There's no better way to get set for conference play - play that starts at 2:00 PM tomorrow, by the way, so read the Rumble game preview and how to watch, and set your out-of-office message accordingly if you have to work - than a Q and A with the opposing team's site.
Yes, St. John's opens up Big East play against the Creighton Bluejays, still the new guys in this new and improved Big East. Two seasons ago Creighton departed from the Missouri Valley Conference and joined the "Catholic 7" in a brand new basketball league.
Last season was a down year for the program but their recent success should not be discounted; they're very good and well-coached. Since 2000, Creighton has been to 9 NCAA Tournaments, appeared in 4 NIT Tournaments, also appearing in one CIT and CBI Tournament.
For tomorrow's Creighton game, we have Patrick from White and Blue Review helping us out with some notes about the Creighton Bluejays, who come east from Omaha, Nebraska to Carnesecca. Thanks to Patrick, and check out their site for our responses to their questions. And hat tip to Brendan for getting the ball rolling on our side!
Rumble: How has the emergence of Geoff Groselle helped this Creighton team?
It honestly has been huge! He is the great example of working hard over the long term will pay off in the end. Through Groselle's first three seasons on the team (including his redshirt year) he suffered through numerous injuries with his feet, Achilles and other odd things. He played sparingly his first two eligible seasons. Compared to other big guys going through the program during those years (Gregory Echenique and Will Artino) and the emergence of using forwards at the center position (Ethan Wragge), it looked like Groselle would be just a placeholder that didn't work out.
However in the middle of last season, and especially into Big East play, Groselle started to emerge in the post, holding his own against the Big East big men and gave some stability down low. Now in his senior season, he is producing at a rate and putting some moves on opponents that many did not expect. In the past two games, Groselle has led the Bluejays in scoring and has gone an amazing 16 of 17 from the field. His continued growth and demand by opponents to work on stopping him will open up a lot more outside shots from the Bluejay guards.
Rumble: What did teams like Loyola Chicago and Indiana do to slow down the high-powered Bluejays offense?
Both the Indiana and Loyola games were completely different games. Indiana was bad from the beginning as the Bluejays ran into a buzzsaw of experience on the road while they were only a couple games into the season with a ton of new faces. Maurice Watson was only in his third game in a Creighton uniform, sitting out last season after transferring from Boston University, and played a gear a little bit too fast for his teammates, but not too fast for the Indiana defense. Early foul trouble for Watson was also a factor. It was totally a team effort in that loss, but with Watson as the anointed leader of the team, his play is what everyone remembers from that game.
As for the game at Loyola, it is hard to tell whether it was Loyola that really messed up the Bluejays or if they were still smarting from the loss at home against Arizona State just a few days before. Creighton had blown an almost double digit lead at halftime against the Sun Devils in the first few minutes of the second half and the defense was like swiss cheese for the first part of the second half.
By the time the dust settled, Creighton had lost the battle and missed opportunities at the end to still win the game. That seemed to carry over into the game at Loyola as head coach Greg McDermott tried every option off the bench to create a spark. But the cold shooting and Loyola's ability to slow down the game were the main factors in that loss.
Is there one under the radar player that the St. John's should watch out for on Thursday? And why?
He may not fly under the radar as much as everyone would like, but look out for Khyri Thomas to turn heads this season. The hype coming into the season were Watson and Cole Huff as transfers, but it has been the freshman Thomas that has fans excited.
Thomas has improved each game during the non-conference season and has toyed with triple-double type of stats the past few games. Coming into the season, he was mentioned more for his defense, (he is referred to as Tazz, like the cartoon character Tasmanian Devil) but has been able to score when needed and gets rebounds and streaks down the court like another point guard. He has a bright future in a Creighton uniform.
What must St. John's do well to defeat the Creighton Bluejays? What are the weaknesses of this Creighton team?
St. John's really just needs to shoot well and score points. Creighton has a tendency to want to outscore opponents rather than play a grind it out, lock down type of defense. Opponents are scoring almost 76 points a game. In a lot of situations that will win games for opponents if Creighton is not on in the scoring department.
The other weakness is foul trouble to key players. Watson and Huff have had some foul issues during the non-conference season along with a couple others from game to game. Losing those players to the bench is not good for the Bluejay scoring strategy with Watson distributing the ball and Huff taking the 3, or getting his mid-range shots to go.
Besides behind the arc, what are some ways Creighton looks to score? Do the Bluejays like to run out in transition, run pick and roll sets, or penetrate and attack the basket?
Creighton likes to run. A majority of their points come in transition and the ability to apply some pressure after made baskets. They may fall in love with the three-pointer at times, but they have the athletes this season that like to drive to the hoop more often than in the past. Then with Groselle in the post ready to go, a large part of their scoring strategy is to get him going early in the game.
What are your expectations for the Bluejays heading into Big East play? How do you expect them to fare against the stiff Big East competition this season?
I had some great expectations for the Bluejays heading into the season, but then looking up and down the conference, the conference is just stacked this season. To be real honest, this opening game against St. John's on the road is absolutely huge. If the Bluejays want to be successful and be in the top half of the conference, it is games like this one at St. John's that Creighton needs to win, plain and simple. They need the confidence after last year's conference start to get the train rolling and to steal some games they might not get later.
Having Villanova, Georgetown, and Providence at home very early in the schedule, the Bluejays have to get the win on Thursday against the Johnnies to have the confidence to take these other teams out along with the fact that 4 of the final 6 games in Big East Conference season are on the road. Winning early is key.
What is your final prediction for Thursday's game?
I think Creighton is riding a great wave of confidence right now. I feel Mullin is under a lot of pressure to win his first conference game, but St. John's as a team isn't ready to take that step yet. Creighton will come out with all kinds of fire and will get things going. Their defense will actually step up in this one and hold St. John's back. Conference play in general will bring scoring down.
It definitely won't be a blowout, but I see Creighton winning this one 76-65, starting their conference season this year on the right foot..