The Creighton representatives who’ll spend their Tuesday morning with reporters at Big East media day are likely to be greeted with a new line of questioning as outside buzz grows for this year’s Bluejay squad.
It seems the narrative most applicable to Creighton in 2016-17 isn’t one rooted in the challenges of the past — adjusting after a conference switch or reloading after the career of star Doug McDermott.
There’s optimism and promise at the core of the Jays’ national profile this time around. They’ve been labeled as contenders already — CU is expected to be picked in the top half of the league, and it may very well be ranked in the preseason Top 25 polls later this month.
That is a good thing for a team left out of the last two NCAA tournaments, according to coach Greg McDermott.
A little hype from peers and analysts and fans? It is better than a surge of doubt, he said.
“We’re at a place where basketball’s important. We need to expect to be successful,” McDermott said. “Whatever comes from the outside, in terms of what their expectations are, it isn’t going to match what we feel we can accomplish internally.”
McDermott, senior Maurice Watson and senior Cole Huff will be on hand at Madison Square Garden to share that same message Tuesday. CU has every intention to compete for a conference title and earn its way back into the NCAA tournament.
The players are united in this mission. It’s why the offseason has been so productive, according to Watson.
“We have a vibe right now that’s unlike anything I’ve ever been around,” Watson said. “People are handling constructive criticism. People are learning from the ones ahead of them. People let their animosities go when they get into the locker room — they leave it on the floor. You see people trying to pick everybody up. Everybody has each other’s back.”
Creighton’s possible breakout will just be one of several storylines Tuesday. Below are five headline-worthy themes to keep an eye on at this year’s Big East media day.
» What does Villanova’s title mean for the Big East?
The Wildcats ended one of the toughest NCAA tournament runs in the most memorable of ways — a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to clinch the crown. It’s their second national title (1985 was the last one). Great for them, certainly. But maybe just as important for Villanova’s peers. The conversation can shift now. Instead of the discussion being about what the Big East used to be, it’s about what the conference now can become. The new league has performed well, according to most metrics. But it was in need of some validation. The Wildcats took care of that. Now a conference branding itself as one of the nation’s best has tangible evidence to prove its case. Big East recruiting has already benefited. We’ll see how long the boost will last.
» Speaking of ’Nova. Can anybody beat those guys?
Villanova has ruled the league. It’s now three straight outright regular-season championships for the Wildcats. And they’ll likely be picked to win a fourth. They lost veteran guard Ryan Arcidiacono and athletic big man Daniel Ochefu — but plenty of talent remains. Plus, one has to wonder, too, if Villanova has built a psychological advantage over its league foes. Get this: the Wildcats’ combined Big East record over the last three years is 48-6. The next best three-year record in league play belongs to Xavier: 33-21. The Musketeers appear to be the team best positioned to end Villanova’s reign this year. Creighton and Seton Hall — perhaps even Georgetown and Providence — could have a shot as well.
» Who are the Big East’s new stars?
Seemingly every league game featured a must-see matchup last year. There was Providence’s lethal duo of Kris Dunn and Ben Bentil, or do-it-all point guards like Seton Hall’s Isaiah Whitehead and Georgetown’s D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera. Or the two mainstays at Butler, Kellen Dunham and Roosevelt Jones. Or Marquette’s eventual NBA draft pick, Henry Ellenson. Or Xavier’s versatile forward, Jalen Reynolds. But those players are gone. So who’s next? Villanova’s Josh Hart is the man who received most of the national pub this offseason. He averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game as a junior. Perhaps a member of Creighton’s backcourt (Watson or Marcus Foster) can ascend to all-Big East first-team status.
» Is it time for the conference to expand?
These basketball-first schools partnered together because football-driven realignment left them out in the cold. So expansion may be a sore subject for Big East athletic directors and presidents. But perhaps it’s time for the league to proactively consider new members — particularly if the Big 12 isn’t able to zero in on its future vision. Connecticut is reportedly on the market. Programs such as VCU, Wichita State and Dayton don’t have the same type of national appeal, but they could improve quality and reputation. It’s always a complicated question. Recent on-court success isn’t the only factor considered. These current 10 fit well together. But Big East athletic department budgets are not getting boosted by football money. So the league may have to one day sacrifice congruence for sustained relevance.
» On the women’s side: Can a Big East team (not named DePaul) make a March run?
The Blue Demons are responsible for five of the league’s six NCAA tournament wins over the past three seasons. They will have to replace two of their top three scorers, but they’ll likely be viewed as the example-setter who must again carry the Big East banner. But the league hopes more teams will emerge as well. The conference has been ranked among the top 10 nationally during each of the last three years, according to the RPI. But it’s essentially been a two-bid league. Seton Hall and St. John’s are the only other conference teams besides DePaul to earn berths to the 64-team field. Perhaps the 2016-17 campaign is an opportunity for some Big East darkhorse — like Creighton, which returns 14 players — to make a postseason splash.