Blackhawks

Missouri St.-Creighton Preview

Missouri St.-Creighton Preview

If his last performance against Missouri State is any indication, Creighton's Doug McDermott may be poised for another big game.

Back home for the first time in 15 days following a tough road swing, the 21st-ranked Bluejays may ride their star again on Wednesday night when they try for a regular-season sweep of the Bears.

McDermott, who ranks among the national leaders in scoring (23.7 points per game) and 3-point percentage (50.0), finished with a season-high 39 points to lead Creighton to a 74-52 victory at Missouri State on Jan. 11.

The junior made 14 consecutive shots and finished 15 for 19 from the field for the second-highest point total of his career. He had 44 in a win at Bradley last January.

Creighton (18-3, 7-2 Missouri Valley) shot 57.4 percent from the floor and 52.9 percent (9 of 17) from beyond the arc at Missouri State. It leads the nation in both categories.

Now McDermott and the Bluejays get another shot at a Bears team that has allowed 69.0 points on 48.0 percent shooting over its last five games.

"They'll fight us defensively," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. "They're going to grind it out and try to control the tempo, much like they did at their place. We have to make every possession count."

McDermott's club, however, has shown it can take care of business, winning 71 straight home games against losing teams.

After dropping the first two legs of a three-game road swing, Creighton bounced back behind McDermott's 21 points with an 81-51 rout of Southern Illinois on Sunday - the Bluejays' most lopsided road win since Feb. 19, 1974.

Jahenns Manigat, who had 11 points in the first meeting with the Bears, added 12 against the Salukis after going scoreless in the team's consecutive defeats.

Gregory Echenique, the team's leading rebounder (7.5 per game), added 12 points and 11 boards to help the Bluejays gain a 39-19 advantage on the glass.

That's certain to be an area of concern for Missouri State (6-15, 4-5). The Bears are 0-13 when they've been outrebounded - their minus-3.7 differential is last in the MVC - while the Bluejays are 16-0 when they've beaten teams on the boards.

Missouri State had won six straight in the series before Creighton took the last two meetings in Springfield.

While the Bluejays have won 44 of 50 at home the past three seasons, the Bears have handed them two of those losses. Missouri State, however, is just 1-7 on the road this season.

Senior Anthony Downing had 26 points to help the Bears snap a four-game losing streak with a 78-72 victory over Drake on Sunday.

Downing has averaged 17.3 points in nine conference games, but managed only 10 on 4-of-11 shooting in the first meeting with the Bluejays.

Gavin Thurman, one of Missouri State's four starting freshmen, is averaging 15.3 points on 50.0 percent shooting in his last four games.

"Those freshman are playing at a high level," Greg McDermott said. "They're a dangerous basketball team."

The Bears, though, have had their share of growing pains, ranking at the bottom of the MVC in scoring (60.2), field-goal percentage (40.6), 3-point percentage (30.9) and free-throw percentage (64.3).

It doesn't figure to get any easier against a Creighton team that ranks near the top of the conference defensively in each of those areas.

The Bears shot 37.9 percent overall and 21.7 percent from 3-point range in the first meeting.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: After 20 games, do we know the identity of this Blackhawks team?

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USA TODAY

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: After 20 games, do we know the identity of this Blackhawks team?

On the latest Hawks Talk Podcast Tracey Myers and Jamal Mayers join Pat Boyle to discuss the teams wins over the Rangers and Penguins.  Have they figured some things out and what is the identity of this team after 20 games?

Jammer weighs in on Artem Anisimov’s big week and are there enough Hawks committed to net front presence?  They also discuss the surging play of the blue liners and did the Hawks fail to send a message to Evgeni Malkin, after he kneed Corey Crawford in the head?

Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other

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USA TODAY

Lauri Markkanen, Lonzo Ball making rookie history as they prepare to face each other

It'd be a stretch to say that any rookie is having a better or more impactful season than Philadelphia's Ben Simmons. The Sixers are 9-7, and Simmons looks like a 10-year veteran with his decision making, athleticism and all-around feel for the game. He's the frontrunner for MVP, but there are two other rookies vying to catch Simmons and win that title. And they'll face each other tomorrow night in Los Angeles.

Lonzo Ball was the second pick in June's NBA Draft, and fellow Pac-12 freshman standout Lauri Markkanen went five picks later to the Bulls, who had traded up as part of the Jimmy Butler trade. Both players were drafted to rebuilding franchises - the Lakers still working out the kinks in the post-Kobe era, and the Bulls beginning their rebuild after dealing Butler - and were expected to make immediate impacts on their franchises.

Ball's was more pronounced, as the Lakers dealt D'Angelo Russell to the Nets on draft night to free up space at the point for their prized No. 2 pick. Markkanen's came more abruptly, as the 20-year-old was thrust into the starting lineup after Bobby Portis and Nikola Mirotic's fight put Mirotic in the hospital and Portis on paid leave. However they got there, both players have been impressive in their early NBA careers.

Starting with Markkanen, the Bulls knew the 7-foot stretch forward was a perfect build for the modern NBA. He set freshman 3-point and rebounding records that, since 1992, only some guy named Kevin Durant had reached. After a successful summer in Eurobasket he was set for a large role with the Bulls, and he's succeeded in just about every aspect. His 15.6 points per game are third only to Simmons and the other Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma, and his 8.1 rebounds are second to Simmons. And his 2.6 made 3-pointers per game are most among rookies, and well past No. 2 on the list (Utah's Donovan Mitchell, 1.9 per game).

In fact, Markkanen would become the only rookie in NBA history to average at least 8.0 rebounds and 2.5 3-pointers per game. The 2.5 3-pointers would break a rookie record currently held by Damian Lillard (2.3 per game). The closest a rookie has ever come to reaching those marks was Stephen Curry, who averaged 4.5 rebounds and 2.1 3-pointers per game as a rookie. Allen Iverson also met the 4/2 threshold, but that's a far cry from Markkanen's 8/2.5 mark. Paul Pierce's rookie season saw him average 6.4 rebounds and 1.8 3-pointers.

But that's not all. If he kept those averages up he would be just the fifth player EVER to accomplish those thresholds. The others are James Harden, Kevin Durant, DeMarcus Cousins and Antonie Walker, who naturally did it twice.

So, yeah, Markkanen is having quite a rookie year.

So, too, is Ball. While he's had some real issues with efficiency, slashing .313/.228/.462 and has committed 2.6 turnovers per game, his counting stats have been outstanding. Ball is averaging 8.9 points, 7.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists, and that puts him in equally impressive company.

Simmons has reached those numbers this season, too, averaging 18.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 8.0 assists. You may have heard of the other two players, named Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson.

The two future Hall of Famers averaged these numbers:

Robertson: 30.5 points, 10.1 rebounds, 9.7 assists (missing averaging a triple-double for the season by 20 assists)

Johnson: 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists

Ball is also averaging 0.9 blocks, and no other rookie guard has ever accomplished that. It might not always look pretty for Markkanen and Ball as they feel their way out in the NBA, but just remember watching these two that they're in the midst of making history in the new era of the NBA.