Cal Goes For the Upset Against Creighton

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Saddle up, Cal fans. We're on the road in search of big game this weekend. For our Xmas feast, we're hoping to bring down some...Bluejays.

Cute little songbirds, these are not; they have nasty, big, pointy teeth.

The Creighton Bluejays are loaded with talented upperclassmen including a national player of the year candidate in All-American forward Doug McDermott. They are one of the best half court offenses that we will face this year with top-10 national rankings in eFG%, 3FG%, assists per FG, and points from 3-pointers.

They're not quite so formidable defensively, however. Without a shot-blocking presence, the Bluejays focus instead on playing fundamental position-based defense. They don't gamble for steals and rarely foul, but will contest shots and are very disciplined about boxing out.

In their two losses this year, San Diego State was able to out run n' gun them in a high scoring affair. The upset to George Washington was more of a head-scratcher. McDermott was ice-cold and the rest of the team just didn't have enough firepower. It perhaps goes without saying that the odds of McDermott having another off night while playing on his home court are not favorable.

There's a quality win against a top-25 opponent to be had, but we've got some uphill sledding to do if we're going to earn it.

Projected Starters:

C Will Artino(Jr), 6'11, 230 lbs, 6.6 ppg, 2.9 rpg
F Doug McDermott(Sr), 6'8, 225 lbs, 24.4 ppg, 6.8 rpg
G Grant Gibbs(Sr), 6'5, 210 lbs, 5.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 4.2 apg
G Jahenns Manigat(Sr), 6'1, 180 lbs, 5.6 ppg, 2.4 apg
G Austin Chatman(Sr), 6'0, 180 lbs, 8.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 4.5 apg

Bench:

F Ethan Wragge(Sr), 6'7, 225 lbs, 12.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg
G Devin Brooks(Jr), 6'2, 175 lbs, 9.9 ppg, 4.5 rpg
G Avery Dingman(Jr), 6'6, 215 lbs, 2.8 ppg, 1.5 rpg
G Isaiah Zierden(Fr), 6'2, 180 lbs, 3.9 ppg, .8 rpg

Will Artino is a huge downgrade from last year's beast in the middle, Gregory Echenique. He'll play some defense and get an opportunistic basket here or there. Doug McDermott can flat out score from anywhere. He shot an amazing 49% from beyond the arc last year while also displaying perhaps the most impressive array of interior moves in college basketball. He's not going to over-power or out-jump you. He just knows how to play the game better than anyone else on the court. Grant Gibbs was given a 6th year of eligibility and provides that super senior leadership. He can score, but is most dangerous when he passes while slashing to the basket. Manigat is primarily a three-point specialist who benefits from all the attention drawn by McDermott and Gibbs. Chatman runs the point and is another versatile threat with his outside shooting and ball-handling. Brooks and Wragge actually average more minutes than their starting center as firepower off the bench. In particular, Wragge is absolutely deadly from his favorite spot in the deep corner; he's shooting a mildly absurd 51% from three.

Keys to the Game:

1) Get out and run

As much as I wanted to write "deny dribble penetration and cover the shooters," I just don't see us beating Creighton in a half court game. They're too precise and their strengths coincide with our weaknesses.

2) Deny dribble penetration and cover the shooters

Sorry, couldn't resist. It'll be interesting to see how Monty plays their screen and roll game. Creighton likes to use McDermott and Wragge in high screen action. Going under gives up a deep jumper, and switching results in mis-matches.

3) Attack McDermott inside

McDermott doesn't reach, foul, or block shots. He's going to move his feet and keep his hands straight up. If you can work for deep position and be patient with gathering yourself, you should be able to get good looks.

4) Switch defenses on McDermott

Their star has seen every manner of defense and still manages to put up big numbers with alarming consistency. That being said, you have your choice of the applicable cliches: "make him a volume shooter," "force the other guys to beat you," or even "let him get his, don't let the other guys beat you." Expect Monty to mix things up. One of his favorite tactics in past seasons to counter a dominant post player was to use a second "Monster" big on a quick double team. Solo has the strength and athleticism to make McDermott work for his points. But he and Kravish both need to be smart about not picking up cheap fouls. Perhaps easier said than done.

The venerable kenpom gives us a 23% chance of pulling the upset. Ha! Never tell us the odds...


Go Bears!

Tip-off: Sunday, December 22 at 4:00 pm
TV: Fox Sports 1
Radio: 810AM

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