I traded questions with Jacob Padilla, who writes for The Creightonian, the student newspaper down in Omaha. You can check out my answers to his questions by clicking here. As for his answers to my questions, well, be patient, finish reading this sentence, and we'll get right to them.
1) Welcome to the Big East! How excited is the Bluejay fan base for this basketball season? Which Big East opponent are they most looking forward to playing?
The return of Doug McDermott and Grant Gibbs along with the move to the Big East made this the most anticipated season for Creighton basketball since I've been following the program. Excited would be an understatement.
As for most anticipated opponents, Marquette, Georgetown and Villanova are the obvious ones. This Marquette game sold out almost as soon as the tickets went on sale. However, I think fans are looking forward to each and every game in this inaugural season. We're not in The Valley any more, and the fan base couldn't be any more pumped.
2) We all know that Doug McDermott is a great player. But: Which McDermott is more important to Creighton's success over the last three and a half years: Doug, or his father and head coach Greg?
Well, without Greg there would be no Doug, and if Greg hadn't been hired Doug would have been playing for former Missouri Valley Conference rival Northern Iowa. Mac has done a great job elevating the program out of the state of mediocrity it had fallen into in the final years of the Altman era, and his work is a big part of why Creighton is now in the Big East. He has done a great job of getting guys to buy into his system and play their roles. That being said, Doug is going to end up as a three-time All-American and one of the top 10 scorers in NCAA history. Let's just say Creighton fans are lucky to have both of them in the Bluejay family.
3) From looking at KenPom.com's year by year statistic rankings, it looks like this year is shaping up a lot like Greg McDermott's previous seasons at Creighton. The difference this year is that Gregory Echenique isn't clogging up the middle on defense. How are the Bluejays getting similar results without a post defender like Echenique?
Offense continues to be the strength of this team. The second best offensive rating in the country (per sports-reference.com) is what powers Creighton to victory. However, even without Echenique (one of the best post defenders I've ever seen and Creighton's only shot-blocker) the team has been good enough defensively, ranking 54th in points allowed (64.9) and 60th in defensive rating.
Without Echenique, junior Will Artino moved into the starting center spot. The 6-foot-11, 230-pound Artino is a very different player than Echenique, doing most of his damage offensively and on the glass. However, the Jays just weren't getting enough energy out of Artino in the starting line-up, so Greg McDermott decided to slide senior sharp-shooter and last year's MVC Sixth Man of the Year Ethan Wragge into the starting line-up.
The 6-foot-7 Wragge is about as far from a traditional five as you can get, but it has worked. The spacing Wragge's shooting ability provides makes Doug McDermott even more difficult to defend inside, and most centers aren't used to stepping out and guarding a guy who can drain it from 30 feet.
But on the other end, Wragge has done a tremendous job of holding is own in the post and playing solid position defense. Good rotations and everyone being in the right spot is the only way this group can get stops, as they aren't blessed with any lockdown defenders and have no rim protectors (only 25 blocks on the season, 301st in the nation).
The side effect of Wragge starting is that Artino's play has really picked up since moving to the bench, and along with 6-foot-9, 245-pound true freshman Zach Hanson, Creighton has some bodies to throw out there at the five. None of them are as big as Marquette's monsters in Davante Gardner and Chris Otule, however, and that match-up should be one to watch.
4) Creighton's only two losses on the season are against San Diego State and George Washington, teams that Marquette also played in the Wooden Legacy event. What, if anything, can Buzz Williams and his staff use from those two games against familiar opponents to devise a game plan to defeat the Bluejays?
I'm not sure much can be taken from the San Diego State game, as there aren't many teams as long, versatile and athletic as the Aztecs are. However, George Washington did a phenomenal job against the Jays. They completely bottled up McDermott with double and triple teams all night long, yet they still managed to do a good job of contesting perimeter jumpers. Creighton couldn't make a shot in that game and the energy level was low after the letdown against SDSU, but the Colonials still did a great job of shutting Creighton down. It sounds like Marquette will use a similar defensive scheme, and the game might come down to whether or not Creighton can hit its 3-pointers.
5) MU fans are going to have the chance to visit Omaha on a regular basis going forward now, so can you recommend the best place (or two) near campus and CenturyLink Center for a burger and a beer?
The Old Mattress Factory Bar and Grill and D.J's Dugout are a couple of the best Creighton affiliated bars downtown, and they are both a block or two away from the CenturyLink Center. A couple other great places downtown are the Blatt and Upstream.
6) Take out your prognostication wand and give us a final score for Tuesday night.
I think Creighton manages to carry over some of that hot shooting from the game against Chicago State (16-25 from deep) and pulls out a 79-71 win. My forecast says there is a strong chance of Wragge-bombs on New Year's Eve.