In joining the Big East, Creighton hoped that the better competition and brand-name league would help raise the program’s status, and vault successful Bluejays outfits to more advantageous seeding come March. While the Big East is undoubtedly an upgrade in many regards from Creighton’s old home, the Missouri Valley, the league hasn’t quite panned out as many had hoped thus far. ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi only has four teams from the Big East currently in his field, including Marquette, the league’s preseason favorite, in a play-in game. While no Big East team is truly out of the running yet this year, fans would have probably hoped for more from the top of the conference, but today Villanova is really the only squad really making a name for itself on a national scale.
While Creighton has dropped a few games it would like to have back, the team seems to be building depth behind star Doug McDermott. Ethan Wragge and Will Artino have swapped positions in the starting five, with Wragge entering the lineup as the Bluejays’ second leading scorer at 12.5 points per game and Artino more effective as a reserve, totaling 27 points in his last three games (after 40 through his first seven). Avery Dingman and Devin Brooks have also stepped up as of late, each filling the scorebook in a win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Coach Greg McDermott was effervescent in his praise of the two players, who have made great strides in recent weeks: “Avery Dingman has had three of the best days as a Bluejay as he’s ever had. His last two days of practice and today’s game, he’s shown more confidence and urgency to his play… Devin is getting better every single day. There’s no question from the start of practice until today, he’s our most improved player… I’m really proud of him, and that’s a credit to him.”
Rysheed Jordan was the crown jewel in Steve Lavin’s freshman class at St. John’s, but until the last few games, he had yet to find himself in the college game. Sunday’s match-up with New York rival Syracuse and one of the nation’s top freshman point guards, Tyler Ennis, brought out the best in Jordan, who scored a season-high 13 points. Jordan followed this game up with another strong performance — 10 points and four assists — against San Francisco on Wednesday night. St. John’s is among the most talented teams in the Big East, and if Jordan can break out to go along with established players like JaKarr Sampson, D’Angelo Harrison, and Phil Greene IV, the Johnnies will be quite dangerous in time for postseason play.
Red Storm head coach Steve Lavin has put together an incredibly diverse, eclectic staff with men of all ages and backgrounds, including 77-year old college basketball legend Gene Keady as a special advisor. Keady, who helped launch Lavin’s coaching career by putting him on his staff at Purdue, brings a great deal of knowledge and experience to the group, and players and coaches agree that his basketball acumen has paid off. Forward JaKarr Sampson describes the impact that Keady has on everyone in the program: “Whenever he talks, everybody listens, even Coach Lav. With Coach Lav, I feel like he’s still learning from him. It’d be foolish not to listen to what he’s got to say.”
Providence has been playing this season under a cloud of injuries and suspensions, and it is still uncertain when freshmen Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock will be allowed to suit up for the Friars. Without the highly touted Austin, the scoring burden for the Friars has fallen to veteran Bryce Cotton, whose importance to his team grows with every game that his team spends without the freshmen. According to head coach Ed Cooley, he is taking this leadership responsibility in stride: “What everybody has to know is our team has really taken on the heartbeat of Bryce. I have seen him grow unbelievably in the last two, three weeks. Vocally, his spirit, his energy. We knew he’d play well today based on how he prepared. I’m really proud of the man he is becoming. He has grown so much.”
Patrick Marshall is the RTC correspondent for the Missouri Valley Conference. You can also find his musings online at White & Blue Review or on Twitter @wildjays.
MVC Race Already Heating Up–What a wild first week in Missouri Valley Conference play. Creighton, as expected is sitting at 3-0. Gregg Marshall doesn’t get enough credit for reloading Wichita State and the Shockers are at 3-0 as well. After that, things get really interesting. Indiana State, Evansville, Bradley and Missouri State are all sitting at 2-1. None of those four teams were mentioned in the top echelon at the start of the season, but each of them have wins over others that weren’t expected. The biggest surprises are Northern Iowa sitting at 1-2 and Illinois State sitting at 0-3. The Panthers were expected to be a sleeper in the league this year, but after a tough non-conference slate where they did not win as much as they had hoped, they started off MVC play at 0-2 before defeating Illinois State on Saturday. The Redbirds were expected to be league contenders along with Creighton, but they have had a lot of things go wrong for them this season. While it is still early, some of these situations may build upon themselves making for another crazy season. What it may hurt in the long run, though, are the number of NCAA bids come March.
Illinois State Has Pulled a Disappearing Act This Season
McDermott Still Reaping Rewards–Doug McDermott has been playing very well since Thanksgiving. As a result, he has continued to be recognized for his talent. He received the Lute Olson Midseason Player of the Year award, and ESPN recognized him as its Player of the Month in December. He’s third in the country in scoring at 23.1 points per game, is averaging 7.3 boards per contest, and is shooting 49 percent from beyond the arc. Those are numbers that are hard to ignore. Through his first three conference games, McDermott has also averaged 23 points a game while fighting off sickness over the past two games. He is on the verge of carrying Creighton on his shoulders, but luckily he has not had to since the Bluejays have been pretty balanced and different players have stepped up when needed. He should remain in the National Player of the Year conversation throughout, but it may become tougher to put up the same outstanding numbers in conference play that he did in the non-conference season.
Drugs Become Problem–A few weeks ago, Illinois State’s Geoffrey Allen was indefinitely suspended from the team and was soon after arrested for trying to sell marijuana. The newest incident involving drugs now surrounds Bradley’s Will Egolf. The sixth-year center was arrested as the year rolled over to 2013, accused of possession of a controlled substance. It turns out that he was purchasing Vicodin to help him manage the pain resulting from knee injuries he has suffered over the past few years. Those knee injuries ultimately allowed him to gain a sixth year of eligibility. He did not make the trip to Wichita this past weekend and it now appears that he will be suspended for a minimum of three games, but this transgression could ultimately end his career. These two incidents should raise a red flag to other MVC schools to remain vigilant and aware of what their players are doing and what may be affecting their play. I hope this doesn’t become a trend because it sort of gives the league a black eye.
Power Rankings (conference record and last week’s ranking in parentheses)
Creighton (14-1) (3-0) (1)–If you don’t know by now, Creighton is not just a one-man show with Doug McDermott. McDermott sat on the bench during a key stretch in the second half against Indiana State and the Bluejays were able to come back from a deficit and take a lead with the play of Gregory Echenique and Ethan Wragge. Avery Dingman has stepped up with the loss of Josh Jones and everyone is doing their part to contribute to the Bluejays success. Probably the biggest development has been the play of Austin Chatman who took over the point guard duties this season. In the first three conference games, Chatman has 21 assists to only 6 turnovers. A 3.5/1 assist-turnover ratio is pretty good. Read the rest of this entry »