Jim Flanery's aggressive scheduling stands to make the Creighton women's basketball team's transition from the Missouri Valley to the new Big East a bit easier.
Flanery's tendency in the past to front-load the Bluejays' schedule often drew ridicule from some of his old Valley peers. No one was poking fun at Creighton last season, when the Bluejays parlayed their success in nonconference play into a rare at-large berth in the NCAA tournament.
It could again prove beneficial with Creighton poised to join a league with bigger, stronger and faster athletes.
“This isn't going to be anything new,'' Creighton sophomore guard Marissa Janning said. “We've played big girls before. That is why we play such a hard nonconference schedule so that we can be ready for teams like we'll be facing.”
Creighton actually faced teams from the old Big East in the NCAA tournament each of the past two seasons. CU battled St. John's to the wire in a first-round game in the 2012 tournament before falling 69-67 on a last-second shot.
“We already don't like St. John's because of that,'' said senior forward Sarah Nelson, laughing.
CU posted a 61-56 win over former Big East member Syracuse in the first round of last season's tournament before ending its season with a 68-52 loss to Tennessee.
St. John's is one of seven schools from the old conference that joined with Creighton, Xavier and Butler to form the new conference. While the new league represents a step up for CU, it hardly will be the meat grinder that it was in the past.
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Gone are perennial national championship contenders Connecticut and Notre Dame as well as Louisville, which played in the title game last season. The result is that the players in the new Big East will find the conference won't be their mother's Big East.
That had several coaches from the holdover schools trying to convince reporters at media day that the new league has a chance to be as strong as its predecessor. It was a message some had trouble buying.
“There's a strong feeling that we need to talk about how good the league can be without Connecticut and Notre Dame,'' Flanery said. “I understand where they're coming from because they've lived in the shadows of those programs.
“But, as a coach, I think you are what you are. I think we're going to be judged by what we're able to accomplish this first year and in the seasons after it.''
Creighton is being expected to accomplish big things in its first season in the new league. The Jays were picked second in the preseason poll behind DePaul, which has played in the NCAA tournament in each of the past 11 seasons.
Those expectations are fueled by the veteran team Flanery will field this season. Creighton returns four starters — Janning, Nelson, Alyssa Kamphaus and McKenzie Fujan — and several key reserves from the team that won 25 games last season.
Janning led the Bluejays in scoring last season as a freshman, while Nelson's versatility in the post will pose problems for some of the bigger players she'll be facing in the new league. Both players earned preseason all-conference recognition.
“This is going to be a big learning experience for us,'' Janning said. “At the same time, we're going to try to make a statement about why we were picked second in the league.
“We want to show that we can compete at the Big East level. It's going to be a step or two above the Missouri Valley, and that's no disrespect to the Valley. It's just a whole new conference, and it's going to be competitive every single game.''