St. John's managed to get out of New York before the big snowstorm - okay, sizable but not historic snowstorm - hit the city, and the team is in Omaha, preparing for the Creighton Bluejays.
Here at home, so are we - with a Q and A with the dedicated folks at White and Blue Review covering Creighton, the big athletic attraction in Omaha (aka the "Gateway to the West"), just as the Louisville Cardinals are the big draw in Louisville.
Thanks to Tom for answering our questions, and the responses to their questions from the Rumble are posted on their site. Read White and Blue Review - you'll be glad you did - and follow them on Twitter (@whitebluereview) and on Facebook.
Rumble So I know you guys keep a keen eye on what's happening in the Big East in general. What is your take on the current Big East and the parity in the league?
W&B Review This year's version of the Big East is more along the lines of what Creighton fans expected coming into the league, I think. A very physical, tough, well-balanced league where all ten teams are good enough to win on almost any night.
Parity can be a double-edged sword if your own teams cannibalize one another and you wind up with lots of teams around .500; luckily, the Big East did enough damage in the non-conference that beating up on each other now is seen as good teams beating each other, and not mediocre teams unable to win games. It's fun to watch. I just wish my team would join in on the fun.
Rumble Now focusing on Creighton, what's gone wrong? Why are they winless in the league? Is this something you could have foreseen?
W&B Review What's gone wrong for Creighton?
What hasn't gone wrong! Hahaha.
Since you hit on the offense in the next question, I'll mention a couple of other key reasons here.
One, in several games they've gotten off to horrendous starts (down 15-0 to Villanova on Sunday, 14-4 to Providence, 20-5 to DePaul, all in the first five or six minutes) and then had to spend the rest of the game rallying.
Two, they've had a devil of a time closing out games when they have had the lead (losing on a come-from-behind three with 2.1 seconds left to Seton Hall, on a come-from-behind three with 11 seconds left in the very next game at Marquette, and on a come-from-behind three -- are you sensing a pattern here? -- with 45 seconds left at Butler). That's six of eight conference games where they either fell way behind early, or blew a lead in the final minute. Ouch.
The biggest thing that's gone wrong is that on a team of question marks, the one player they thought they could count on to provide consistent production and leadership has been mired in a six-week slump.
Austin Chatman, their terrific point guard, played a key role in early season wins over Oklahoma and Nebraska, but has stopped doing much of anything offensively. His assists are down, his turnovers are up, and he's not making baskets. He remains a solid defender, though.
Theories abound as to why he's gone into a tailspin; is he worn out from playing 35+ minutes a game, or is he a point guard better suited to set up other players (like he did for two years before this one) rather than taking on the burden of creating for himself? There aren't any answers right now, and it's a big reason they're struggling.
Rumble Is the problem the offense – the inability to just outscore teams? Or is it a change in the defense? I see that Creighton is giving up slightly more three-pointers and opponents are making more three-pointers as well.
W&B Review The offense has been bad.
Defensively, they're worse than a year ago, but not by a huge margin. The difference is they're simply not able to score the basketball, sometimes for long stretches at a time. Period.
A year ago, they shot 41% from three-point range to lead the country; this year, they're shooting 33% from three-point range. That's not terribly shocking, considering what was lost in last year's senior class, but still a bit worse than even the most pessimistic Bluejay fan expected.
In conference play, it's been even worse -- as a team, they're hitting 29% from downtown. It's been a huge source of frustration that they've continued jacking up threes at the same rate they did when they had elite shooters the last three years, but until their team is made up of players recruited to play in the Big East rather than ones recruited for the Missouri Valley, this remains their best shot at winning with this group, for better or worse.
The transition period to the Big East was delayed a year because of Doug McDermott and company; this year is a team, much like Butler a year ago, of mid-major guys playing a major conference schedule. And it shows. Creighton's got some solid recruits coming in, and should be better next year. They're taking their lumps now, though, for sure.
Rumble What's the effect of losing Isaiah Zierden? Is he done for the year?
W&B Review Isaiah Zierden is done for the year, unfortunately. He's their best pure shooter from three-point range, but had been bothered by the knee for a month or so before the injury that ultimately ended his season.
It's the same knee he injured gruesomely last season at Xavier; this time, it's an MCL tear and a damaged patella. When he was totally healthy in November and December, he had better lift on his shot and was quicker off the dribble to get an open look -- he was a dynamic shooter that fans were very excited about.
In conference play, as the knee began bothering him again, he appeared to be a step slower and his shot suffered. Even with his struggles, his reputation kept defenses honest, so he's a huge loss. No question about it.
Rumble If Creighton pulls off a win how will it go down? Who will be the hero?
W&B Review If Creighton is to pull off the win, they probably need St. John's to play horribly AND get a hot shooting night from both James Milliken and Rick Kreklow, two guys that have carried them offensively the last couple of weeks.
Honestly, the Johnnies are better and more athletic at every position, so this should be a 5-8 point win for them. However, it is $1 beer night at CenturyLink Center, so it should be a "festive" atmosphere, for whatever that's worth.