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Take the over: Gonzaga, Creighton putting up video game-like numbers on offense

UPDATED: Fri., Nov. 30, 2018

Gonzaga’s Zach Norvell, Jr, takes Creighton forward Martin Krampelj to the basket in last year’s contest. Krampelj has returned to the starting lineup after suffering an ACL injury last season. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga’s Zach Norvell, Jr, takes Creighton forward Martin Krampelj to the basket in last year’s contest. Krampelj has returned to the starting lineup after suffering an ACL injury last season. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

OMAHA, Neb. – Gonzaga coach Mark Few appreciates good offense.

For the better part of two decades, the Zags have been known for skilled, high-scoring teams. Few’s speaking engagements at various camps and clinics generally revolve around his principles on offense.

Few will witness two of the nation’s top offenses when No. 1 Gonzaga tangles with Creighton in front of 17,000-plus mostly blue-clad Bluejays fans Saturday inside sold-out CHI Health Center.

The Bluejays (6-1), receiving votes in both major polls, have put up video-game numbers in their last four games, averaging 93 points, shooting 57 percent from the field, including 47 percent on 3-pointers.

“It’s like playing at BYU,” Few said. “It’s a very tough venue to play in and they’re tough to prepare for. Really gifted, especially on the offensive end. They’ll have our full attention.”

What happens when a couple of irresistible offensive forces collide in the Zags’ first road game of the season? The answer comes Saturday , but the Zags hope their growing reputation for stingy defenses over the last 6-7 years will be a deciding factor.

“Obviously, we’re going to play fast and shoot 3s, too,” said assistant coach Tommy Lloyd, who compiled the scouting report. “It’ll be a little battle of wills. Anytime you play on the road, you worry about how your guys respond. Hopefully, we have enough experience and can weather the storm. You worry about foul trouble, things of that nature.”

Foul trouble is a bigger concern with reserve guard Geno Crandall (hand) joining Killian Tillie (ankle) on the sideline. Creighton’s offense thrives in transition, converting opponent turnovers and missed shots into buckets, and by spacing the floor with 3-point shooters.

“We’ll see what can get out of anybody and everybody,” Few said. “We’re going to need everybody through this time” without Crandall and Tillie.

The Bluejays’ top five scorers are guards/wings, including three sophomores. Ty-Shon Alexander averages 18.3 points, New Mexico transfer Damien Jefferson is at 11.9 points on 66.7-percent field-goal shooting, and Mitch Ballock contributes 11 points and a team-leading 3.7 assists. Those three, much like Gonzaga’s wings, are in the 6-foot-4 to 6-5 range and between 195 and 205 pounds.

Reserve guard Marcus Zegarowski averages 10.1 points and starting guard Davion Mintz contributes 8.9 points. The five guards average at least one made 3-pointer per game. The lowest 3-point shooting percentage of the fivesome is Zegarowski’s 43.5.

Center Martin Krampelj, who suffered a torn ACL last January, starts alongside four guards/wings. He averages just 7.9 points, but he’s a key factor in Creighton’s system.

“Unique player,” Lloyd said. “Big guy, good in the ball screen on offense and defense, great at slipping ball screens and playing on the roll. He puts your defense in decision (mode).”

Gonzaga (7-0) and Creighton (6-1) have been offensive machines for years. The Zags (151) are No. 1 nationally and the Bluejays (129) share third with Saint Mary’s in number of games shooting 50 percent or higher since the 2011 season.

Best field-goal percentage since 2011: No. 1 GU (49.6), No. 4 Creighton (48.3). Best two-point shooting percentage: No. 2 Gonzaga (55.3), No. 3 Creighton (54.6).

“Coach (Greg) McDermott does a really good job of putting his guys in the right places,” Few said. “They always have a phenomenal offense with a lot of different kinds of looks.”

The Zags’ only other true nonconference road game is Dec. 15 at North Carolina.

“Good question,” pondered junior forward Brandon Clarke, when asked about the biggest venues he played in during his two seasons at San Jose State. “Probably in the Pit against New Mexico. We actually won there for the first time in like 20 years, and UNLV. They’ll have fans, but it’s really about us going out and playing hard. I’m not really worried about it.”

Gonzaga’s Zach Norvell, Jr, takes Creighton forward Martin Krampelj to the basket in last year’s contest. Krampelj has returned to the starting lineup after suffering an ACL injury last season. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga’s Zach Norvell, Jr, takes Creighton forward Martin Krampelj to the basket in last year’s contest. Krampelj has returned to the starting lineup after suffering an ACL injury last season. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

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