PROVO — When BYU and Creighton square off in the National Invitation Tournament quarterfinals, a trip to New York City’s famous Madison Square Garden is at stake.
But the No. 2 seed Cougars may not be at full strength Tuesday (7 p.m., MST, ESPN) when they host the fourth-seeded Bluejays.
Senior guard Kyle Collinsworth did not practice Monday due to a bout with the flu and he could be sidelined for his final game at the Marriott Center.
BYU coach Dave Rose said that a flu virus has gone through much of his team the last three weeks.
“It’s going to be interesting to see because some of them have been 48 hours, some of them 72 hours,” Rose said. “Hopefully this is quick because we don’t have a lot of time. Today’s not an ideal day to miss (practice). We put our game plan in. But (Collinsworth's) got a lot of experience. We’ll see how he feels (Tuesday). Hopefully, the rest of the guys can step up and we’ll have another game and he can catch us in New York, if that’s what it comes down to.”
“It would definitely be a big loss. We love playing with Kyle,” center Corbin Kaufusi said of the prospect of being without the NCAA career leader in triple-doubles. “He’s our dude. We need him back.”
If Collinsworth can’t play, freshman Nick Emery is expected to start at point guard. But Emery is confident that Collinsworth will be on the court, no matter what.
“He’s playing for sure. Kyle’s a tough guy,” Emery said. “Even if he was sick, he’ll play through it.”
During his time as head coach, Rose has dealt with late-season personnel issues several times before.
“When things happen like this, I try to do the least disruptive thing to the starting lineup to allow us to continue to play how we’ve played,” he said. “Obviously, in this situation, you’re taking away a huge part of what we do. I’m sure it will take two or three different guys to try to fill the hole.”
BYU’s other big concern, of course, is its opponent. Creighton, from the Big East Conference, walloped Wagner the day after the Cougars squeaked past Virginia Tech Friday night.
“Sometimes you watch film and you get intrigued by the players and sometimes you’re intrigued by the system. Both of those things are really fun to watch,” Rose said of the Bluejays. “They’ve got a great offensive philosophy. Three or four really good guards who know how to play, that can beat you off the dribble and can shoot it. The posts are really skilled. They run a really good offense. I like how they share the ball."
Creighton’s leading scorer is junior guard Maurice Watson Jr., who averages 14.4 points per game. He is the Bluejays’ version of Collinsworth.
“Not only can he really score, but he can drive and assist the ball. He’s one of the better players in the Big East,” Rose said of Watson. “I think our game plan will be to try to get him to not be able to do so many things. Kind of the same things teams try to do with Kyle … Kyle’s been pretty good at being able to run our team and this kid seems to be the same way … (Watson’s) a great dribble penetrator and finisher. If you bring help to try to stop his penetration, he’s got great court vision.”
Creighton also boasts 7-foot senior center Geoffrey Groselle, who, like Gonzaga’s Domantas Sabonis, is a left-hander.
"That kid’s pretty good. We’ll try to be physical and handle him with a couple guys and hopefully we can find something that works for us,” Rose said of Groselle. “He’s really skilled. He shoots 70 percent from the field. We’ll have to pay attention to him and hopefully we can keep the ball out of his hands. But to do that, you have to contain those guards.”
“Usually a team has one or two things they’re really good at," Emery said. "Creighton has five or six things they’re really good at. They play like a team. We’re going to have to beat them. We can’t have a bad game.”
This marks the Cougars’ third consecutive NIT home game and they’re hoping to capitalize on their home-court advantage once again. BYU drew 12,379 fans in the win over Virginia Tech and it is hoping for an even larger crowd Tuesday.
The Cougars and Bluejays desperately want to win one more game to earn a spot in the NIT semifinals in New York City, which will be played March 29.
“I feel like we’re playing a lot more loose right now. We’re playing free. Losing’s not an option for us,” Emery said. “We’re continuing to battle and fight through these games. We’ve just got to keep winning.”
Creighton (20-14) at BYU (25-10)
Tuesday, 7 p.m., MDT
Radio: 1160 AM, 102.7 FM