The Sunday before the Holiday week brings college hoops fans a truly great matchup that’s sure to get overlooked amongst an NFL Sunday and Christmas preparation. California jets off to Nebraska for a rare true road game before Christmas. With many schools opting for a “neutral” site before the break – which mandates the NCAA to pay for athlete’s travel home – these two sides will play at the CenturyLink Center in downtown Omaha. Neither Creighton nor California are obvious Tournament teams at this point in the season but I would be pretty – very – shocked if either are left out of the Dance barring major injury. The Jays open as 10-point favorites against the Golden Bears.
There will be a ton of talent on the floor Sunday between two teams that have somewhat contrasting personnel. I’ll be frank in my assessment of these two off the top; there just isn’t justification for this spread being double-digits. No matter how the matchup ends up playing out.
One of the biggest reasons why I love Cal with the points in this game is because of how it matches up with Doug McDermott. The Golden Bears are thin on the front line but they have the right players to appropriately contain the two-time reigning Missouri Valley Player of the Year, which he obviously won’t have a chance to defend. David Kravish will start on McDermott and should do a decent enough job to maintain the task. Kravish is a 6’9″ junior with nimbleness and a perimeter game to match McDermott’s versatility. He’s not particularly strong but plays similarly to McDermott – doing it with footwork and a knowledge of the post. Doug will obviously get his, which is never the question, but I don’t think Kravish represents a mismatch. This bodes well for a Cal team that should get the best of most of the other matchups on the floor.
I’m not sure Creighton has a definitive answer for Richard Solomon – the tall, lanky Cal forward/center that can flat out dominate a game on both ends of the floor. Solomon will go up against Will Artino, who is talented but lacks the athleticism to run the floor with Solomon. Artino’s relative irrelevance on the offensive end also leaves Solomon to roam the paint and protect the rim, which will take away the Creighton penetration and allow the Cal defenders to get up in the face of shooters.
Kreklow, Cobbs and Bird are three very talented guards that can do everything – and then some – that the Creighton guards bring to the table. I love Gibbs, Manigat, Brooks and Chatman but there’s just nothing there to suggest that one guard group should get the best of the other. Grant Gibbs is one of my favorite players in the entire country. Think of him as Creighton’s version of Aaron Craft. It’s a toss-up between him, Craft and Kevin Pangos for most cerebral player in the country if you ask me. I’ll take Gibbs. It’s the year of Jabari – Parker, Brown and Bird. And Jabari Bird is one of the best freshman you haven’t seen play yet. Sweet stroke and athleticism to match it. This kid will be playing at the next level – sooner rather than later. Worth a watch on that Cal perimeter.
If one team shoots significantly better than the other – which is always a possibility – this game could stretch out to double-digits in favor of one side. But I really just don’t see Creighton being able to do anything much better than California to stretch this game out. California with the ten points looks like a slam dunk up to this point.
Free Pick: California +10