Greg McDermott woke up Monday morning at 4:30, and it wasn’t because the Creighton coach wanted to get an early jump on celebrating his 49th birthday.
Arizona State guard Jahii Carson has that kind of impact on opposing coaches’ sleep patterns.
McDermott’s 20th-ranked Bluejays will be facing Carson on Thursday in their opening game of the Wooden Legacy tournament in California. It is a rematch of their November meeting of a year ago, when Carson scored 30 points in the Sun Devils’ 14-point loss to Creighton in the championship game of the Las Vegas Invitational.
“Quickest guy I’ve ever played against,’’ said Creighton guard Austin Chatman, no slowpoke himself.
With the 5-foot-9 Carson setting the pace, Arizona State has won its first six games, picking up its latest Monday night in a 79-77 home win over No. 25 Marquette. Carson is averaging 23.0 points, including putting up 40 in an 86-60 victory at Nevada-Las Vegas and getting 23 in the victory over Marquette.
He is shooting 54.8 percent from the field and 56 percent (14 of 25) from 3-point range.
“When he’s shooting that well from the perimeter,’’ McDermott said, “he’s really unguardable. And because he’s unguardable, he’s getting other guys shots.
“Our defense is really going to have to be good, or we’re going to have to score a bunch of points.’’
Creighton has done plenty of the latter in racing to a 4-0 start. The Bluejays rank 10th nationally in scoring with an average of 92 points per game. Creighton also is first nationally in assists per game (22.5), fourth in 3-point baskets per game (11.5), eighth in field-goal percentage (.536) and 10th in 3-point field-goal percentage (.460).
The Bluejays are allowing 70.5 points per game and allowing opponents to shoot 40.7 percent from the field and 34.7 percent from 3-point range. Not bad, McDermott said, but the defensive effort definitely could be better.
More consistent might be a better way of putting it. If the coach has a concern four games into the season, it’s that his team has demonstrated some up-and-down tendencies in victories over Alcorn State, Missouri-Kansas City, St. Joseph’s and Tulsa.
“There have been some really good things that have taken place, but I would just like to see us do them on a little bit more consistent basis,’’ McDermott said. “From our defense to our communication to our execution, it’s just not where I would like it to be.
“Having said that, it’s really impossible to play at the highest level for 32 games. You might get there for eight or nine games throughout the season, and you just hope that in those games when you don’t play your best, you still find a way to win.”
Saturday’s win over Tulsa falls into that category. The Bluejays gave up 26 points in transition, 38 points in the paint, 16 off turnovers and 14 on fast breaks. They allowed Tulsa to shoot 51.7 percent from the field and score 41 points in the opening half.
Yet, they managed to pull out an 82-72 victory that left not only the coaches but the players with mixed feelings.
“We’re messing up little things,” Creighton forward Ethan Wragge said.
That’s something McDermott tried to get across when he met Monday with Wragge and the Bluejays’ three other seniors — Doug McDermott, Grant Gibbs and Jahenns Manigat.
“As seniors, these are things we should know by now,” Wragge said. “Whether it’s a box out or knowing what ball-screen defense we’re in, we need to make sure we’re doing our job out there. As seniors, these are things we should know.
“All those little things add up and can be the difference for us at the end of games.”
Chatman said some of Creighton’s inconsistencies are a result of attention to detail.
“It’s not where it should be right now,” Chatman said.
The junior point guard said that’s not acceptable for a veteran team such as Creighton. Manigat and Doug McDermott have been starters since their freshman seasons, Gibbs is in his third season as a starter and Chatman has started his last 40 games. Wragge and Avery Dingman have plenty of experience in backup roles.
“As a veteran team, our attention to detail should be better,” Chatman said. “We focus on one thing and then we forget to focus on the next. We’ll put a big emphasis on one thing for a game and then we seem to lose emphasis on all the other aspects.
“We have to combat that and get back to what we know.”
The game against Arizona State will be the first of four in a six-day span for the Bluejays. The tournament’s second round will be played Friday before an off day on Saturday. The final round is Sunday, and the Bluejays will close out the long road trip with a Tuesday game at Long Beach State.
What’s the toughest thing about playing four games in such a short period of time?
“That’s a lot of moving for us older guys,’’ said Wragge, laughing. “We just have to make sure we stay fresh, get sleep and eat well. It will feel like an AAU tournament again.”
Wragge kept a straight face when he added, “As much as we love practice, playing a bunch of games is going to be fun for us.”
NOTES: Creighton leaves for California at 7:30 Tuesday morning. The players will gather at 5:30 at the Vinardi Center before leaving for the airport. The Bluejays will practice Tuesday and Wednesday in addition to having an hour shoot-around Wednesday at Cal State Fullerton’s gym, site of the first two rounds of the tournament. … Creighton moved up three spots to 20th in the Associated Press rankings released Monday, and jumped five spots to 18th in the USA Today coaches’ poll. … Chatman ranks fifth nationally in assists-to-turnovers ratio (6.3 to 1) and 23rd in assists per game (6.3), while Doug McDermott is eighth in scoring (27.5 points per game). Wragge ranks 20th in 3-point field goals per game (3.5) and 22nd in 3-point field-goal percentage (.560).