When Creighton coach Gregg McDermott and Butler boss Thad Matta make small talk before Thursday’s Big East clash in Omaha, Neb., they won’t have any shortage of topics — even if they stick only to discussions of their team’s injury woes.
Creighton (6-6, 0-1 Big East), regarded as a Top 10 team at Thanksgiving, has fallen well out of the Top 25 for Christmas thanks to a six-game losing streak that has not-so-coincidentally occurred while 7-foot-1 junior center Ryan Kalkbrenner has been down and out.
Kalkbrenner (15.9 points per game, 7.6 rebounds per game), the Big East’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year, has missed the last three games with a non-COVID illness and it’s unknown when he might return. With him out of the picture, the rest of the Bluejays haven’t looked or played the same.
“I feel like we need to be tougher, have more heart,” Creighton guard Shereef Mitchell told the Omaha World-Herald last week. “Show that we really want to fight and be out there.”
Two days after Mitchell uttered those words, Creighton committed 18 turnovers and shot 4 of 20 from 3-point range in a 69-58 loss at Marquette.
But Matta won’t be too sympathetic to McDermott’s plight because, up until the last week, he has been missing four players from his rotation due to various maladies. Former Akron wing Ali Ali (concussion, broken nose) and ex-Georgia State big man Jalen Thomas (pulmonary embolism) finally made their season debuts Saturday when Butler (8-4, 0-1) suffered a 22-point home loss to UConn.
“Jalen hasn’t played basketball since Aug. 8 in Athens, Greece,” Matta told the Indianapolis Star. “He’s practicing, but he hasn’t gotten high-level reps. (Ali) hasn’t done anything in six weeks but practice twice.”
With so few subs at Matta’s beck and call, Butler ranks last nationally in bench scoring with just 7.5 points per game. On the flip side, the Bulldogs’ five starters all average between 11.3 and 14.3 points per game.
–Field Level Media