For the first time in a month, Creighton’s players started a week of practice inside their own gym without having to go over a weekend travel itinerary or consider the challenges of the next road venue.
The Jays are finally home.
But that doesn’t mean they get to relax.
Creighton’s first game inside D.J. Sokol Arena since Dec. 5 will be against Villanova — the team picked to finish third in the Big East and a squad that ranks 30th in the RPI. The Wildcats (9-3, 1-1) have won six of their past seven games.
So Creighton — as much as it has been tested lately — is preparing to face a challenge comparable to what it’s recently endured. Even while returning home.
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“We keep saying it’s a grind, and there’s no easy way to get to the top,” CU junior Jaylyn Agnew said. “We have to come prepared every single game.”
That’s particularly true this season in the Big East, which began the week ranked fourth in conference RPI. All 10 of the league squads have a winning record. A year after sending four teams to the NCAA tournament — the most since reconfiguration — the Big East seems positioned to at least match that number in 2019.
So you can’t spend too much time celebrating impressive victories (like Creighton’s win at No. 24 DePaul on Saturday).
And you can’t dwell over disappointing losses (No. 20 Marquette handled Creighton on Monday).
And you have to maintain that even-keel approach for two long months, even if your own individual game starts to waver.
The veterans understand this. But the Jays (7-6, 1-1) have some key contributors — including starting point guard Tatum Rembao, transfer Morgan Turner and four influential freshmen — who have yet to go through the highs and lows of an 18-game Big East schedule.
Given the league’s improved depth, the roller coaster ride could be more unpredictable than normal.
Creighton coach Jim Flanery’s done his best to prepare the group. He’ll be curious to see how the players respond this weekend.
“It’s tough when you’re a young player and you don’t always know when you’re going to get in,” he said. “But what I’ve talked about is to pay even more attention on the bench. These teams, we know them and they know us. The little things matter.”
Mistakes could be magnified Friday against Villanova, which tends to slow the pace and play in lower-possession games. Creighton’s opponent on Sunday, Georgetown, will be even stingier defensively.
The Jays, whose six-game stretch away from home ends this weekend, head back on the road after that.
“We’ve just got to really dig in,” Agnew said.