Wisconsin-Creighton Preview: B5Q Grills A Bluejay

Doug McDermott is The Boss in Omaha these days. - Eric Francis

The scene shifts from Madison to the desert for the final two games of the Las Vegas Invitational. For the inside scoop on Creighton, one of Omaha's favorite sons fills us in on superstar Doug McDermott's pro potential, embracing the "mid-major" label, and which one of Bo Ryan's former recruiting targets is now an unsung hero for the Bluejays.

You might know Creighton, Wisconsin's next opponent, as just another frisky mid-major. Well, this season they are the mid-major to worry about, perched at No. 14 in the AP rankings. The Bluejays play home games in the CenturyLink Center, a fantastic arena fit for any of its high major brethren.

Creighton (4-0) has pasted its first four opponents by an average of 28.5 points, behind All-American forward Doug McDermott. But the Jays also have a strong supporting cast, led by senior guard Grant Gibbs, who signed with Gonzaga out of high school after being recruited by Bo Ryan in the 2008 class. Also, an FYI: there are no members of the Korver family on the Creighton roster this year.

Did you know Creighton's all-time leading scorer is Milwaukee Vincent's own Rodney Buford? Jacob Padilla did. That's because Jacob is the assistant sports editor at the Creighton student newspaper, The Creightonian, as well as a contributor to Mid-Major Madness. Luckily, he agreed to drop some knowledge about the Jays.

B5Q: I spent a week in Omaha once and was pleasantly surprised by the city (no, really). Even had time to walk around the Creighton campus a bit. What drew you to Creighton in the first place and what would you say fans find most endearing about the university, the town, and/or the basketball program specifically?

Jacob: I'm an Omaha guy born and raised, and I just couldn't leave the city or my family. My little brother in particular played a huge part in my decision to stay at home for school. Creighton is a great school and I got the financial help I needed, so that sealed it. I'm also a basketball nut and had season tickets for about 5 years before making my decision, so it was a natural fit. I have to say, the view from press row is much better than from the upper bowl.

B5Q: When it comes to basketball quality, the Missouri Valley Conference has been hot on the heels of the six power conferences off and on for more than a decade. Do you consider Creighton a mid-major or do fans abhor that term?

Jacob: I know some fans don't like it, but I personally have no problems with calling Creighton a mid-major and I know plenty who feel the same way. Creighton University is a mid-major school in a mid-major conference. That just makes the program's success that much more impressive to me. However, Creighton is as close to a major program as you're going to find in the mid-major ranks with the level of success its teams have had and the quality of its facilities.

B5Q: There's no way around this fact: Creighton's strength of schedule has been abysmal so far this year. What are you most scared about finding out once the Bluejays start facing real competition?

Jacob: That is true, Creighton is just now getting into the meat of it's nonconference schedule. North Texas was supposed to be a good team, but missing it's best shooter and with a new coach, the Mean Green have struggled mightily. I don't know if there's anything I'm particularly scared about just yet. With the level of competition and the way Creighton has played, we haven't really gotten a chance to see the Jays play a 40-minute game. Wisconsin will be the first chance we get to see the real Jays this year.

B5Q: Aren't you proud I waited until Question #4 to ask about Doug McDermott? Seriously though, the 6'8" McDermott is the most efficient offensive force returning to college basketball this year and was justifiably on everybody's preseason All-American team. What makes McDermott so special and how does one slow him down?

Jacob: What makes him so good is probably the combination of incredible skill and a non-stop motor. Doug hasn't quite found his outside stroke quite yet this season, but he's still an elite shooter. He's deadly on the perimeter, whether he's spotting up in the halfcourt or pulling up for the trailer 3 in transition. But he's even better inside. Doug has an incredible feel for the game and even better hands. He is a terrific finisher around the basket with either hand, either on cuts or posting up. Creighton's offense is perfect for Doug an allows him to play to his many strengths. He struggles a bit against length, but the only real way to slow him down is to send the double. However, he has become a much better passer over the last two years and doubling him means one of Creighton's many shooters is going to get wide open looks. It's pick your poison with Doug and this team.

B5Q: And part two: I heard one announcer compare McDermott to Larry Bird due to the Valley connection. No matter how off-base that comparison might be, how do you think McDermott translates to the NBA? I'm not so sure he's not just another Adam Morrison. Convince me that Dougie Fresh is some crazed Bird/Korver hybrid?

Jacob: I'm not quite sure yet where Doug fits in at the NBA level, but I'd be shocked if he doesn't find some way to succeed. Elite shooting, a non-stop motor and a very high basketball IQ are the traits that will allow him to find his niche in the NBA. Defense is going to be a problem as he lacks good lateral foot speed, but he at least gives very good effort on that end and can fit into a team defensive scheme. The 3-pointers and the hustle points should still be there in the NBA; how good he can be will likely come down to how he adjusts to the size and athleticism of the NBA and finds new ways to score.

B5Q: Is there a sense that this season is THE golden opportunity for Creighton to really bust through nationally with a big tournament run? For all the success that Creighton has enjoyed over the last 15 years, the Bluejays haven't made a Sweet 16 appearance since the field expanded to 32 teams in 1975, so they have never enjoyed that cinderella Gonzaga moment. Any frustration there, being consistently good but never great?

Jacob: This has to be the year. We have an All-American in Doug obviously, a beast of a big man in Gregory Echenique, an elite glue-guy in Grant Gibbs and an offensive spark off the bench in Omaha native Josh Jones. Three of those players will be gone for sure next year, and Doug could choose to leave as well. This is as good of a team as I have ever seen at Creighton, and they have to take advantage this year. It definitely is frustrating seeing teams like Gonzaga, Xavier and Butler succeeding and getting so much attention. It's time for Creighton to bust through and go deep in the Tournament.

B5Q: Who is the unsung hero of the team right now that is going to surprise Wisconsin fans?

Jacob: This is actually a really tough question because Creighton is so balanced and so deep. Obviously you know about Doug and Gregory. Austin Chatman is a sophomore point guard who took over for the departed Antoine Young and has gotten better with every game. Josh Jones and Avery Dingman are athletic wings that come off the bench and can shoot the lights out. Jahenns Manigat has struggled with his shot coming off of an injury but he is another lights-out shooter if he can find the range (led the MVC in % during the conference schedule). Now that I've told you about everyone else on the team, I'm going to focus on two guys that fit the "unsung hero" title.

The first one is senior guard Grant Gibbs. Gibbs is the guy that makes this offense go. He's about the smartest player you'll ever meet (he has a bright future in broadcasting or coaching, whichever he chooses to pursue after this year). He is a great passer who takes care of the ball and is terrific at feeding Creighton's big guys in the post. He can have a huge impact without taking a single shot, although he's a deceptively crafty scorer when he decides to shoot. He's a smart defender who knows when to get into the passing lanes. A typical Gibbs statline is something like 7 points, 6 assists and 5 rebounds, with a steal or 2 tossed in for good measure. That is solid, but his impact goes beyond the numbers. He is a fun guy to watch if you enjoy good basketball.

The other guy I'll highlight is reserve forward Ethan Wragge. Wragge is the first big off the bench, and is a change of pace from the other 3 guys as he's a big time shooter from outside. Wragge is actually second on the team in scoring at 11.8 points per game, and he's made a ridiculous 14 of his 22 attempts from deep. Wragge has a sweet stroke an a quick release from deep and cab hit from any spot around the arc. But he has also provided a tough interior defensive presence to go with his outside shooting.

B5Q: In Greg Echenique, Creighton has a legit, major conference big man in the post. He's only missed three shots in four games -- what went wrong on the those three attempts?!?

Jacob: Haha Gregory has been unstoppable this year. 6-foot-9 and 260 pounds of pure muscle is tough for anyone to stop, but the undersized guys he's seen so far have had no shot whatsoever. He has shown improved touch around the basket and better footwork this year on the offensive end, but the real difference has been his mindset. He is looking to dominate on every single possession, and so far that has certainly been the case. But Gregory's real value lies on the other end. He is the reigning MVC Defensive Player of the Year and is an immovable force on the block, not to mention a great shot-blocker. He's also crashed the boards so hard that he's even ripping the ball away from his won teammates. Gregory is averaging roughly 11 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks in 23 minutes per game through four games. And he's doing it on 85 percent from the field and 73 percent from the line. That's not bad.

B5Q: Care to make a prediction on Friday's result?

Jacob: I have to pick Creighton here, of course. I'll go with 77-70 in favor of the Jays.

*****

Thanks again to Jacob for taking time out of this holiday week to answer these questions. For more of Jacob and all things Creighton, check him out on Twitter @OmahaSun, over at Mid-Major Madness, and also at The Creightonian.

Projected Starting Lineups

Wisconsin Pos. Creighton
Jared Berggren, Sr. C Gregory Echenique, Sr.
Mike Bruesewitz, Sr. F Doug McDermott, Jr.
Ryan Evans, Sr. F / G Grant Gibbs, Sr.
Ben Brust, Jr. G Jahenns Manigat, Jr.
George Marshall, Fr. G Austin Chatman, So.

KenPom win probability: 69% (66-61 W) 61 possessions

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For more Wisconsin basketball coverage, follow Phil on Twitter @hoopsmarinara.

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