Brendan Preisman, CP Sports Network

As we ring in the new year, the third-ranked Creighton Prep Junior Jays are playing like a title contender.  The undefeated record no longer exists, but, at 10-1 and with the only blemish being a close loss to the defending champions is definitely a great start to the season.  

In my preseason interview with coach Josh Luedtke, one of the things he mentioned is that the Junior Jays would have to beat the teams they were supposed to beat, as they occasionally struggled with “weaker” opponents last year.  They’ve had no trouble with the easy parts of their schedule so far, and that’s why they’re sitting at #3 and are the third team to double-digit wins (behind just #1 Millard North and #4 Omaha Central, both of whom have played as many or more games).  The early success bodes well for the early rounds of the state playoffs, but the upcoming schedule could be a sneak preview at just how far this team could go.  

After a shootout win against #9 Westside and a tough loss to #2 Bellevue West, the Junior Jays needed a good defensive win to help get mentally back on track, and against Omaha South, they got just what the doctor ordered.  Prep forced the Packers into just 36% shooting along with 18 turnovers, as well as out rebounding them 44-23.  While the offensive production left a bit to be desired (Prep also shot 36%), in the end the Junior Jays did enough to get their 4th 20-point win of the season, 63-43.

The biggest (literally and figuratively) key to success for Prep was junior forward Luke Jungers, who set a career high in rebounds with 17 and added 11 points.  Senior guard Mai’Jhe Wiley also contributed quite a bit, scoring in double digits for the third time this season while also dishing out 4 assists. Senior Justin Sitti continued his hot streak by scoring 8 points while also grabbing 7 rebounds and garnering 4 assists and steals.  The team defense was spectacular as well, only allowing one Omaha South player to shoot above 50%.  

The Millard South game appeared to be a very tough test at first, as Prep was down 10-9 to the Patriots at the end of the first frame.  However, they responded by having a quarter for the ages, outscoring Millard South 17-2 en route to a 26-12 halftime lead and eventual 54-37 win.  The team had its 5th game of the year holding an opponent at or under 40 points, mostly thanks to holding Millard South to 30% shooting.  

The Prep offense was led by Brendan Buckley, who scored a season high 19 points (including 4 made 3-pointers).  The rest of the offense was pretty egalitarian, with Jungers chipping in with 8 points and Sitti and senior forward AJ Rollins both adding 6.  While there were still some concerning issues (namely, the numerous offensive rebounds for Millard South guards), the team looked like it was fully back on track in all facets of the game.  The best part of the game (in my opinion) was holding every Millard South player to single digit scoring.  

The schedule is really going to get tougher as we get further into the month, with 4 top-10 teams on the schedule over the next 31 days.  All of those games are at home, but the great home field advantage from last year (the Junior Jays went 10-1 at home) won’t be available due to limited attendance.  We saw a bit of Prep’s great qualities and a few of their not-so-great qualities over their last few games, but as the season winds on, one of those extremes will start to be more commonplace.  The keys for Prep the rest of the way are basically the same as the regular keys to the game: avoid turnovers, share the ball, and shut down the other team’s leading scorer.  If the Junior Jays can do that, then they might be able to continue the “state title every 3 years” tradition.  

Upcoming Schedule: Prep plays at Bellevue East on January 15 and at Fremont on January 16.