Feb. 14, 2014
By Sean Brennan
Special to BIGEAST.com
Who says you have to wait until tournament time in March for a flurry of can’t-miss matchups?
The BIG EAST and FOX Sports 1 will be hand-delivering a splendid double-dip to you on Sunday, February 16 with a pair of games stretching from Omaha to the Big Apple.
The headliner will come at 5 p.m. Eastern when Greg McDermott’s No. 18 Creighton squad, led by super senior Doug McDermott, plays host to No. 6 Villanova at what is expected to be a raucous CenturyLink Center. Hey, the undercard is a must-see as well, as sizzling-hot St. John’s will entertain a surging Georgetown team that has won four straight after its Monday night victory over Providence.
You may remember, though Villanova fans have tried to forget, the first matchup this season between the Wildcats and Bluejays was a decidedly one-sided affair as Creighton dropped a BIG EAST-record 21 3-balls on Nova back on January 20 at the Wells Fargo Center on its way to a 96-68 romp.
This time around, the stakes are a little higher as just a half-game separates the two teams in the standings with Villanova (22-2, 10-1 BIG EAST) holding the slimmest of margins over the Bluejays (20-4, 10-2). But despite both teams' proximity to the conference penthouse, Greg McDermott is looking at this as a must-win for Creighton.
“If we don’t want this to be a one-horse race (in the conference) then we need it to be the game of the year for us because if Villanova gets a two-game lead with five games to play they’ll be pretty tough to catch,” McDermott said.
When asked which Villanova team he expects to show up Sunday – one seeking revenge or one still scarred from his 28-point drubbing in Philly – McDermott wouldn’t make a prediction. But he did have a theory.
“I don’t worry too much about what other teams are doing,” McDermott said. “I worry about my own team. But obviously if our team was in that situation we’d be chomping at the bit to play the next game because you don’t ever want that to happen to you. But we had an incredible game for the ages on the offensive end of the floor (in their first matchup) where we made some difficult shots. We got started early in the game and it never really stopped. But Villanova is an outstanding team, they’re one of the better defensive teams in the league so we’ll have to be on top of our game on both ends of the floor on Sunday.”
Villanova coach Jay Wright said the Wildcats’ lopsided loss taught his teams a valuable lesson.
“It was a great learning experience for us to know that we had to get a lot better defensively,” Wright said. “And we had to get better offensively, believe it or not. We had to find ways on nights when we weren’t making shots, to score. I think it helped us develop our inside game and we’ve worked a lot on our transition defense. I’m still not convinced it’s good enough yet but this is going to be a test.”
The game will feature the top two offensive teams in the conference – Villanova averages 80.7 points a game to Creighton’s 80.0 – as well as the two premier three-point shooting teams. The Bluejays bag an average of 10.4 three-balls a game with the Wildcats netting an average of 9.2.
Expect the three-pointers to be flying again come Sunday.
“That’s how we play and it’s a big part of who we are,” McDermott said. “We stretch the floor with the three-point shot and we play off of that. So we’ll continue to try and get our share of looks.”
Meanwhile, a Lazarus-like rise from the dead is about the best way to describe St. John’s recent turnaround. After starting the season 0-5 in the conference and occupying the BIG EAST basement, the Johnnies have rolled off four straight conference victories and seven of eight overall. The recent surge has the Red Storm sitting pretty at 16-9, at .500 in the BIG EAST at 6-6 and on the cusp of NCAA Tournament conversation.
St. John’s is now tied for fifth in the conference after it snapped a 16-season losing streak at Seton Hall Thursday night with a one-point win and could find itself as high as tied for third in the conference by the end of play Sunday. Talk about your dramatic turnarounds.
Sunday night’s meeting with ancient rival Georgetown (15-9, 6-6) will be the 101st meeting between the two schools. And much like Villanova in its game vs. Creighton, the Johnnies will be looking for a measure of revenge after the Hoyas dismantled St. John’s, 77-60, at the Verizon Center back on January 4.
But before St. John’s and Georgetown get it on at 7 p.m., also on Fox Sports 1, you can watch the BIG EAST’s top dogs do battle in a CenturyLink Center in which the Bluejays have yet to lose this season, sporting a 13-0 home mark.
“We have almost 18,000 fans at every game so that gives you a sense of confidence when you walk in your building,” McDermott said. “We’ve had some games where tickets have been tough to come by like our BIG EAST opener against Marquette and our “Pink-Out” game against Georgetown. But this is as tough a ticket to get as any Creighton game in my tenure. The atmosphere will be off the charts. It will be a fun college basketball environment, one which I think every team aspires to play in.”