After wrapping up only the third unbeaten December in school history, Creighton faces a big challenge heading into its first conference road test.
The 16th-ranked Bluejays will try for their seventh straight win Wednesday night when they face Illinois State in the first meeting between the preseason favorites since Creighton defeated the Redbirds in overtime in the Missouri Valley Conference championship game in March.
“We have a chance to create some separation between us and one of the teams I think is going to fight for the championship,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “But that’s easier said than done.”
The Bluejays joined the 2003-04 and 2008-09 squads as the only Creighton teams since 1946-47 to go unbeaten in December with an 87-70 victory over Evansville on Saturday night.
Junior Doug McDermott, third in the nation with 23.4 points per game, scored 29 to lead Creighton. McDermott, the first player in league history to be named a preseason first-team All-American, burned Illinois State with 33 points on 12-of-18 shooting in the 83-79 win in the 2012 MVC title game.
This time around, two of the top scoring teams in the nation will be facing off.
The Bluejays rank second nationally in 3-point field goal percentage (42.5), eighth in field goal percentage (50.8) and 21st in scoring (79.5).
“Creighton’s very good,” Illinois State first-year coach Dan Muller said. “We’ll be prepared, our guys will be ready and we can’t wait for Wednesday night.”
After finishing with 13 points and 13 rebounds against the Purple Aces, Bluejays center Gregory Echenique will try to slow down the top big man in the conference.
Echenique (6-foot-9, 260 pounds) is one of the few MVC players who has the size to matchup with Illinois State’s Jackie Carmichael (6-9, 240). He has helped limit the Redbirds forward to 11.3 points and 5.0 rebounds in the last four meetings.
Carmichael ranks second to McDermott among MVC players with 17.8 points per game, while Illinois State guard Tyler Brown is third at 16.8.
“Illinois State’s talent level is as good as any team in the conference,” Greg McDermott said.
The high-scoring combo, however, will try to bounce back after shooting a combined 7 for 27 (25.9 percent) on Sunday in a 77-75 loss at Indiana State that snapped the Redbirds’ four-game winning streak.
Despite shooting a season-low 37.1 percent against the Sycamores, Illinois State ranks 14th in the nation in field goal percentage at 49.7 and 16th in scoring with 80.5 points per game.
Creighton, though, has limited opponents to 57.1 points on 37.8 percent shooting - 26 of 108 (24.1 percent) from 3-point range - during its winning streak.
The Bluejays try for their sixth straight victory in the series after losing seven of the previous eight matchups.
Illinois State has lost 26 of its last 27 games against ranked opponents, with its only win coming against No. 15 Wichita State in the 2012 MVC tournament.