Shatel: Loss to Marquette triggers Creighton fans' restlessness, but perspective necessary, too

Creighton coach Greg McDermott is looking to direct his Bluejays to a signature win over defending national champion Villanova on Sunday following a stunning home loss to Marquette on Wednesday.

This was going to be a column about how Creighton righted the ship with a terrific victory over Marquette and dived into a wide-open Big East race just in time for a visit from Jay Wright.

Then the inbounds play happened.

Now the focus shifted to all the noise around coach Greg McDermott and if he’s fit for the task and whether this program is stuck in the Big East mud.

Same team. Same coach. One play.

College hoops is not just a long season, it can get downright goofy. Stuff happens. Mistakes happen. Markus Howard happens.

The distance between hero and goat? You can get there in 0.8 seconds.

McDermott isn’t going anywhere. Five NCAA tournaments in eight years. In six years of transitioning up to the Big East from Mid-Majorville, two third-place and one second-place finish. A national player of the year. Three NBA draft picks, all developed at Creighton.

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And if CU just handed the ball to a Marquette player under the basket Wednesday night, it’s game over and Mac is congratulated for having his team outperform one of the Big East favorites.

Yes, he was ultimately responsible for the Bluejays messing up the inbounds play and the final, this-can’t-be-happening end.

The coach immediately took that responsibility, didn’t pass it off to a player who should have known this or that. As the coach should. That’s why he’s getting the big bucks.

And two days later, when asked about getting over the play, he quipped, “I haven’t jumped off a bridge, so I’m still here. Our puppy got neutered Wednesday and he had a better day than I did.”

McDermott is the kind of coach Creighton fans should want to keep. Should Jays fans expect and demand more out of their coach?

Absolutely.

That was my takeaway from the “fiasco of the ending,” as McDermott called it. The noise level.

It was higher around Creighton basketball than I’ve heard in some time. Louder and stronger than after either of the past two subpar NCAA tournament performances.

Grumbling about the coach, some saying it’s time for a new guy. Why now?

It struck me as curious. Maybe it was the loss to Nebraska (breaking a seven-year streak). Maybe the recruiting accusation, which was not close to proven.

Perhaps closer to the truth is this old axiom: The longer a coach hangs around, the more he needs to make sure his act doesn’t stale. Mac has been here eight years, and while he’s upgraded the talent, the last three years have been NIT and two NCAA clunkers — and a program looking further away from the Sweet 16 than closer to it.

There’s a segment of Creighton fans who are getting restless. And vocal.

That’s not a bad thing. I think this program could use some urgency, a little fire. Maybe more than a little.

You have to be careful wading into this area. The coaches and players work hard. They want to win. They want to get to that next level.

But things are also good at Creighton. The athletic director and coach are good friends. The coach is accessible to the fans and both get along. Creighton games are big events — social events for some fans — and the CHI Health Center is a fun place to hang out. Life in the Big East is good, still new and exciting.

Is that an environment that promotes a lot of urgency? Good question.

Here’s another one: Would the mood around CU ever change as the Big East became less of a new toy? Would fans demand more? Would there be more noise?

The adjustment from Valley to life with Villanova is considerable and nobody knows how long it takes. For sure, the Big East was going to lift Creighton’s standards. Or else.

It’s happened. The talent level on CU’s roster is different. In the Missouri Valley, the mentality was to “make the tournament.” Hanging around Big East teams that want to make the Final Four will impact Bluejay fans, too. I think that’s happening.

I’ve always thought CU fans had a good handle on things. They voiced their displeasure during Rick Johnson’s era. There wasn’t a lot of grumbling during Dana Altman’s tenure, except for the dance with Arkansas. In general, it’s a group that demands effort and good hoops, a forgiving group, too.

But the expectations of Bluejay fans are growing in the Big East, and that’s a good thing. It’s also a tricky thing.

On the court, the Jays have proven they can hang with the Big East teams, especially in the years A.D. (After Doug). In the past two seasons, Creighton has finished in third place in the league at 10-8.

And, of course, Creighton leads the league in attendance and atmosphere.

The Jays were an elite Valley team and could challenge at the top even in “off” years. In the land of giants, the sledding is much tougher.

Villanova is as good as it gets. Now Marquette is a big boy. And here come St. John’s and Georgetown, roaring back.

Mac’s system makes a lot of sense, and it was one injury from challenging at the top the past two years. But it’s far from perfect.

CU is a finesse program, a finesse team. To hang at the top of this league, you gotta rebound and defend. You gotta be tough. You better come out swinging every game. CU can be better at all that.

Can Creighton’s “Let It Fly” ever win the Big East? Yes. That’s the hope with the current nucleus of sophomores and freshmen. On Friday, McDermott’s message was that results are important but he reminded that, “We’ve got this group together for the long haul.”

And yet, the Jays are one inbounds play from being 2-1 with a chance to sit in first place with a win over Villanova. Their season will still look a lot different with a win Sunday. They’re good enough to make that happen.

Perspective is important. So, too, are fire and urgency. In the Big East, you need all the help you can get. And that includes good fans who want to remind their coach that certain things are not acceptable. That’s totally acceptable. And necessary.

I know this: if Coach Mac ever needs an inbounds play, he’s going to have a lot of help.

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