the floor. Creighton also ranks third in the nation in assists (18.8 pg). McDermott (24.8 ppg, 7.3 rpg) is of course the big name on the roster. The senior forward not only leads the team in scoring, but ranks second nationally as well, all the while topping Creighton in rebounds as well. Wragge (12.4 ppg) has served admirably as a second option, with no other player averaging in double figures.
At times Marquette can go ice cold on offense. That is not usually an issue for Creighton, which should start off its first season in its new league with a win.
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