A new start in a new conference means that the familiar names on the schedule come January and February are no longer there. Instead, Xavier faces a new slate of conference foes, some good, some bad, in their quest to continue building on the groundwork laid over the last 20 years.
If Xavier is making a big jump from the Atlantic 10 to the Big East, and they are, then Creighton is making a titanic leap up from the Missouri Valley Conference. Where the Bluejays faced also-rans like Southern Illinois, Drake, and Missouri St., they will now find Georgetown, Marquette, and Xavier. Following the Musketeers in the move up from the backhanded "mid major power" status was always a when, not if, proposition for Creighton. This year will show whether now was the right time.
Doug McDermott is the name you recognize, but it is Greg McDermott who is the coach at Creighton. McDermott might be a new name to some, but he's been the head coach at moderately successful DI programs since 2001. Startinging at Northern Iowa, jumping to Iowa State, and eventually settling in at Creighton, McDermott has been loathe to leave the Midwest for his positions.
The staple of McDermott's team at Creighton is their shooting. A good deal of attention is lumped (deservedly) on his son, but the Bluejays had four other players hit 40% or more of their attempts from behind the arc last season. That barrage of well aimed three pointers propelled to the best 3PT% and the best EFG% in the nation last year. That, combined with a solid 18.9% turnover rate, made the Bluejays the proud owners of the nations ninth most efficient offense.
I was expecting to see a major dropoff defensively from the Bluejays and, inasmuch as anything is a drop from number one, I guess their 59th in defensive efficiency is one. Still, this is not a team of finesse gunners unwillingly to dirty. A 31% from deep (51st), and 45.5% (92nd), and a 27.1% offensive rebounds allowed mark all add up to a team that plays some solid defense. What Creighton doesn't do is cause turnovers, ranking 327th nationally in that category.
Gregory Echenique is the biggest, both literally and figuratively, loss for the Omaha based team this year. Echenique was a bespectacled behemoth on the the inside, weighing in at 260 pounds (according to the team, not anyone with eyes) on his 6-9 frame. Gregory didn't shoot from outside, but he was brutally effective inside. Echenique never lived up to the potential of his freshman year, but he did manage 9.7/6.6/.4 in 23 minutes as the staple of the Bluejay interior.
Nevin Johnson, a guard who averaged 6 minutes a game, has transferred away from the program and Joe Kelling and Taylor Stormberg, both walk-ons, graduated. Those three combined to score only 61 points last year.
Also moving on is Josh Jones. Jones only played in eight games last year before passing out in preparation for a game at Nebraska on December 6th. Testing on Jones' heart revealed an atrial flutter to go with an enlarged heart and the guard's career was over shortly thereafter. At 23 the fear of very sudden, and very certain, death if he continued to play was more than enough to cause Jones to, wisely, pack it in.
This brings us back to Doug McDermott (23.2/7.7/1.6). McDermott is, obviously, an elite scorer with his .548/.490/.875 shooting line, but he also rakes down defensive rebounds at a 20.9% clip, good for 159th in the country last year. McDermott will undoubtedly be the best walk-on the nation this season.
McDermott is a walk-on because he gave up his scholarship when Grant Gibbs, a 6-5, 210 guard, was awarded another year of eligibility. Gibbs (8.5/4.1/5.8) is apparently on the Tommy Boy plan ("Yeah, they're called doctors) but is making the most of it. He's one of several returning Bluejays who is a deadeye shooter from deep, knocking down 39.6% of his attempts last year. All joking aside, McDermott's gesture of giving up his scholarship has strengthened this team greatly.
Another shooter coming back for this year is Austin Chatman, a 6-0, 185 guard. Chatman banged in 42% of his threes on his way to a 7.6/2.6/4.2 line. Ethan Wragge joins McDermott and Gibbs as the senior spine of the time. Wragge is a 6-7, 225 pound forward whose offensive rating was fourth in the nation last year. Most of Wragge's value comes from deep, where he buried 44.6% of his team leading 175 attempts. Rounding out the quartet of supporting shooters on Creighton is 6-6 sophomore Avery Dingman (.404/.398/.750). Dingman shot 39.8% in only 13 minutes but sill managed to hoist nearly three long range attempts per game. With Chatman, McDermott, Wragge, Gibbs, and Dingman, the Bluejays can really spread the floor.
Coach McDermott has an incredible nine new bodies on his roster. Obviously, some of those will redshirt or walk-on, but that's still a lot of new blood. Devin Brooks, a 6-2 junior guard, will play a lot at the point to spell Chatman. While not as good a shooter as most of his teammates, Brooks averaged 16ppg at local community college, Iowa Western. Darian Harris, a 6-6 freshman, will join Brooks in the backcourt. Harris is very thin and will have to add weight to play in the Big East.
Down low McDermott added Toby Hegner (6-10, 200) and Zach Hanson (6-9, 245). Hanson figures to be the more polished in the post of the two and was intended as something of a replacement for Gergory Echenique. ESPN and most other recruiting publications rank Hegner higher but, frankly, none of this incoming class is going to set the world on fire.
The Bluejays fell to Duke in the tournament last year, but a better draw could've seen them advancing a long way. This team can score, score, and score some more. More than just that though, they boast a star with a well rounded game, a floor spreading arsenal of shooters, and a defense much better than they get credit for. Creighton is making a big jump from the MVC to the Big East, but they've never been more ready to make it.
Closest A10 comp:
Either VCU at 16th or Saint Louis at 18th in the KenPom standings. Creighton finished 19th, but played a style not terribly similar to either of those teams.