Sophomore guard Marcus Zegarowski had nearly finished his interview session with reporters Tuesday when he was asked about last year’s trip to Seton Hall.
“I don’t want to even think about it,” he said with a smile.
That was the second game he missed because of a broken finger. He ended up getting sick that day, too, spending most of the night in the locker room. Then Creighton blew a late lead and lost 63-58 to the Pirates.
Nothing pleasant about that.
And he’s not the only Bluejay who’d rather avoid looking back. This time of year could conjure up a haunting reservoir of bad memories for the Jays — they suffered a critical four-game losing streak in the middle of February last season, costing them an NCAA tournament berth.
These Jays (18-6, 7-4 Big East) just want to take advantage of the opportunity they have.
“We’ve still got to have a chip on our shoulder,” junior guard Ty-Shon Alexander said. “Last year, we didn’t make it (to the NCAA tournament). So this year, it has to be a different style of play, of what we need to do. We’ve just got to keep being hungry, and keep fighting.”
There are more tests ahead.
Wednesday’s game at No. 10 Seton Hall (18-5, 10-1) is the start of a four-game stretch in which three opponents are ranked. After hosting DePaul on Saturday, the Jays will next week play at No. 18 Marquette and face No. 19 Butler in Omaha.
If those opponents aren’t still aiming for a Big East title, they’ll be trying to raise the bar so they’re at their best in the postseason. March may be the month when the memories are made. But February’s when the groundwork gets laid.
“This time of year, more than anything, every game’s a big game,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said. “In the middle of February, in this conference, it’s the most exciting time in college basketball.”
But also incredibly challenging.
Last year, Marquette and Xavier were the only Big East teams to produce winning records in the month of February. Just three teams did it in the season prior.
Greg McDermott’s Creighton squads are a combined 37-31 in February — but two of his best, 2016-17 and 2017-18, were adjusting during their stretch runs following critical season-ending injuries. Perhaps that’s why McDermott referenced health as a key for these Jays to finish the regular season strong.
CU’s rotation is down to seven men with freshman guard Shereef Mitchell still out with a head injury. Its top three guards have each played an average of 37 minutes per game over the last four contests.
That said, McDermott is proud of what his team’s accomplished. The Jays have won 18 of their first 24 games for the sixth time in his 10-year tenure. The previous five teams made the NCAA tournament.
“We’re still standing,” McDermott said. “We’ve got ourselves back in the Top 25, we’re in a good position with a month left to go — a position that frankly if you told me in November, I’d probably be happy to be in this spot. Now we just have to finish it.”