Game 24 Creighton Bluejays (14-7, 8-3) at Bradley Braves (15-8, 6-5)
Tipoff: Wed., Jan. 31, 2007 7:37 p.m. (CST)
Television: MVC-TV (Fox Sports
Radio: WMBD AM 1470 (www.wmbdradio.com) -- Dave Snell (play-by-play) and Joe Stowell (analyst)
Video Stream: www.foxsports.com
Bradley Hosts League-Leading Creighton
One of the surprise teams in the Missouri Valley Conference race will take on the league favorite Wednesday night when Bradley hosts Creighton in a 7:35 p.m. clash at Carver Arena.
After suffering heavy personnel losses from last year’s NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 team, Bradley was picked eighth in The Valley’s preseason poll, but the Braves have won five of their last seven games and enter Wednesday’s tilt tied for fourth in the league standings.
Led by preseason player of the year Nate Funk, Creighton was the preseason choice to win The Valley this season and the Bluejays enter Wednesday’s game tied with
Wednesday’s game will be the 73rd meeting in the all-time series between Bradley and Creighton, which dates back to a 52-46 non-conference Bradley victory Feb. 13, 1941 at the old Peoria Armory.
Bradley owns a 38-34 all-time lead in the series, including a 33-31 edge as Missouri Valley Conference rivals.
Bradley owns a 23-12 home record against Creighton, including a 14-11 edge at Carver Arena.
The Bluejays had won four straight at Carver Arena before the Braves earned an 86-69 home win last season.
Dana Altman is in his 13th year as the head coach at Creighton and owns a 15-12 record against Bradley, while fifth-year Braves head coach Jim Les owns a 2-8 mark against Creighton.
After drawing a sellout crowd of 11,080 Jan. 20 against
As Bradley prepares to host Creighton Wednesday night, the Braves have never before played in front of three consecutive home crowds in excess of 10,500.
In addition, Bradley has not played in front of three consecutive sellout crowds since a streak of five straight to end the 1985-86 home season, when the arena’s capacity was listed as 10,450.
The Re-Making of the Braves
Dominated by losses to its front line, Bradley lost 66.9 percent of its scoring and 65.0 percent of its rebounding from the 2006-06 squad that went 22-11 and reached the third round of the NCAA Tournament.
Bradley lost five players from last year’s team -- 7-foot center Patrick O'Bryant as an early entry lottery pick in the NBA Draft, as well as graduates 6-7 power forward Marcellus Sommerville (Hungary), 6-foot-4 small forward Lawrence Wright (Harlem Globetrotters), 6-foot guard Tony Bennett (ABA) and 7-foot-1 center Brandyn Heemskerk.
Fifth-year head coach Jim Les has re-designed the Bradley scheme, primarily utilizing an eight-man rotation built around six returning players and two newcomers in a four-guard attack.
The changes have produced a 15-8 record to date and one of the nation’s most prolific 3-point shooting attacks -- Bradley is third nationally in 3-pt. field goal percentage (.440) and fourth in treys per game (10.4)
As mentioned, Bradley lost five players from last year’s Sweet 16 squad who combined for 1,577 of the team’s 2,359 (66.9 percent) points.
The Braves have received only 309 of 1772 (17.4 percent) points from newcomers this year.
The bulk of Bradley’s offensive production is the result of improved contributions from six returning players, including four players who have more than tripled their scoring averages from last season.
Recapping the First Game
Bradley came into the first game against Creighton two weeks ago leading the nation in 3-point field goal percentage, but the Braves made only 5-of-23 (.217) attempts from behind the arc in a 65-54 loss Jan. 18 at Qwest Center OMAHA.
Nate Funk scored a game-high 25 points to lead the Bluejays, helping Creighton pull ahead from a 45-43 lead in the final 11 minutes.
Bradley center Zach Andrews played only 10 foul-plagued minutes and the Bluejays dominated the glass, outrebounding the Braves 42-27.
Bradley’s 3-point percentage was a season-low and the cold night was further magnified by a 3-for-7 effort at the free throw line, also season lows for free throws made, attempted and percentage.
15 Wins, and Still in January
With one game left this month, Bradley already has racked up 15 wins to date this season.
The 2006-07 season marks just the eighth time in the program’s 103-year history that the Braves have won at least 15 games by the end of January.
Player Losses, No Problem
In addition to the heavy losses to graduation and the NBA, Bradley also has endured substantial injuries this year.
Junior point guard Daniel Ruffin (three games), a preseason candidate for the Bob Cousy Award, and junior guard Jeremy Crouch (eight games), the team’s second-leading scorer, have missed a total of 11 games this season.
Bradley was 8-3 in those 11 games, losing at home to
Junior guard Jeremy Crouch returned to action Saturday at
Crouch was The Valley’s third-leading scorer at the time of the injury with 16.4 points per game and he also led the league in 3-pointers per game (3.36).
Crouch scored five points on 2-for-7 shooting in 24 minutes off the bench at
Although he dropped to second on the team in scoring (15.6 ppg) with his first single-digit effort of the season, Crouch did drain a first-half 3-pointer to extend his streak of consecutive games with a trey to 15.
Spreading the Wealth
Junior forward Matt Salley led the Braves with a career-best 18 points Jan. 18 at Creighton.
Through 23 games, seven different Bradley players now have led the team in scoring: Will Franklin (six times), Jeremy Crouch (five times), Daniel Ruffin (five times), Danny Adams (twice), Zach Andrews (twice), J.J. Tauai (twice) and Matt Salley (at Creighton).
The Braves also have featured six different 20-point scorers in the first 23 games: Jeremy Crouch (four times), Will
Bradley ranks ninth in The Valley in points allowed per game (71.0) and field goal percentage defense (.466), but the Braves’ defensive success has been based on turnovers.
Leading the league with 8.8 steals per game, Bradley also leads The Valley with a +4.6 turnover margin.
The turnover differential has allowed Bradley to get off 99 more field goal attempts than their opponents.
The added shots has allowed the Braves to outscore their opponents by an average of 6.0 points per game.
Blistering 3-Point Pace
Often utilizing a four-guard lineup, it should not come as a surprise that Bradley has been bombing away from 3-point land this year.
Aided by a Valley record-tying 20 3-pointers Nov. 21 versus Florida A&M, Bradley ranks third nationally in 3-point field goal percentage (.440) and fourth with 10.4 3-point field goals per game.
Having already broken the single-season school record for 3-pointers in a season, Bradley remains on pace to break Creighton’s 2005 Missouri Valley Conference season record (293).
Bradley’s Bomb Squad
According to mid-season statistics released by the NCAA, the national average for 3-point field goal percentage was .3501.
Eight Bradley players have combined for the team’s 240 3-pointers and each of the eight players is shooting at least 35.6 percent from long range.
Other Records in Sight
The already-broken team record for 3-pointers in a season is not the only mark in sight for the Braves this year.
The Braves also are on pace to challenge the single-season school records for 3-point field goal percentage, steals and turnover margin.
Individually, senior guard Will Franklin is ahead of pace to break Aaron Zobrists 1997 record for individual 3-point field goals and junior guard Jeremy Crouch is primed to break Zobrist’s mark for 3-point field goal percentage.
Seven of Bradley’s nine returning lettermen are backcourt players and six guards are playing prominent roles for the Braves in the early going.
Bradley’s top three scorers, as well as six of the top eight, are guards: Will Franklin (15.7), Jeremy Crouch (15.6 ppg), Daniel Ruffin (14.2), J.J. Tauai (6.8), Danny Adams (6.4) and Andrew Warren (4.7).
Up Tempo, but Under Control
In addition to its proficiency from long range, another advantage of Bradley’s deep backcourt is the ability to play at a quick pace, but under control.
Bradley leads The Valley by averaging 77.0 points per game.
Despite the uptempo style, Bradley is tied for 12th nationally for fewest turnovers per game, committing just 11.8 miscues per contest.
Bradley is the only team in the nation averaging at least 77 points and fewer than 12 turnovers per game.
Disadvantage on the Boards
The most glaring disadvantage of Bradley’s small lineup has been the team’s inability to consistently keep the opposition off the boards.
Bradley is being outrebounded by 6.7 boards per game and has lost the rebound fight in 17 of the 23 games to date.
Managing the Deficit
Bradley has shown this season that it does not have to win the battle of the boards to succeed, however, but the Braves must remain in the fight.
Bradley is 13-1 when the Braves are at least within six rebounds of their opponent, but 2-7 when the Braves are outrebounded by more than six boards.
Bradley may have a new look in 2006-07, but the Braves are playing with experienced players.
The average age of the top seven players in Bradley’s regular rotation is 21.3 years old and junior forward Matt Salley, who will turn 21 Jan. 28, is the “baby” of the group.
Ruffin Climbs the Assists Chart
Junior point guard Daniel Ruffin, a preseason candidate for the Bob Cousy Point Guard of the Year Award, dished out 17 assists in the two games last week to become the eighth player in school history to reach 400 career assists.
Ruffin has quickly climbed into fifth place with his 414 career assists, just two behind fourth-place Marcello Robinson (416 from 2000 through 2004), but still 181 back of third place Billy Wright (595 from 1992 through 1996).
Rough Stretch for Robinson
While Daniel Ruffin is primed to pass his point guard predecessor Marcello Robinson on Bradley’s career assists list, Robinson also got bumped off Bradley’s career top 10 list for 3-pointers Saturday.
Jeremy Crouch supplanted Robinson for 10th place by sinking his 109th career trey at
Who Do You Pick for Most Improved
Each year the league’s 10 primary beat writers select a five-player Missouri Valley Conference Most Improved Team.
With eight games remaining in the regular-season schedule, Bradley has as many as six players that could argue consideration for the league’s Most Improved Team.
Danny Adams 32 Sr. G
A fifth-year senior, Adams has averaged 20.2 minutes per game this year as a regular in Bradley’s eight-man rotation.
Has increased his scoring average by 376.5% percent over a year ago by averaging 6.4 points per game.
After making a total of 23 3-pointers in 78 attempts (.295) during his first three seasons, Adams has more than tripled his career total by making 45-of-99 (.455) 3-point field goal attempts this season.
Zach Andrews 21 Sr. C
A junior college transfer, Andrews was the primary backup to center Patrick O'Bryant last season, averaging 5.3 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.
The starting center in all 23 games this season, Andrews is averaging 11.3 points and 7.3 rebounds per game this season with five double-doubles.
The league’s third-leading rebounder, Andrews is second in field goal percentage (.627).
Averaging 14.8 points on 76.6 percent (36-47) shooting from the field in the last six home games.
Jeremy Crouch 14 Jr. G
Crouch enjoyed a productive freshman season, but suffered a severe slump last year and ended the year averaging only 4.6 points in his 22 appearances, while shooting just 24.2 percent (15-62) from 3-point range.
One of the breakout players in The Valley this year, Crouch was the league’s third-leading scorer at 16.4 points per game and a national leader in 3-point shooting before going down with a knee injury.
Scored in double-figures in each of his first 14 games this year and has made at least one 3-pointer in all 15 games he has played.
By making 48-of-99 (.485) 3-point tries, Crouch leads The Valley in 3-point field goals per game and has moved into 10th place on the school’s career list with 109 treys.
A junior college transfer, Franklin was recruited as a back-up point guard and averaged 5.0 points per game in 27 games off the bench last season.
Now a starter alongside point guard Daniel Ruffin, the 6-foot
Ranks second in The Valley by averaging 3.0 treys per game and is on pace to break the single-season school record for 3-pointers in a season (90).
In addition to his scoring,
Daniel Ruffin 20 Jr. G
An honorable mention All-MVC pick last season after averaging 7.7 points and 5.2 assists per game.
Had made 54 3-pointers in his first two seasons on 32.1 percent shooting from behind the arc.
Averaging 14.2 points and 5.6 assists through Bradley’s first 23 games this year and has made 42-of-106 (.396) 3-point tries.
Leading The Valley with 2.1 steals per game.
J.J. Tauai 10 Sr. G
Tauai had averaged only 2.3 points on 31.8 percent career field goal shooting in his first three seasons.
Focused on defense last year, Tauai averaged only 1.8 points and 1.8 rebounds during his junior season.
Has increased his scoring by a team-best 377.8 percent by averaging 6.8 points per game this year, while shooting 44.6 percent from the floor.
Through just 23 games, Tauai already has set career season bests with 89 rebounds (3.9 rpg), 50 assists (2.2 apg) and 28 steals (1.2 spg).
Had one career double-digit scoring game in his first three seasons (in the final game of the 2003-04 regular-season), but has six double-digit scoring games this year, topped by a career-best 21 points versus SIU-Edwardsville.