No. 24 Creighton


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By Jeff Borzello | College Basketball Blogger

Coach: Greg McDermott

Career record: 332-217 at Wayne State, North Dakota State, Northern Iowa, Iowa State and Creighton

Best NCAA Tournament finish: Round of 32, 2012 (Creighton)

Years at current school: 2

Last season’s record: 29-6 (lost to North Carolina in the Round of 32)

Notable returnees from last season: Doug McDermott, Greg Echenique, Grant Gibbs, Jahenns Manigat, Josh Jones, Ethan Wragge, Austin Chatman

Vital Info: No. 24 Creighton
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Notable losses from last season: Antoine Young

Notable newcomers: Isaiah Zeirden, Nevin Johnson (redshirt last season)

Projected starters: G: Austin Chatman, G: Grant Gibbs, G: Jahenns Manigat, F: Doug McDermott, C: Greg Echenique

Why this team will be good: Creighton brings back nine of its top 10 players from last season, including All-American Doug McDermott, who might be even better than his 22.9-point, 8.2-rebound campaign of a year ago. He’s extremely difficult to guard, given his ability to score inside or from behind the arc. Former Rutgers transfer Greg Echenique is another option in the paint. Those two combine for a potentially dominant post duo seldom seen in the Missouri Valley. While the Bluejays lose Antoine Young at the point, versatile Grant Gibbs is a terrific passer and there are several guards to chip in on the perimeter.

The Bluejays are one of the best offensive teams in the country, with the capability of scoring consistently in the paint and from the 3-point line. Five players shot better than 40 percent from behind the arc, and the team ranked sixth in the country in 2-point field goal percentage.

Why this team might disappoint: The Bluejays’ biggest problem last season came on the defensive end. Of teams ranked in Ken Pomeroy’s top 80 a year ago, Creighton had the worst defensive efficiency of them all. They allowed far too many open shots from the perimeter, and rarely forced turnovers. Creighton let opponents reach the 80-point mark six times last season -- that needs to change if the Bluejays are to get out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.

While it’s true that Young can be replaced, his loss will have an impact. He was a three-year starter and the senior leader of last season’s team. Moreover, Young was a player who could create his own look at the end of the shot clock. There are other players who can handle the ball and run the offense, but Young was experienced and knew how to make plays late in games.

Bottom line: Creighton looked well on its way to a Missouri Valley title last season, but a three-game losing streak in early February relegated them to a second-place finish. With Wichita State losing five seniors, the Bluejays are clearly the cream of the crop in the conference this year.

There’s enough experience with all but one player returning from last season, including three seniors and four juniors. There’s enough top-level talent with All-American McDermott, Echenique and Gibbs. And there’s certainly enough offense -- the Bluejays averaged 80 points per game last season. That should be more than sufficient to win the Valley this season. Outside the league, though, Creighton will need to tighten up its defense in order to make a deeper run in the NCAA tournament. The Bluejays allowed an average of 76 points in the six games they played against NCAA tournament opponents last season. That can’t happen again.

Quote from an opposing coach in the league: “Right now, it’s Creighton and everyone else in our league. They have a first-round draft pick in McDermott, and that’s rare in our league. The thing that makes them tough is that they have high-major size. In our league, the center is 6-7, 6-8 and the four is 6-5, 6-6. They have two 6-9 guys and one can shoot the crap out of it. People talk about their defense, but in our league, they just score so much that they don’t need to defend. Maybe they do outside the league. The thing about Creighton is that they win. No matter who the point guard is, no matter the coach, they win.”

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