Two teams heading in opposite directions tangle Saturday night in Omaha, Neb.
The Creighton Bluejays, ranked No. 23 in the nation, play host to the DePaul Blue Demons. Entering Big East play about six weeks ago, this would have been a juicy battle. The Blue Demons were streaking at 12-1 while the Bluejays were on DePaul’s tail at 11-2.
But DePaul’s fortunes changed quickly and heading into Saturday’s contest, the Blue Demons (13-11, 1-10) have lost six straight and the pressure is mounting on head coach Dave Leitao. Leitao has a 61-93 record in five years with a woeful 17-65 Big East mark.
His counterpart at Creighton, Greg McDermott, has the Bluejays (19-6, 8-4) humming toward another NCAA tournament invite, something that has eluded DePaul since 2004.
The two teams have handled their early success in very different ways.
McDermott told the Omaha World-Herald that his message to the Bluejays is to trust the process.
“We have won, and we’ve been successful because guys have bought into the game plan, they’ve bought into the roles we’ve asked them to play. And we can’t deviate from that,” he said.
While the wheels have fallen off for DePaul, Leitao laments lessons not learned during the team’s winning stretch.
“That’s the million-dollar question: handling success,” he recently told reporters. “You have to act the same way through prosperity as you do through adversity. We haven’t learned that yet.”
Kansas transfer Charlie Moore concurred with his coach, and despite the team’s recent struggles remains upbeat.
“Just gotta figure it out,” Moore said after a recent loss. “We always start off good, have a good first half, the second half we start out pretty well. At the end of the game, it’s something down the stretch that we got to get. I think we can get it up.”
If the Blue Demons are going to pull off the upset on Saturday, they will have to repeat what the Bluejays have accomplished: Win on the road against ranked teams.
Creighton is coming off an 87-82 win at No. 10 Seton Hall on Wednesday. Four players — Marcus Zegarowski, Damien Jefferson, Ty-Shon Alexander and Denzel Mahoney — scored 18 points.
The upset is the Bluejays’ second road win over a top-10 team in less than two weeks. On Feb. 1, they beat then-No. 8 Villanova on the road.
“It means a lot to win a game on the road, especially in this conference,” Jefferson said on Creighton’s postgame radio show. “To win here, playing a top-10 team like that, it’s really key for us. We’ve got to feed off it.”
DePaul has a whole week to stew about a 76-72 loss to Georgetown. The Blue Demons led by 11 at one point before losing their sixth straight game.
The two teams met on Jan. 22 with the Bluejays leaving Chicago with an 83-68 win. Mitch Ballock hit five 3-pointers and Creighton held the Blue Demons to just 40.7 percent in the second half.
The Bluejays have won 11 straight against the Blue Demons, with their last loss in the series coming on Jan. 7, 2015.
Creighton comes into the game scoring 77.7 points per game. Alexander leads the team in scoring at 16.4 points a game. Zegarowski is close behind at 16.0.
Moore leads the Blue Demons in scoring (15.9 points) and assists (6.8).
–Field Level Media