Creighton’s Big East adventure begins in a week, and at least one well-heeled coach likes the Bluejays’ chances in their new league.
Mike Montgomery took Stanford to the Final Four, coached two seasons in the National Basketball Association and has taken California to the NCAA tournament in three of his first five seasons in Berkeley.
Montgomery has come out on the losing end in two meetings with Creighton, the most recent coming Sunday when the Bluejays posted a 68-54 home win over the Golden Bears. Based on what he’s seen the past two seasons, Montgomery said, Creighton should handle its move from the Missouri Valley without major problems.
“I think they’ll do very well in that league,’’ Montgomery said.
Montgomery’s support comes with a qualifier. He admitted he had no idea which schools now play in the Big East. When told the reconfigured conference is made up of the seven Catholic schools that were part of the old Big East plus Creighton, Xavier and Butler, Montgomery became more supportive of the Bluejays’ prospects.
“I don’t see that they’ll have any problem with that group of teams they’re joining,’’ he said. “The powers — the Louisvilles, the Syracuses, those kind of people — aren’t there anymore.
“They can compete with all those other people. Having said that, they could also finish ninth. It’s the kind of league that they’re going to be a lot like a lot of the teams they’re playing. I don’t see anyone having a distinct advantage. Creighton has a lot of pluses going for it.”
The Bluejays will make their Big East debut on New Year’s Eve when they host preseason favorite Marquette. The Golden Eagles have struggled in nonconference play and will bring a 7-5 record into the game.
Creighton is 9-2 with a non-league game against Chicago State on Sunday. The Bluejays will return to practice on Christmas night after getting a short holiday break of about 2 1⁄2 days.
Given the short turnaround between the Chicago State and Marquette games, Creighton coach Greg McDermott said, the Bluejays will begin focusing on their first Big East opponent when they get back from break.
“We’ll work on Marquette some for a day and a half when the guys get back,” McDermott said. “Then we’ll turn the page and not talk about Marquette again until after the Chicago State game.
“We’ll get our normal two-day prep for Chicago State, and then we’ll be able to go back to what we did for Marquette when it’s time to get ready for that game.”
McDermott had tried to schedule the Chicago State game for Friday or Saturday.
“We just couldn’t do it,’’ McDermott said. “It’s a little closer to the Marquette game than I’d like it to be, but I really felt that it was important to have a game before we jump into Big East play.”
McDermott obviously knows which teams the Bluejays will be facing in the new league, but he’s still uncertain what Creighton will be facing once conference play begins.
The victory over California came in more of a grind-it-out game than the wide-open offensive displays that the Bluejays prefer. Creighton held California 21 points under its season scoring average while limiting the Golden Bears to 34.6 percent field-goal shooting.
The old Big East was known for its physical style of play, but McDermott doesn’t really know what to expect.
“There have been some high scores in the league in nonconference play and then you see some grind-it-out games as well,’’ McDermott said. “I watched Marquette play New Mexico the other night, and that game went up-and-down at a pretty good pace.
“But there also have been games like tonight’s (against Cal) in that it was physical inside. When a shot went up, it became a man’s game in trying to keep those guys off the boards. I thought our rebounding and our ability to block someone out consistently was good, and that’s going to be important in the Big East.’’
It could also be important for Doug McDermott to keep things in perspective when opposing teams try to get physical with him, as Cal did. The 6-foot-8 forward missed six of his first seven shots but got going near the end of the first half and finished with a game-high 20 points.
“He has to just let it come to him,’’ Greg McDermott said. “He’s a guy that likes to get off to that hot start, and he’s done it a lot. When that doesn’t happen, he gets a little frustrated.
“He just has to understand that first four or five minutes, you’re scouting it out. Here’s what they’re doing and this is what I can do to counter that, and it’s not going to come all at once. It’s not going to come all at once. He was able to finish the half because he let the game come to him instead of forcing some things.”