Men’s Basketball: Wildcats face crucial nonconference test against Creighton


David Lee/The Daily Northwestern

Gavin Skelly defends on the perimeter. The senior forward will play a key role in defending Creighton’s pace and space attack.

Joseph Wilkinson, Assistant Sports Editor

Men’s Basketball

Pace, space and a ton of threes. Those are the hallmarks of the NBA now, but they’re also the defining characteristics of Northwestern’s next opponent.

Last season, Creighton (2-0) finished top-20 in 3-point percentage, took 22 threes per game and finished top-50 in adjusted tempo. For the No. 20 Wildcats, (2-0) who haven’t faced a stiff defensive test during their first two games, it will be a significant change of pace.

“We’re going to have to be really locked in defensively,” coach Chris Collins said. “I know they’re a really good team. … I know they push the ball. I know they score a lot of points and like to play fast.”

NU, on the other hand, ranked in the bottom half of the country in 3-point percentage and in adjusted tempo last season. On Monday, the Cats squared off against another team that played at a slow pace, taking down St. Peter’s 75-66.

While the Peacocks didn’t pack a scoring punch, the Bluejays certainly will. Though they lost two of their top three scorers from last season, that hasn’t stopped them from putting up 92 and 109 points in their first two games.

That effort has been catalyzed by senior guard Marcus Foster, who led the team in scoring in 2016-17 and has put up 23 points in each of the first two games. He’s joined by junior guard Khyri Thomas, who dropped 22 points in the season opener and averaged 12.3 points per game last year.

“They have two really good wings,” senior guard Bryant McIntosh said. “Their offense is something that can really get after you and make you play on your heels. I would compare their speed and how fast they play to Indiana.”

So far this year, Creighton is playing even faster than last season, and the team hasn’t stopped its barrage of threes, taking 33 in its most recent game and making 16.

Three of the Bluejays’ starters have made a 3-pointer in both games this season, and that spread-the-floor style will likely challenge the Cats’ big starting lineup, which has featured senior forward Gavin Skelly at power forward in the first two games.

While Skelly thrived against St. Peter’s, he struggled in the season-opener against Loyola Maryland and has had issues in the past against teams that can space the floor.

“Not having (sophomore forward) Aaron (Falzon) right now puts a lot of pressure on Gavin,” Collins said. “While he’s out, it puts a little bit more on Gavin’s plate.”

While Creighton was ranked as high as No. 7 last season, the departure of Maurice Watson and Justin Patton from the team, along with its first round exit from the NCAA Tournament last season, has left the Bluejays unranked to open the year.

Instead, it’s the Cats who opened the season ranked and with a target on their back.

“We’re not trying to hunt down the big-time teams,” Skelly said. “They’re trying to come after us. … This is a big staple game for them, for a lot of programs. So we know that teams are going to give everything they can no matter what.”

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