This preview and more on Creighton and the Big East are available in the Athlon Sports 2013-14 College Basketball Preseason Annual. The magazine is available online or on newsstands everywhere.
No. 16 Creighton Facts & Figures
Last season: 28-8 (13-5 Missouri Valley)
Postseason: NCAA Round of 32
Coach: Greg McDermott (80-30 at Creighton)
Big East projection: Second
Postseason projection: NCAA Sweet 16
Creighton fans long dreamed of a Catholic-school basketball league, the rumors of which circulated for years like some sort of mythical treasure. They have football to thank a dream come true.
When the (former) Big East football schools added members such as Tulane and SMU in an attempt to remain relevant, the basketball schools revolted. Seven Catholic schools reformed with the Big East name and kept the tournament in Madison Square Garden. Creighton’s investments and improvements, starting under former coach Dana Altman in 1994, paid off. The Big East wanted the best basketball schools, and Creighton fit, despite a geographic issue. The Bluejays, after 55 largely successful years in the Missouri Valley Conference, are stepping up to play powers such as Georgetown, Marquette and Villanova.
“There’s a huge buzz,” senior forward Doug McDermott says. “It’s always been out there, and then it just happened.”
McDermott, a 6’8” All-American, is responsible for much of that buzz. He turned down NBA possibilities to play his final season in the Big East. In July, the buzz grew when the NCAA gave forward Grant Gibbs, one of the nation’s best passers, a sixth season. The Bluejays enter the Big East as one of the favorites with four starters and three experienced reserves back.
McDermott’s return makes the transition easier. Coach Greg McDermott, his father, knows life in the Big East will test Creighton in ways the MVC did not. Creighton owned the best (or close to it) of everything — tradition, resources, facilities, academics, city — in the Valley. In the Big East, assets such as an NBA-quality arena are not nearly so special. While the Bluejays consistently won in the MVC, they did not dominate. Since 2000, they've won four MVC regular-season titles, sharing two. “We’ve gone from the top of the heap to the middle or near the bottom,” Greg McDermott says.
For its debut, Creighton will hit teams with a blend of outside shooting and crisp execution that is difficult to defend. It finished second nationally in shooting percentage (50.1 percent) and 3-point shooting (41.4). Doug McDermott (23.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg) is an excellent shooter who hustles his way into easy baskets and scores with a variety of post moves. He improved his dribble game and mid-range shot as a junior, despite defenses designed to stop him. Gibbs (8.5 ppg, 5.8 apg) excels at finding McDermott at his sweet spots and helps run the team from his forward position.
Creighton will miss center Gregory Echenique, whose size enabled him to guard most big men without help. He gave a finesse team a good dose of banging, and his replacements are not nearly as experienced nor physically imposing. Junior Will Artino (3.9 ppg, 2.5 rpg) is the first choice to man the middle.
“He played great basketball for us in February and March,” Greg McDermott says. “His skill level is on the perimeter offensively, and he’s a great passer.”
Sophomore Geoffrey Groselle (7’0”) played in 17 games last season. Forward Ethan Wragge (7.7 ppg, 2.6 rpg) causes mismatches with his 3-point shooting and is strong enough to guard some post players.
“I think we’ve got a group that can really shoot the basketball,” the coach says. “With Doug and Ethan Wragge, it puts a lot of pressure on the defense.”
The backcourt is solid with junior Austin Chatman (7.4 ppg, 4.2 apg) back for a second season as the starter at point. He may struggle defensively with bigger guards, but his quickness makes his him a threat in the open court. Senior Jahenns Manigat (5.9 ppg) started all 36 games last season. In recent seasons, the Bluejays lacked dynamic scoring and quick defenders on the perimeter. The addition of transfers James Milliken and Devin Brooks, both juniors, should help. Brooks can ease the burden on Chatman as the prime ball-handler.
“(Milliken) has a really good feel for the game,” Doug McDermott says. “He doesn’t hunt shots. He’s looking for the post and keeps his eyes up.”
Junior guard Avery Dingman (3.7 ppg) is a career 40.7-percent shooter from behind the arc. Redshirt freshman Isaiah Zierden is also a good shooter.
Creighton went to the junior colleges in an attempt to upgrade its athletic ability in the backcourt. Devin Brooks can push the ball and get it to shooters. He averaged 5.6 assists for Iowa Western Community College, which advanced to the NJCAA National Tournament. Guard James Milliken, from Cowley (Kan.) Community College, averaged 18.5 points and made 42.2 percent of his threes. Coaches will consider redshirting freshman center Zach Hanson.
Factoid: 25.7. Doug McDermott averaged 25.7 points in nine games vs. teams ranked in the top 50 of the RPI last season. He scored a season-high 41 points in a win over Final-Four bound Wichita State.
Creighton leaves a comfortable home in the MVC for a bigger challenge, one filled with big names and schools with similar resources and history. Few schools will benefit more from the recent wave of conference realignment. There are risks — the Bluejays need to recruit a higher level of athlete, and they are faced with the difficulties of geographic isolation. The return of Doug McDermott and Gibbs should make the first Big East season memorable.
“Every night, we’re going to have to bring it,” Chatman says. “We have a lot of high hopes and aspirations.”
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