It’s only January, but chaos has reigned during the early portion of the Big East schedule. Top-five ranked programs have fallen, former champions have been dethroned, and the balance of the conference continues to be shaken up.
As the calendar flips to 2024, another marquee matchup approaches on the schedule: the No. 23 ranked Providence Friars will head to Omaha to face the Creighton Bluejays.
Let’s take a closer look at both sides to get an idea of how the season has gone for these two programs.
Creighton Blue Jays: 10-4 (1-2)
The Creighton Bluejays’ season so far has been filled with more questions than answers. On paper, this roster looked to be in the mix for a Big East title. Top scorers Baylor Scheierman and Trey Alexander were set to return alongside Ryan Kalkbrenner, the two-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year. The team had also acquired Steven Ashworth from Utah State, a reliable shooter who seemed to fit this roster’s needs, all guided by the program’s long-time Head Coach, Greg McDermott.
Despite the optimism, early losses to Colorado State and UNLV derailed much of the hype this program was garnering. Entering the Big East portion of their schedule, Creighton needed to prove that they belonged amongst the best of the conference.
This plan went off the rails quickly.
The calendar started off with a battle against Villanova, as the two programs both looked to find their footing. The Wildcats travelled to Omaha with a chip on their shoulder after tallying four early losses on their record, accompanied by a fair share of criticism from the media.
Creighton set the tone early on their home court, extending their lead to double-digits at the midway mark. But what looked to be a comfortable victory in the making turned sour fast. Senior Eric Dixon made the most of his matchup with Kalkbrenner by establishing his long-range shot early. The extra element of offense created uncertainty within Kalkbrenner’s approach to defending, which Dixon wasted no time in exploiting. The senior scored 32 points to help fuel Villanova’s comeback, eventually capping off his performance with a go-ahead three-pointer in overtime to seal the victory.
The schedule did not get much easier after the holiday break, now staring down a nightmare matchup on the road against the reigning Big East champions at Marquette. Creighton once again came out of the gates strong, scoring baskets in bunches to force an early timeout up 14-3. But as the game progressed, the Golden Eagles began to find an area on the floor they could thrive: the glass.
While starting center Oso Ighodaro struggled to contribute offensively against the 7’1” presence of Kalkbrenner, his strength overpowered his opponent in the rebounding department. Ighodaro finished the game with 16 boards, including 9 on the offensive glass, to help fuel a late-game comeback. Despite shooting 45.5% from the field and holding Marquette to 36.8%, turnovers, fouls and extra possessions helped seal Creighton’s fate.
On the ropes and looking to reclaim their form, the Bluejays followed up the pair of losses with a 77-60 victory over Georgetown. It was a sigh of relief from Greg McDermott’s squad, but the win still left many questions unanswered.