Creighton and Wichita State ready for MVC tussle

Creighton and Wichita State ready for MVC tussle

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) Wichita State's Carl Hall remembers vividly when Creighton visited the Roundhouse last season. The two Missouri Valley Conference heavyweights went toe-to-toe for 40 minutes before the Bluejays pulled away late for the win.

He also remembers what happened when the Shockers traveled to Omaha, Neb.

They kept the Bluejays' Doug McDermott in check, and their best performance of the season in an 89-68 rout helped them wrap up the regular-season conference championship.

It was clear that the Bluejays and Shockers were the class of the Valley - they were the only two teams with winning league records. And that appears to be the case again, with Creighton perfect through six games and the Shockers just a game behind in the standings.

Their burgeoning rivalry will be renewed Saturday afternoon in Wichita, and Hall - the senior forward of few words - got straight to the point.

``It's a big-time game,'' he said.

In what should certainly be a big-time atmosphere.

Charles Koch Arena, affectionately known around these parts as the Roundhouse, is expected to be sold out. The students will be back on campus, and they'll turn their attention toward one of the nation's mid-major darlings and the biggest reason they tick.

McDermott, a first-team All-American last season, is averaging 24 points and 7.4 rebounds for Creighton (17-1, 6-0). The son of coach Greg McDermott scored a season-best 39 points in a recent win over Missouri State, and is coming off a 31-point outburst against Northern Iowa.

``Northern Iowa was a little rough start, but I think I kind of settled in and started getting easier shots, so I think my confidence is at an all-time high,'' McDermott said. ``Things are just rolling, so hopefully it will continue.''

Things seem to be rolling for his entire team.

The Bluejays already have nonconference wins over the likes of Wisconsin, Arizona State and Nebraska, and their lone loss to Boise State suddenly doesn't look so bad given the way the Broncos have been playing. And since that defeat on Nov. 28, the Bluejays have won 11 straight to knock on the door of the top 10.

Only once during their winning streak have they even been tested, a 79-72 win at Illinois State. Otherwise, they've won every game by double figures.

``We don't often get teams that are ranked that high to Koch Arena, so it's a special opportunity for us,'' Wichita State coach Greg Marshall said before practice Friday.

``They were picked No. 1 (in the Valley) for a reason,'' he said. ``They have so many pieces and weapons, and they've improved from last year, and they're undefeated and in first place and we're a game behind them, so a loss would mean separation and make it harder for us to catch up.''

The lone loss for the Shockers (16-2, 5-1) happened Sunday at Evansville, and knocked them out of the national rankings. But it also came with Hall, their second-leading scorer and top rebounder, out for the seventh consecutive game with a broken thumb.

Hall returned for Tuesday night's win over Illinois State, and even though he's still trying to get into game shape, he'll be on the court against the Bluejays.

``Having him back and having a 10th healthy, eligible player, it's like I grew an arm back,'' Marshall said with a smile. ``It's bizarre.''

Yes, the Shockers are still a bit thin thanks to a string of lousy luck.

Over a span of just a few days in December, Hall went down with his injury, versatile wing player Ron Baker sustained a stress fracture to his foot, and Evan Wessel, arguably the team's top 3-point shooter, broke the little finger on his shooting hand. Hall is already back, and Marshall is hopeful that Baker will be able to return sometime in February, but Wessel finally resorted to season-ending surgery on Thursday.

``In the seven games without those three, we went 6-1. We're one game short of perfection,'' Marshall said. ``Now if you watch us play, it was far from perfect basketball. It was grind-it-out, scratch-and-claw. But that's what I loved about it. They found a way to win.''

Finding a way to win against Creighton should prove more difficult.

The Bluejays can start 18-1 for the first time in school history with a victory, and win their seventh straight road game for the first time since 1962. They would also start 7-0 in the Valley for just the second time since rejoining the league in 1977.

But both coaches understand that nothing comes easy against each other in one of the nation's underappreciated rivalries. The teams have played 28 games decided by 12 points or less since the 1994-95 season, and neither coach expects Saturday to be any different.

``You want to try to beat the teams that are playing the best in your league, and Wichita had an outstanding year a year ago and were the league champions of the regular season,'' said the Bluejays' Greg McDermott. ``I think that makes it fun. These are the types of environments that players play for and what coaches coach for. This is what college basketball is all about.''

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How the Wizards have taken Raptors big man Serge Ibaka out of the series on offense

How the Wizards have taken Raptors big man Serge Ibaka out of the series on offense

The Wizards-Raptors first round playoff series has evolved to feature the emergence of several players who started off slowly including Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat and Kelly Oubre, Jr. The opposite has happened for Toronto big man Serge Ibaka.

After Ibaka lit up the Wizards for 23 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in Game 1, there has been a disappearance. His scoring has gone missing and it's a big reason why the Wizards have won two straight games and earned a 2-2 series split.

Head coach Scott Brooks knows Ibaka well from their days in Oklahoma City. He helped develop Ibaka and has since watched from afar as his game has changed to include a consistent outside game.

Brooks has on several occasions referred to Ibaka as one of the best three-point shooting big men in the league. The numbers back that up. Last season, he shot 39.1 percent from three on 4.0 attempts per game, excellent for a 6-foot-10 power forward.

This season that number dipped to 36 percent, but he hit 41 percent of his threes in his final 16 games of the regular season. That carried over into the playoffs when he went 3-for-4 in Game 1 as part of an 8-for-11 shooting night overall.

The Wizards made a point to take away those outside shots following their series-opening defeat. The way they are doing that is by crowding him when he gets the ball, even if it means him getting past the initial defender.

"You want to make sure you meet him on the catch. You want to take away his shot," Brooks said. "When he gets open shots, they are money. He's going to knock them down... We did a good job of meeting him on his catch and making him put the ball on the floor with his left hand. You can live with the results."

After his 23-point outburst in Game 1, Ibaka has scored just 20 points total in the last three games. He has gone 2-for-6 from three.

The Wizards are taking away his shot attempts in general. He took 11 shots in each of the first two games of this series, but just four in Game 3 and five in Game 4. In Game 3 he had three points and three turnovers and on Sunday he had seven points and four turnovers.

Here are two examples of the Wizards' defense on Ibaka. On this first play, Markieff Morris meets Ibaka as soon as he catches the ball and the result is a turnover:

On this next play, Morris follows Ibaka all the way to the rim and even though he goes up on a pump fake, Morris recovers to alter Ibaka's shot and force a miss:

The Wizards, however, did get away with one against Ibaka. He was left wide open for a three in the final minute, but the shot rimmed out:

As the first two plays demonstrate, Morris deserves a lot of credit for the Wizards' success against Ibaka. He has the size and mobility to keep up with him and is willing to use contact to his advantage.

"Just playing the tendencies," Morris said. "We're making them do things they are uncomfortable with and are getting better results."

Ibaka was fourth on the Raptors this season in points per game and third in shot attempts. He is their third option behind All-Star guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan. If the Wizards can continue to lock up Ibaka, it will be difficult for the Raptors to beat them.

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Death Row D.C. and the Wizards are back

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Wizards Tipoff podcast: Death Row D.C. and the Wizards are back

On the latest episode of the Wizards Tipoff podcast presented by Greenberg and Bederman, Chase Hughes and Chris Miller were joined by Julie Donaldson to break down the Wizards' wins in Games 3 and 4.

Bradley Beal, Otto Porter and Marcin Gortat are back and the Wizards are a different team because of it. Plus, how regaining their Death Row D.C. mentality has changed this series.

You can listen to the episode right here:

You can download the podcast on Apple Podcasts right here and on Google Play. If you like the show please tell your friends!