ROSEMONT, Ill.-- After cracking preseason Top 25 polls for the first time in school history, the 20th-ranked Northwestern Wildcats understand that teams have extra incentive to beat them.
The Wildcats (2-0) will face their biggest test yet as they host Creighton (2-0) Wednesday as part of the Gavitt Tipoff Games.
Sophomore forward Gavin Skelly, who had 14 points and six rebounds in a 75-66 win over St. Peter's Monday, said the Wildcats are approaching games with a different mindset than in previous years because of the expectations surrounding the ranking.
"There's a target on our back," Skelly said. "We're not trying to hunt down the big-time teams, they're trying to come after us, so we've got to protect our home floor, and we've got to go into away games knowing that teams want to beat us. This is a game for them that's not just a regular game, this is a big staple game for (a lot of programs) so we need to know that teams are going to give everything they can no matter what."
Creighton scored 201 points in its first two games, defeating Yale and Alcorn State as part of the Hall of Fame Classic series. The Bluejays finished last season with the 16th-best 3-point shooting percentage in the nation (39.7 percent) and have made 24 3-pointers this season, shooting 41.1 percent.
After getting its 20th NCAA Tournament berth last season, Creighton returns just two starters -- Marcus Foster, who averaged a team-best 18.2 points per game last season, and Khyri Thomas, who averaged 12.3 points and 5.8 rebounds. Foster and Thomas have accounted for nearly 40 percent of Creighton's scoring through its first two games.
"They have two really good wings in (Thomas) and (Foster)," Northwestern coach Chris Collins said. "I know they push the ball and I know they score a lot of points and like to play fast...We're going to have to be really locked in defensively."
The Bluejays lost several key players, including 2017 Big East Rookie of the Year Justin Patton, who was drafted 16th overall in this year's NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls, and currently plays for the Minnesota Timberwolves. He averaged 14.2 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per game during the 2016-17 season.
Northwestern point guard Bryant McIntosh was recruited by Creighton, and compared the Bluejays' offensive style to Tom Crean's when he coached Indiana.
"It's a big defensive challenge for us," said McIntosh, who had a team-high 17 points against St. Peter's. "They play really fast...Their offense is something that can really get after you and make you play on your heels. They like to get up the floor as fast as they can and create."
Creighton coach Greg McDermott holds McIntosh in high regard, but is equally concerned with the Wildcats' bigger, deeper frontcourt.
"They can throw it inside and score, and they can shoot the 3," McDermott said. "McIntosh is really the straw that stirs the drink for them. He gets the ball to places, he can score in a variety of ways, and he creates opportunities for his teammates. A lot of what those big guys get sometimes is because of the decisions that he makes. ... I think we'll find out a lot about ourselves."