Missouri St.-Creighton Preview

Missouri St.-Creighton Preview

If his last performance against Missouri State is any indication, Creighton's Doug McDermott may be poised for another big game.

Back home for the first time in 15 days following a tough road swing, the 21st-ranked Bluejays may ride their star again on Wednesday night when they try for a regular-season sweep of the Bears.

McDermott, who ranks among the national leaders in scoring (23.7 points per game) and 3-point percentage (50.0), finished with a season-high 39 points to lead Creighton to a 74-52 victory at Missouri State on Jan. 11.

The junior made 14 consecutive shots and finished 15 for 19 from the field for the second-highest point total of his career. He had 44 in a win at Bradley last January.

Creighton (18-3, 7-2 Missouri Valley) shot 57.4 percent from the floor and 52.9 percent (9 of 17) from beyond the arc at Missouri State. It leads the nation in both categories.

Now McDermott and the Bluejays get another shot at a Bears team that has allowed 69.0 points on 48.0 percent shooting over its last five games.

"They'll fight us defensively," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. "They're going to grind it out and try to control the tempo, much like they did at their place. We have to make every possession count."

McDermott's club, however, has shown it can take care of business, winning 71 straight home games against losing teams.

After dropping the first two legs of a three-game road swing, Creighton bounced back behind McDermott's 21 points with an 81-51 rout of Southern Illinois on Sunday - the Bluejays' most lopsided road win since Feb. 19, 1974.

Jahenns Manigat, who had 11 points in the first meeting with the Bears, added 12 against the Salukis after going scoreless in the team's consecutive defeats.

Gregory Echenique, the team's leading rebounder (7.5 per game), added 12 points and 11 boards to help the Bluejays gain a 39-19 advantage on the glass.

That's certain to be an area of concern for Missouri State (6-15, 4-5). The Bears are 0-13 when they've been outrebounded - their minus-3.7 differential is last in the MVC - while the Bluejays are 16-0 when they've beaten teams on the boards.

Missouri State had won six straight in the series before Creighton took the last two meetings in Springfield.

While the Bluejays have won 44 of 50 at home the past three seasons, the Bears have handed them two of those losses. Missouri State, however, is just 1-7 on the road this season.

Senior Anthony Downing had 26 points to help the Bears snap a four-game losing streak with a 78-72 victory over Drake on Sunday.

Downing has averaged 17.3 points in nine conference games, but managed only 10 on 4-of-11 shooting in the first meeting with the Bluejays.

Gavin Thurman, one of Missouri State's four starting freshmen, is averaging 15.3 points on 50.0 percent shooting in his last four games.

"Those freshman are playing at a high level," Greg McDermott said. "They're a dangerous basketball team."

The Bears, though, have had their share of growing pains, ranking at the bottom of the MVC in scoring (60.2), field-goal percentage (40.6), 3-point percentage (30.9) and free-throw percentage (64.3).

It doesn't figure to get any easier against a Creighton team that ranks near the top of the conference defensively in each of those areas.

The Bears shot 37.9 percent overall and 21.7 percent from 3-point range in the first meeting.

No guarantees, but Ben Zobrist believes Cubs can live up to ‘super-team’ hype

No guarantees, but Ben Zobrist believes Cubs can live up to ‘super-team’ hype

CINCINNATI – Flooded with offers, Ben Zobrist turned down the New York Mets, San Francisco Giants and Washington Nationals – three teams the Cubs could potentially face in the playoffs – because he believed in The Plan, closing a four-year, $56 million deal by the winter meetings for the chance to make history in Chicago.    

Zobrist has been exactly what the Cubs wanted, a patient switch-hitter to set an example for a young lineup, a versatile defender who can play all over the field and an insightful clubhouse presence. But that contract should really pay off in October, the way the Kansas City Royals added dimensions to last year’s World Series winner with a trade-deadline deal for Zobrist.

“Talent really doesn’t mean a whole lot,” Zobrist said. “Every team that’s going to be there is talented. But that talent makes less of a difference when you’re playing against those caliber teams. It really comes down to execution.

“The teams that execute – the teams that make the pitch, make the play, have the good at-bat when they need it – are the teams that win. Regular season is what it is. We’ve had a great season. We know that we’re probably the best team that’s out there regular season. But that doesn’t guarantee us anything for the postseason.”

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One week out from the roar at Wrigley Field and the playoffs Cubs fans have been waiting for since the Mets swept last year’s National League Championship Series, Camp Joe Maddon crossed another day off the bizarro spring-training calendar with Friday night’s 7-3 win over the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park   

There aren’t many conclusions to be drawn from a 102-win machine rolling over a last-place team, but Zobrist did end Josh Smith’s perfect game by leading off the fifth inning and drilling a ball into the right-field seats. The crowd chanted “Let’s go, Cubbies!” in the eighth inning after Zobrist blasted his 17th home run out toward the same general area.

It’s one thing to have a strong relationship with Maddon and believe the recruiting pitch from team president Theo Epstein. It’s another to see the vision come to life across 160 games, in an industry where the teams that win the offseason typically buckle under the pressure.

Zobrist – who played in six postseason series with Maddon’s Tampa Bay Rays and put up an .880 OPS in 16 games during Kansas City’s World Series run – believes the Cubs have what it takes to become that special team.  

“For sure,” Zobrist said. “Just based on the mix of personalities and character and players that we have in this room individually.

“You know that when you put them together, it’s a ‘super-team’ of sorts. We really have to prove our record right, prove people right that we can do it when it counts. And that’s going to be the most important thing going into the postseason.”

Carlos Rodon sets White Sox, AL record with seven straight strikeouts to open game

Carlos Rodon sets White Sox, AL record with seven straight strikeouts to open game

White Sox pitcher Carlos Rodon tied an American League and a team record when he started Friday night’s contest with seven consecutive strikeouts against the Minnesota Twins.

Rodon, who struck out 11 in his previous turn on Sunday, matched the mark set by White Sox hurler Joe Cowley on May 28, 1986 in a loss at the Texas Rangers.

Of Rodon’s seven strikeouts, two were on called third strikes by plate umpire Tripp Gibson. Twins outfielder Logan Schafer snapped the streak with a one-out double in the top of the third inning.

Houston’s Jim Deshaies (1986) and the New York Mets’ Jacob de Grom (2014) hold the major league record with eight straight strikeouts to start a game.

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Doug Fister set the AL record with nine consecutive strikeouts in 2012 and Tom Seaver holds the MLB record with 10 straight in 1970.

Combined with Sunday’s start, when he struck out the side in the eighth at the Cleveland Indians, Rodon whiffed 10 straight batters. Rodon’s run is the longest consecutive strikeout streak in the majors since Los Angeles Dodgers reliever Eric Gagne struck out 10 in a row in May 2003.