The NCAA’s decision to try to take some of the physical play out of basketball might be coming at the perfect time for the Creighton women’s team.
Referees in both the men’s and women’s games have been instructed this season to crack down on some of the rough play, especially on the perimeter, in an attempt to increase scoring.
The Bluejays also are entering a league that has a reputation for being more physical than one they left. While at the new Big East media day earlier this week, coach Jim Flanery had one of his new colleagues tell him that Creighton probably won’t be affected by the emphasis to clean up the game.
“I think that was kind of a jab like you guys aren’t physical at all,” Flanery said.
Even though his team does like to press, Flanery knows that with a roster of players closer to 5-foot-2 than 6-2 that the Bluejays probably won’t ever be mistaken for the monsters of the midway.
“I think this could help us,” Flanery said. “I think everyone in our new league recognizes that we’re a skill team that might be less athletic than others.”
And maybe a little less tougher.
“I don’t know if the new league is going to be any more physical,” Flanery said. “The phrase they keep using is freedom of movement, and they’ve really hammered that. They want more scoring, they want a prettier game.
“I think the teams that are more physical have to be aware of that. In talking with the other coaches, they’re doing things in practice to call things tighter and to make their players aware that the game is going to be cleaned up.”
That might be a double-edged sword. Several of Flanery’s players say an emphasis on taking hand checks out of the game has them concerned.
“It kind of stinks because I like to hand check a little bit,” senior guard McKenzie Fujan said, laughing. “But we’ve definitely been cleaning things up in practice.”
Sophomore guard Marissa Janning also has had to think about cleaning up her game.
“I hand check people a lot — it just happens,” Janning said. “You do it by habit. But I think it could help me a lot as a point guard. Teams aren’t going to be able to get up in my face.
“It’s been something they’ve been trying to do — I remember they tried to do it my senior year in high school but it just didn’t happen. I think it might be able to help us a lot if they are consistent in calling it.”
Fujan and Janning are two of the four starters returning from a team that won 25 games and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Also back are starters at forward and center in seniors Sarah Nelson and Alyssa Kamphaus.
That experience might have figured in the new Big East coaches picking Creighton to finish second behind DePaul in the preseason poll. The Bluejays received two first-place votes.
Creighton also has key reserves back in Jordan Garrison, Alexis Akin-Otiko, Sammy Jensen and Tessa Leytem. Brianna Rollerson, a 6-0 forward from Omaha Central, has joined the mix after redshirting last season, and Flanery likes the quick transition freshmen MC McGrory and Lauren Weeks are making in preseason practice.
“I like our depth,” he said. “We can throw some other people in there, and we’re going to play nine, 10, 11 people. They’re not all going to play 25 minutes a game but I feel like our depth will help us over the course of an 18-game conference season.”
Janning, who led the Bluejays in scoring as a freshman with a 12.6 average, and Nelson, the team’s leading rebounder (7.8) and second-leading scorer (11.7), were selected to the new Big East preseason all-conference team.
They accompanied Flanery to New York City for media day, and the coach said the trip could be especially beneficial for Janning.
“Marissa doesn’t lack for confidence,” Flanery said. “But when you go there and see your name on the board as a first-team All-Big East player that might give her an idea of the responsibility of being great in practice every day.
“I think she kind of had that feeling, but I think that will solidify that she needs to be a great practice player every day because her name is up on that board.”
Flanery won’t change his normally tough non-conference scheduling. The strength of Creighton’s non-league schedule contributed last season in the Bluejays landing a rare at-large berth in the NCAA tournament.
Creighton will play road games at 2013 NCAA qualifiers Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. The Bluejays will participate in the Duel in the Desert in Las Vegas, where they’ll play Oregon State, Clemson and Nevada-Las Vegas. The home schedule includes games against Minnesota, South Dakota State and Brigham Young.
“We didn’t know we were going to be in the Big East until last spring,” Flanery said. “Our schedule is tough but it’s also one that we can handle based on our experience.
“Moving forward, maybe if we have a little less experienced team, we might tone it down a little. This year will be difficult, but we have the depth and the experience to handle it.”