Published Saturday, November 2, 2013 at 4:10 pm / Updated at 6:51 pm
BASKETBALL
'Big boys' no big deal to CU

Some national observers have painted Creighton's upcoming season as a sort of referendum on the Bluejays' ability to play big-boy basketball.

They concede that Creighton has accomplished some nice things over the years, but those achievements came at a level below the new conference the Bluejays are joining. Life in the new Big East will force Creighton to perform on a bigger stage under brighter lights against bigger athletes.

To that, Doug McDermott says, check the record books. The Bluejays' only losses in 11 games against power-conference teams over the past two seasons were to North Carolina and Duke, and both of those came in the round of 32 of the past two NCAA tournaments.

“This isn't going to be anything new,'' he said. “We've played against big boys, and it's not like the teams in the Big East are bigger boys that we are.

“It's going to be a lot more physical and those teams are a lot more athletic, but we're ready for that. If any year is the year for a move, this year is it because we have so many guys returning. We've played in those big-boy battles before.''

In the 6-foot-8 McDermott, Creighton has one of college basketball's biggest boys. He returns for his final season having already twice earned first-team All-America honors. He broke the school's all-time scoring record as a junior.

He starts the season as the conference's preseason player of the year. He could end it as the national player of the year. He is arguably Creighton's all-time best player without factoring in any senior-season accomplishments.

Three other starters — Grant Gibbs, Jahenns Manigat and Austin Chatman — return, as do several key reserves. The Bluejays addressed concerns about their depth with the addition of junior-college guards Devin Brooks and James Milliken, and true freshman Zack Hanson is contending for playing time at center.

Creighton's personnel would have had the Bluejays battling Wichita State as the championship favorite had they remained a member of the Missouri Valley. The move to the reconfigured Big East, though, has cast seeds of doubt as to how the Bluejays will fare when matched up against its new conference brethren.

Trying to forecast where Creighton fits into its new neighborhood is further complicated by uncertainty about the league itself. The old Big East was one of college basketball's true power conferences. Some observers forecast big things for the new league, but others suggest it now rests closer to the Atlantic 10 than the Big Ten.

Three former mid-major teams — Creighton, Xavier and Butler — have replaced blue blood programs such as Louisville, Connecticut and Syracuse. Of the seven holdover schools, only Georgetown, Marquette and Villanova consistently have ranked among the sport's heavyweights in recent seasons.

Georgetown coach John Thompson III remains high on the conference, proclaiming at last month's media day that the new Big East still has to be in any discussion about college basketball's top leagues.

Marquette's Buzz Williams, whose team was selected as the preseason favorite, takes a stance that this group has plenty to prove.

“When I think of the Big East, I think of all the teams that once made up the conference,'' Williams said. “From a competitive standpoint, I think it's different than it's ever been.''

There is one simple way, Williams said, for the conference to retain its perception as a big-time player in the national picture.

“The bottom line to all of this is winning,'' he said. “That's it. No matter who you are playing or what channel you're on, if you lose, nobody cares.

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“Words don't matter, work matters. You better win. We have to be accountable for who we are, we have to be accountable for our work. At the end of the day, we have to be successful.”

Marquette was the only team from the conference to land a spot in either the Associated Press or the USA Today coaches' polls. The Golden Eagles check in at No. 17 in both polls, one spot below Wichita State, Creighton's old Valley rival.

Creighton coach Greg McDermott said what the Shockers accomplished last season in their run to the Final Four proved that there is power conference-level talent in a league such as the Valley. What is different now for the Bluejays is that they have to face that kind of athleticism on a nightly basis rather than a couple of times during the conference season.

And they have to do it while contending with the grind of a round-robin schedule. He points out that all but two of Creighton's 11 games against power conference teams the past two seasons came on neutral floors.

This season, Creighton will play nine true road games against its new conference opponents. After completing a challenging nonconference schedule, the Bluejays begin an 18-game league grind when they make their new Big East debut Dec. 31 against Marquette.

“I think any time you have the move that us, Butler and Xavier are making, you're going to have some questions,'' Greg McDermott said. “The big one is how are you going to handle the grind night-in and night-out. I can't answer that question because we've never had to do it.

“The number of times we have had to play BCS-level teams on their floors has been pretty limited. That's not the case anymore. The wear and tear of that takes a toll over the course of a season.”

Hearing others doubt their ability to handle that challenge does motivate Manigat and his teammates.

“Internally, we know what we can do,” Manigat said. “If other people want to doubt us, that's fine. Regardless, we still have to go out there and play, whether people pick us No. 1 in the country or last in the country.

“We just have to continue being us and playing our brand of basketball. If we do that, we'll be successful.”

Contact the writer: Steven Pivovar

stevepivovar@hotmail.com    |   402-679-2298    |  

Steven Pivovar is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and primarily covers Creighton athletics and the College World Series.

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