Creighton plans another NCAA tourney run in '12-13
By ERIC OLSON
OMAHA, Neb. (AP) The Creighton Bluejays believe they can pick up next season right where they left off.
The Bluejays tied a school record with 29 victories and won their first NCAA tournament game in 10 years before losing 87-73 to North Carolina in Greensboro, N.C., on Sunday.
"We've accomplished a lot this year," guard Grant Gibbs said. "I'm really proud of this group. We got Creighton basketball back on the map. We're going to build off this. We're going to get another shot at a team like (Carolina) down the road, and we'll be ready."
The Bluejays knocked off three top-50 RPI teams, set a program record with 10 road wins and won the Missouri Valley tournament after finishing second to Wichita State in the regular season. With Wichita State losing four senior starters, Creighton should be the favorite to win the Valley next season and return to the NCAA tournament.
The Bluejays (29-6) were ranked in The Associated Press Top 25 for 12 of 19 weeks, topping out at No. 13 after 11 straight wins got them off to a 21-2 start. They went into the NCAA tournament ranked No. 19 and beat Alabama 58-57 as a No. 8 seed in the Midwest Regional.
Creighton, which shot 51 percent for the season, connected on only 41 percent against the Tar Heels - not nearly good enough to upset a No. 1 seed.
"We got beat by a real good team," McDermott said. "We'll keep our heads held high going into next season."
Though the Bluejays were among the highest-scoring teams in the nation at 79.2 points a game, they were vulnerable on defense. Creighton was 264th out of 338 teams in 3-point defense, 243rd in scoring defense and 222nd in field-goal defense.
Second-year coach Greg McDermott said his players must work to improve their strength and defensive skills in the offseason.
"We have to make some changes if we want to be able to compete at this level," he said, referring to matchups with high-caliber teams like Carolina. "We have to improve defensively."
A prolific offense masked the defensive shortcomings most of the season.
Creighton's rise among the mid-majors coincided with the emergence of Doug McDermott, the coach's son, who was a 61 percent shooter and ranks third in the nation in scoring (22.9 ppg). During an 11-game win streak, which included his career-high 44-point outburst against Bradley, he began receiving mention as a national player-of-the-year candidate.
That talk died down during a February funk in which the Bluejays lost three straight, including a 21-point defeat at home to Wichita State. He still became the first sophomore to be named Valley player of the year - a year after being the first freshman named to the All-MVC first team since 1952.
McDermott scored 20 points against Carolina and finished with a school-record 801 points.
His wingman, Gibbs, also will be back. Gibbs averaged a team-leading five assists, with many of them converted by McDermott. Gibbs' statistics line also included 4.5 rebounds, a team-leading 37 steals and seven points game.
The 6-foot-9, 270-pound Gregory Echenique, who has led the Valley in blocked shots two straight seasons, was the first Creighton player named MVC defensive player of the year. Jahenns Manigat, who shot 47 percent on 3s, is the fourth starter who will return.
Sharp-shooting reserves Ethan Wragge and Avery Dingman, along with Josh Jones and Will Artino, also will be back. Austin Chatman, who spelled Young, is first in line to start at point guard next season.
Young, who has led the Valley in assist-turnover ratio for two seasons, leaves as the only player in Creighton history with as many as 1,325 career points and 450 assists.
"Playing Carolina for your last game, how awesome is that? I don't think when I committed to Creighton I could have pictured myself playing my last game against Carolina," he said. "I wish we could have hit some shots, but it's definitely something I'll cherish."
So will Greg McDermott, whose first Creighton team went 23-16 last season and was runner-up in the College Basketball Invitational. After the loss to Carolina, he said he was clinging to the advice he once was given by an old friend, Iowa State women's basketball coach Bill Fennelly.
"Don't cry because it's over," Greg McDermott said. "Smile because it happened."
Updated March 20, 2012