Before this season began, I had the chance to watch Dane Watts in the Council Bluffs Summer League. The first thing that jumped out at me was his size. Athletically, he looked like a different person than the one I saw during the basketball year. Only covering Creighton for one season, I didn't get the chance to see Dane Watts without Mono which plagued him for most of last year. The illness sapped him of energy and made him a non-factor at key moments last year. Going into the year, his play was a major question mark.
Fast forward to Friday night - Game 2 of the Rainbow Classic vs Houston. You might be able to call last night's game Dane Watt's coming out party. If not for his career, for sure this season. Dane did everything in the game that the coaches asked him to do. He collected his second career double-double. His free throwing shooting was awful last year. Dane went 5 for 7 at the line last night and has really been solid in that department including the game winners vs. George Mason. He promised me in the preseason that he would change last year's 50% performance and he has.
The Junior from Missouri powered the Jays with a career high 21 points to go along with 10 boards but I liked his toughness on the inside the most. On a night that looked like a loss for Creighton (picked by me), Watts banged the boards and stepped outside equally causing major problems for Houston. His 4 for 6 shooting behind the arc was exactly what the team needed to counter the bombing attack from downtown that Houston featured. The Jays went 10 of 18 from behind the line - none were bigger than Dane's. (For the record Houston went 12 of 39 from 3)
Coach of Houston Tom Pender's style of feast or famine offense allowed the Jays to run a bit more off long rebounds and I really liked the play of Freshmen Isaac Miles. His tough D and clutch shooting gave the Jays another weapon. The Cougars were fun to watch but they struggled when the Jays forced them into the half court. On a night where offense was needed -Creighton showed why many picked them for a Top 20 team in the preseason....depth.
Coach Altman is doing something very interesting this year with his two star senior players. Since the team has struggled with both of them on the floor together, he has split them up. Often times last night, Nate Funk and Anthony Tolliver subbed for one another. With one of them on the bench - there is no question who the number 1 option is. It also gives the Jays and Left-Right combo of first inside to AT then outside to Nate with their offensive focus. It is working so far but I'm curious to see how this experiment plays out in the MVC.
Finally, the Championship match is Hawaii vs. Creighton tonight. If last night's game vs. Nebraska is any indication - expect the refs to be one sided. Hopefully Dana will handle it better than Doc Sadler and have the guys mentally ready for the challenged. Nebraska is 0-3 on the road....same record as the Jays....tonight is a road game with a Championship on the line. The refs aren't going to be Jay friendly.
Prediction: 71-68 Jays. However I was 0 for 2 last night. So maybe you don't want me picking the Jays if you are a Creighton fan. I just don't think Hawaii is very good - in fact I think Nebraska could have won that game if they kept their composure better - Coach included.