Although blessed with the luxury of a veteran team, Creighton coach Greg McDermott is maintaining a business-as-usual approach to the Bluejays’ early-season games.
There are still evaluations to be made, minutes to be earned and, of course, games to be won.
“We still have a lot of guys trying to get better in order to earn playing time,” McDermott said after Sunday’s practice. “Even though our starting rotation is pretty much set, there are still question marks off the bench.
“We still have a lot of questions to be answered.”
McDermott and his staff got the first for-real look at this season’s team in Friday’s opening rout of Alcorn State. They’ll get their second in Monday night’s meeting against Missouri-Kansas City in a 7 p.m. game at the CenturyLink Center.
Hours before the Bluejays took the court for their opening game, UMKC stumbled in its opener, dropping an 81-76 decision at home to Division II Emporia State. The next night, Creighton’s former Missouri Valley rival, Wichita State, hammered the Hornets 93-50.
The games counted as exhibitions for Emporia State but went into the books as regular-season contests for the Division I teams.
“We know we’re going to get a very hungry team as they (UMKC) were excited for their opener and came up short,” McDermott said. “We’ll also be facing a team that in their exhibition game and their opener has shot 93 free throws.
“They are attacking the basket and trying to make some things happen. It’s going to be very important that we’re engaged and understand how we have to defend.”
The Kangaroos shot a school-record 53 free throws against Emporia and got 35 points from the line. Emporia State got called for 31 fouls as part of college basketball’s attempt to crack down on rough play, especially along the perimeter.
That is obviously going to be the ongoing story as college teams make their way through nonconference play. There were 47 fouls called in Creighton’s opening win over Alcorn State, with the Bluejays shooting 36 free throws and making 26.
Creighton got called for 18 fouls, and trying to adjust to the way the game is being called impacted some of the Bluejays’ early efforts on defense.
“It’s a different game,” McDermott said. “Our fans are going get accustomed to it, we as coaches and players have to get accustomed to it and, quite frankly, there’s a learning curve for referees.
“You’re going to give up some things that look like you’re not engaged defensively because you’re so worried about those fouls adding up on you.”
Much of the emphasis is on limiting hand checks in an attempt to juice up scoring numbers that have slumped in recent seasons.
“You can’t be handsy, and that’s always been one of my tendencies,” Creighton forward Ethan Wragge said. “You have to keep them back, use your chest more and be in position or you’re going to get yourself in trouble.”
Surprisingly, two of the four foul calls that limited Creighton All-American Doug McDermott to 20 minutes of playing time were charges. An offseason rule change that is designed to give offensive players more freedom of movement were supposed to cut down on the number of charge calls this season.
So how did McDermott pick up one in each half?
“I was just trying to be aggressive,” he said, “but they (refs) thought differently. They’re just doing their jobs. This is new the refs, too, and they have to adjust.
“They’re so used to calling things the way they’ve been taught. We have to continue to do what we’ve been taught, and I’m going to continue to be aggressive.”
No Creighton player the past three seasons has been more successful in drawing charge fouls than guard Jahenns Manigat. He’s drawn 40 in his career, many coming when, as the secondary defender, he would step in front of an opponent driving to the basket.
With the rule change, Manigat said, he will have to think twice before making a move that had become second nature to him.
“If I’m not 110 percent sure that it’s going to be a charge call, then there is no reason for me to try to take that chance,” he said. “It’s just the way they’ve been told to call it, and I just have to make the adjustment myself.”