In what is being pegged as the best game you won’t see unless you live near Omaha, North Texas and Creighton are set to tip off on Friday night. The Blue Jays are widely regarded as the nation’s top mid-major, but the Mean Green are not far behind — I have them at No. 3 in my Preseason Mid-Major Top 15.
As of this morning, Vegas listed the host Blue Jays as 10.5-point favorites – but this game could easily sway the other way.
The main reason: Tony Mitchell, a projected 2013 NBA draft lottery pick.
Potent at both ends of the floor, Mitchell can do it all. He’s — without question — the best athlete in this game.
The question tonight, though, remains how Mitchell will be used defensively. Will he guard Gregory Echenique, Creighton’s big man, or will he try to shut down one of the country’s best scorers in Doug McDermott?
Putting Mitchell solely on Echenique the entire game would be a waste. The Rutgers transfer really isn’t the biggest scoring threat, though North Texas doesn’t have any other player to match his strength. You can live with Echenique beating your smaller players, but Creighton’s high-profile offense goes through McDermott. Shut him down, and you can win the game.
Though Mitchell is much more athletic than McDermott, the Creighton junior’s craftiness makes him a challenging assignment for any defender. McDermott will score from anywhere. Inside. Outside. Back to the basket. You name it.
Mitchell struggled with foul trouble at times last year. He averaged three fouls per game, and if he cannot stay on the floor for more than 30-plus minutes, North Texas won’t pull off the upset – especially on the road, where the Mean Green tend to struggle.
McDermott has the ability to draw fouls on Mitchell, despite his athletic disadvantage, because he has a plethora of moves. But if Mitchell displays defensive discipline, McDermott should have trouble scoring against the 6-fo0t-8 block machine.
Other things to watch:
Three-point battle. Creighton ranked No. 3 nationally last year with a 42.4 percent three-point percentage, but the Mean Green weren’t too shabby in three-point defense, holding opponents to 31.5 percent from deep.
Turnover battle. North Texas’ defense forced nearly 15 turnovers per game last year while Creighton had one of the better ball-control units. However, Antoine Young is no longer with the team, leaving Grant Gibbs as the primary ball handler. Gibbs took good care of the ball last year, but if the Mean Green can harass him tonight, they’ll find themselves in the game.
Guard power. Mitchell is North Texas’ best player. But the Mean Green are loaded in the backcourt. Chris Jones and Alzee Williams are back, and T.J. Taylor joins them.