No. 8 Creighton rolled over its first two opponents, outscoring Florida A&M and North Dakota State 194-114. Now the Jays will face a large step up in competition when Iowa visits CHI Health Center Omaha on Tuesday for a Gavitt Games match-up.
The Hawkeyes are also 2-0 and have outscored North Dakota and Alabama State 208-135.
“You always want a couple of get the kinks out,” Coach Greg. “But Iowa’s good. It hasn’t really mattered. He’s turned over that roster many times and continues to have NCAA Tournament-level teams and I don’t think this one’s any different.”
Creighton is seventh in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency in the early going according to KenPom, while Iowa is 11th. One notable offensive difference between the two teams, however, is tempo. Creighton is known for playing with pace, but the Jays are actually 278th in adjusted tempo (after finishing 143rd last year). McDermott wants his team to run, but he also emphasizes playing under control on both ends over taking risks.
Iowa, on the other hand, is a transition team. The Hawkeyes are seventh in tempo and seventh in possession length, averaging just under 14 seconds per trip. They want to run and gun, and they have plenty of snipers.
“I think the big thing for that is just not being caught off-guard by it,” Ryan Kalkbrenner said about Iowa’s tempo. “Just be ready to get back on defense, sprint back. Obviously where the game is probably going to be won is if we have good transition defense not. That’s something we worked on yesterday and something we worked on today.”
Creighton hasn’t missed much this season (the Jays have shot nearly 60% from the field through two games), but when they have McDermott is encouraging his team to crash the offensive glass, a change from past years. That won’t change on Tuesday even with Iowa’s tempo.
“We’ve still got to do what we’re going to do,” McDermott said. “We’ve got to establish ourselves on the offensive glass but once it changes hands we’ve got to get back, we’ve got to get turned around and we’ve got to get our defense put together. They’re one of the best in the country at striking quickly.”
McDermott said the Hawkeye are also one of the best at pushing off made baskets, so there won’t be time for the Bluejays to rest after successful possessions.
Iowa has had a different leading scorer in the past three seasons with breakout seasons by Keagan Murray in 2021-22 and his twin brother Kris in 2022-23 following the prolific career of Luka Garza. Junior wing Payton Sandfort looks to be next in line as the Waukee, Iowa, native put up 19.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists while shooting 41.2% from 3 in the Hawkeyes’ first two games.
“He’s really good,” McDermott said. “I watched him in high school; he played with Tucker DeVries over there [at Waukee] so I saw him play several times. He’s made significant improvement since that time and has really improved since last season, and he had some great games last season. They feature him and put him in a lot of actions where you’ve got to be ready to take that 3-point shot away and to try make him do something other than shooting a 3-point shot because he’s really good.”
Forward Patrick McCaffery and guard Tony Perkins are the other returning starters for the Hawkeyes. Coach Fran McCaffery made a couple key additions in the frontcourt in Valparaiso transfer Ben Krikke and freshman Owen Freeman. Krikke averaged 15.5 points and 6.0 rebounds as the starting center while Freeman earned the first Big Ten Freshman of the Week award after averaging 11.0 points on 66.7% shooting in just 13.5 minutes per game.
“Their bigs are pretty crafty about when the duck in, so you can’t really take a breath thinking that you have a second because then they’ll duck you in right when you’re taking a break and then you’re screwed,” Kalkbrenner said. “I think just always being ready, always kind of expecting contact even if it doesn’t happen.”
The Creighton-Iowa game is the nightcap of a Gavitt Games triple-header featuring three games of Big East versus Big Ten on FS1. However, that means a 9 p.m. Central tipoff time, which is a bit out of the normal routine for both the teams and fans.
“We’re in a league where there are only three schools in the Central time zone,” McDermott said. “The rest are in the Eastern time zone, so I understand they have to start early. Fortunately we were able to move a few where they moved to 6:30 Eastern that allowed us to start at 7:30 Central with some of them later in the season. But it’s all dictated by TV and obviously with the Gavitt Games, we’re the last game of the night.
“Our fans will be OK. I’m going to take a nap too, so everybody else just needs to do that and make sure they’re awake at nine o’clock.”