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Gonzaga vs. Creighton game preview: Another high profile offense rolls into Spokane

This game is going to be beyond entertaining.

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NCAA Basketball: Hall of Fame Classic-Baylor at Creighton Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs are hosting another top 25 team in Spokane on Friday night as the Creighton Bluejays roll into town for a jesuit on jesuit battle.

The Bulldogs are coming off of a clean and easy win over Incarnate Word on Wednesday. The starting five largely got a rest in the game, with Rui Hachimura and Zach Norvell leading the Zags in scoring. Corey Kispert tweaked his ankle in the game and didn’t return in the second half. Hopefully, he will be ready for tomorrow.

The Bluejays had an up and down time at the Hall of Fame Classic last week. They torched the UCLA Bruins, 100-89, in the first game. In the second game, things looked like they were going the same way, but then Creighton went absolutely flat in the second half. Baylor ended up rallying for the win, 65-59.

Meet the opponent

Creighton Bluejays, 5-1, KenPom #33

Creighton won’t have the best offense Gonzaga has seen all season, just the second best. The Bluejays are ranked as the No. 16 offense in the nation, and that is readily apparent in scoring over 100 points in three of their six games this season. Creighton averages 92.5 points per game, good for tenth in the nation.

Senior guard Marcus Foster leads Creighton with 18 points per game. Junior winger Khyri Thomas backs him up with 16.8 points per game. Freshman guard Mitchell Ballock is a dangerous threat from long range. If there is a player wearing a Creighton jersey, there is a good chance they can score. As a team, they have an eFG% of 59.1 and turn the ball over only 14.5 percent of their possessions, good for No. 12 in the nation. This is a squad that plays smart basketball.

This is a different sort of offense than what we saw against Florida. The Gators like to shoot the threes, but that isn’t an excessive weapon in the Bluejays wheelhouse. Creighton lives on running the ball and disrupting the defense, nearly 35 percent of their initial shot attempts come in transition. The Bluejays shoot an astonishing 61.3 percent on two-point shots, good for eighth-best in the nation.

What to watch out for

Is Corey Kispert healthy? Cool. If not, who fills his spot?

Kispert left the game against Incarnate Word with an ankle injury. Right after the game, he said he’d be ready to go on Friday, and hopefully he is. Until proven otherwise, losing Kispert is losing an irreplaceable part of the team. Kispert has been absolutely rock solid this season, averaging 11.3 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. More importantly, he never turns the ball over and always seems to be in the right place at the right time.

Both Norvell and Hachimura have different games, which is perfectly fine. But on a squad with plenty of good shooters, Norvell’s game, as he has established it so far, is a bit redundant in the starting five. Hachimura might be better suited against Creighton’s run and gun style. Either way, if Kispert is down, one of the two, if not both, need to step up to the plate.

Can the defense hold up?

Ken Pomeroy had a really interesting article about Gonzaga’s two-point defense. In it, he posits, rather correctly, that the best mark of a team’s defense is the two-point percentage, not the three-point percentage. Most teams don’t take off balance threes with a hand in the face as a rule of habit. However, defenses can more severely alter the two-point shot during the game. Creighton hits 61.3 percent from two-point. Gonzaga opponents shoot just 39.1 percent. Something has to give.

Part of this means 40 minutes of defense. We can’t see the lapses we saw in the PK80 Invitational, such as that abhorrent back to back sleepy transition defense. Creighton loves to push that tempo, and it will be up to the Zags to try and bring it back to their comfort zone.

Don’t turn the ball over!!!!

Creighton is a bit like Gonzaga in that their defense doesn’t force a lot of turnovers. In fact, Creighton’s defense rarely forces turnovers, holding a TO% of just 14.7 percent, good for No. 340 in the nation. If the Zags start to turn the ball over, things are going to get bad, because Creighton has won high octane games without this being an issue. In the win over UCLA, the Bruins turned the ball over only seven times. In a win over Northwestern, the Wildcats only turned it over six times.

The Zags are going to have to do a better job of taking care of the ball. Even turning the ball over 10 times against Incarnate Word is 10 times too many. Creighton is too good of an offensive basketball squad to grant the free points too, and they have beaten good teams without much of an edge in the turnover department before. If the Zags get sloppy and lazy with the ball, things could take a turn for the worse.