At some point during their pregame shootaround Wednesday, or their team meal, or their locker room pep talk, Creighton’s players will discuss the importance of protecting their home court.
Not that anything needs to be said.
They all understand that last year’s home defeats contributed to the Jays’ flawed at-large NCAA tournament résumé. They lost four league contests in Omaha and fell just short of The Dance. That still stings.
There’s also the image of thousands of rowdy Creighton fans having to leave the CHI Health Center with a sense of disappointment. The players said they take that to heart.
“The fans do an unbelievable job for us,” junior Mitch Ballock said. “They bring that energy, and that helps us. We feed off that.”
And the players would like to take advantage of it, starting Wednesday when the Bluejays host Marquette at 8 p.m.
The New Year’s Day game is the start of what projects to be a competitive league slate. The Big East has produced the best nonconference winning percentage (.798) of any league in the country.
“When you win at home and protect home court, you put yourself in a better situation when you go on the road,” Ballock said. “If you can steal a couple (on the road) and you can protect home court, you’re usually in a good spot.”
Creighton has done that over the years. Creighton is tied with Providence and Seton Hall for third in home winning percentage in league play (.611) since Big East reconstruction.
Still, the Jays have lost four home conference games three times in the past four seasons. And of their 14 home defeats to Big East teams during that span, eight have been decided by six points or fewer.
Last year’s shocker against Marquette was especially heartbreaking. Creighton led by five points with less than 10 seconds remaining in regulation. But it surrendered a putback layup, committed an in-bounds turnover with 0.8 on the clock and gave up the game-tying 3-pointer at the buzzer. The Golden Eagles won in overtime.
That loss is tough to forget for CU. But so are all the others.
The Jays want to be the ones celebrating with their fans on their home court.
“(Our fans) are the best,” Zegarowski said. “I’m excited to play in front of them, to try and win one for them as well.”
That said, other Big East players would probably say something similar. And as Creighton coach Greg McDermott noted Monday, fan bases across the league have reason to be excited and extra motivated to buy tickets to support their teams.
At the start of this week, the Big East squads combined for a 47-8 record in December. Nine of the conference teams have built legitimate NCAA tournament at-large résumés.
“It’s going to be tough to get wins on the road,” McDermott said. “You have to try to do your best to protect your home floor. Obviously, we’ve got one of the best home courts in the country, and I’m hopeful we can take care of business Wednesday night.”