PROVO — When BYU hosts Creighton at the Marriott Center Tuesday night, fans shouldn’t expect a slow-paced slugfest.
The Cougars like to play fast, and the visiting Bluejays will do everything they can to keep up.
“(The Bluejays) prefer to play fast too,” said Steve Pivovar, the Omaha World-Herald’s Creighton beat writer. “They prefer to score in transition and get out on the break. I don’t see them slowing it down, even though altitude and home court could affect that.”
The Bluejays are a much different team since former star and three-time All-American Doug McDermott entered the NBA. When McDermott played for his father from 2011-14, he averaged well over 20 points per game. Now, the Bluejays rely on an arsenal of players for consistent production.
Creighton’s high-tempo attack is impressively balanced, with all five starters scoring over 9.7 points per game. There is only a four-point difference between the Bluejays’ leading scorer and their fifth-leading scorer.
“Any time you have a lot of weapons, it’s going to benefit you,” said Pivovar. "They just have a lot of weapons they can go to, whereas when Doug (McDermott) played here, he was the show.
“This group is a little more versatile and it depends on a lot more guys. They play fast and balanced.”
That doesn’t mean there is no room for a star, though. Point guard Maurice Watson Jr. has averaged 14 points and 6.5 assists per game this season, earning him all-Big East accolades.
At 5-foot-10, his style is reminiscent of Ole Miss guard Stefan Moody, who torched BYU last season in the NCAA Tournament.
“Most teams try to negate Maurice’s effectiveness by putting a bigger defender on him,” said Pivovar. “So much of his game is to take it inside and either score or set up teammates. When opponents have been able to put bigger defenders on him, it has taken away some of his effectiveness, and I bet that’s the first thing BYU tries.”
In the tail end of conference play, most Big East teams found ways to limit Watson’s scoring and, in turn, slowed down Creighton’s attack. That led to five losses in the Bluejays' final six games, which ended any hopes of an NCAA at-large bid.
The Bluejays responded well, though, blowing out Alabama and Wagner by double-digits in the NIT’s opening rounds.
“It’s tough to win in the second part of your conference season,” Pivovar said. “Teams get to know you and have better scouting reports. That hurt Creighton; that hurt Watson.
“Now you’ve got two NIT games against opponents that don’t know them as well, and they took advantage of that. Bottom line is they’re playing free, they’re making it easy.”
BYU and Creighton should provide an exciting game on ESPN, and Pivovar believes that the Cougars will escape with a narrow victory.
His prediction? BYU 81, Creighton 78.
Contact Samuel Benson at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @sambbenson