The grind starts now.
With its long-anticipated Big East debut in the books, Creighton digs into the day-to-day business of trying to win a championship. The first of the 17 remaining conference games comes Saturday, when the Bluejays visit Seton Hall.
“Any time you get into conference play, you know it's going to be a little bit tougher,” Creighton guard Jahenns Manigat said. “Everyone wants to defend their home court, but we're up for the challenge.”
Creighton passed its initial Big East test, hammering an offensively challenged Marquette team 67-49 New Year's Eve. Seton Hall should present more of a defensive challenge: The 10-4 Pirates have six players averaging 10 points or more.
What Seton Hall has lacked is offensive continuity. Injuries hit the Pirates hard early in the season, but they're healthy enough now to worry Creighton coach Greg McDermott about the 2 p.m. CST game at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
Then again, McDermott knows that none of the Bluejays' remaining league games fall into the “gimme” category.
“You have to show up and be ready for every game, and if you're not at your best, there's a great chance you're going to get beat in this league,” he said. “That's where it's different from the Valley last year, when there were some teams retooling and rebuilding with some new coaches.
“You could maybe not play your best and your ability would carry you.”
Even with the most talented offensive team in the Missouri Valley last season, Creighton still lost five league games. The Bluejays did win 13 times, claiming the regular-season championship.
Creighton leads most offensive categories in its new league, but Seton Hall isn't far behind. The Bluejays average a league-best 81.7 points, while the Pirates are second at 79.1.
Seton Hall has averaged 88 points in winning its last three games, the most recent being the conference-opening 81-80 double-overtime win against Providence.
“We haven't played overly great or overly bad,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. “We're trying to get some of our best players back on the court. Hopefully, we're going in the right direction with injuries and we can start getting a little bit better as a basketball team.
“Overall, I'm happy with the effort the guys have produced. But unfortunately, we've had some injuries that have kept us from progressing the way we'd have liked.”
The Pirates, whose four losses have come by a combined 11 points, enter Saturday with center Gene Teague questionable because of a concussion. Teague, averaging a team-best 9.4 rebounds to go along with 10.8 points, missed the Providence game after sustaining the concussion in the Dec. 27 win over Lafayette.
The Bluejays are well-acquainted with the 6-foot-9, 270-pound Teague, who played two seasons at Southern Illinois before transferring.
“He's a big boy, and I remember him being a good player,” Creighton forward Ethan Wragge said. “And it looks like on film he's gotten better.”
Marquette also had its share of big-bodied inside players, but they spent the night chasing Wragge and Doug McDermott around the perimeter. Their outside shooting ability poses problems for opposing big men: They've combined to make 83 of Creighton's conference-leading 149 3-pointers this season.
Saturday's game will be Creighton's first on the road in its new league. Not only does that mean playing in new venues in front of new fans but it also requires the Bluejays to adjust to different hotels, restaurants and time schedules.
“This isn't Terre Haute,” said Wragge, referring to a stop in Creighton's former league. “It's all going to be new to all of us. We have to take it in, be ready and prepare for the game.
“You really find out how good of a team you have when you go on the road. We know we have to be 100 percent ready for these two games.”
Creighton's next game is Tuesday at DePaul. Because school is not in session, the Bluejays plan to travel to Chicago after Saturday's game and spend two days there preparing for the Blue Demons.
“The team that has the opportunity to win this league is going to find ways to win games on the road,” Greg McDermott said. “We want that to be us. This road swing is very important to us.”