The time will come for Creighton to host Marquette, Georgetown and the other high-profile BIG EAST schools, but that time is still quite a ways off in the distance.
Until then, the Bluejays will prepare for league play with a non-conference schedule designed to provide many wins and a few solid tests. The most challenging games of CU's early schedule should come via the Wooden Challenge, in Anaheim, leaving the early slate at CenturyLink Center a little insipid.
Friday, the Bluejays open the regular season against relative unknown Alcorn State. The Braves will travel from their Lorman, Mississippi campus to Omaha for both teams' opening game. Not even head coach Greg McDermott knows much about the Braves.
“Really don’t know what to expect,” the Bluejays’ coach said. “You know (LeAntwan) Luckett, their returning guard, who I think is a preseason second team all conference pick, really gets to the basket, scores in a lot of different ways. But they’ve got a guard back that played two years ago that sat out last year with a knee injury, a transfer from Mississippi State that’s joining their lineup, and we have absolutely no film on them from this season. So, we’re just going to have to stick to our own guns and play our own game and hope that it’s good enough.”
On paper, the Braves appear severely outmatched. Luther Riley's squad returns only one starter, Luckett, from last year's 10-24 team, while McDermott's squad has four returning starters from a team that made the round of 32 in last year's NCAA tournament. One of those returning starters happens to be two-time All-American Doug McDermott. The senior has been around long enough to know that the underdogs will come to Omaha looking to make headlines.
“I think people are going to be motivated coming into this arena in front of this many fans,” said Creighton’s all-time leading scorer. “They really have nothing to lose, so they’re going to bring their best. We got to be ready for that to match their intensity.”
If the Jays are able to contain Luckett, who scored more than 13 points per game as a freshman, they should not have much trouble making quick work of the Braves. While starting the season 1-0 is obviously atop CU's to-do list, they are also looking to better themselves.
"We just got to improve from off the exhibition game and some of the scrimmages we’ve had. That’s our main focus," said the senior. “Just to, you know, get in our flow and get off to the right start because it’s really important to start off right and just kind of have that momentum going the rest of the season.”
One area that the Bluejays are focused on early in the season is the way they defend. The NCAA has mandated that officials be more proactive in limiting contact on the perimeter. What may have been regarded as good, physical defense a season ago will almost assuredly be whistled as a foul in 2013-14. It hasn't affected the Bluejays too much in their lone exhibition and closed-door scrimmage, but Coach McDermott wants his guys to be aware of the ramifications too many fouls could have on his team’s system.
"I hope we can play without fouling,” said the fourth-year head coach.
“I think every coach’s concern in the country this year is ‘How do you play the way you want to play without getting yourself in some deep foul trouble.’ I think we survived the scrimmage with Iowa State and the exhibition game without too much trouble, but that’s my fear is that we just stay away from that because they are going to be a lot free throws shot over the course of the next six weeks or so I think as everybody adjusts to this. It really takes the flow from our game. We like to play at a fast pace. We like to play quick, and stopping for free throws every eight seconds is not necessarily in our best interest.”
Coach Mac not only hopes from a good performance from his players, but also for the 17,000 plus the fans expected to fill the arena. Although Friday’s game might not be as hot a ticket as the BIG EAST games, the Bluejays’ coach is looking to the crowd for an increased advantage all season.
"I’ve said it a couple times publicly. Somehow we need to create what we had for Wichita here last year in our last home game of last season,” said Coach McDermott. “That environment, that energy in the building, if we can create that 17 times this season, this will be one of the most feared place to play in the country. We’ve got the people in the seats now we just need them to approach every game like they did that Wichita game. If they can do that, it’s going to be a 10 or 12 point difference before the ball ever goes up in the air."