Oh, no. He didn't. Did he?
Greg McDermott just went to a place where few college hoops coaches dare to go. Mac must have the sense of adventure of Indiana Jones. When does the huge boulder come rolling out of the tunnel?
He said the words that you just don't utter in mid-October.
“That's our goal,” McDermott said when I dropped by his office Friday as Creighton prepared for its first practice. “That's where we want to be.”
Now he's done it. He's raised the bar to a dangerous level. For one thing, you can't plan on the Sweet 16. Not even Kansas plans on it.
It's doubly hard for a mid-major, whose climb up the seeding ladder is taller than for most major schools. Some mid-major coaches will tell you the Sweet 16 is their Final Four. That's how hard it is to get there.
Mac also just tossed raw meat into the seats at the CenturyLink Center, where Bluejay fans who dream of that “next big step” are now salivating at the idea of the phrase being out in the open. But what if the team doesn't make the Sweet 16? Will they think the coach failed?
It's an interesting thing McDermott has done to open a season that doesn't need any more local hype.
I love it.
Holding this goal up high, for all to see, might just be what the Jays need to start what looks like a special season.
“I don't think there's anything wrong with your goals being aggressive,” McDermott said. “We got to the point last season where we were one game from the Sweet 16. That's what will drive us as a coaching staff and drive our players.
“If you compete for a championship in the Valley, you'll have a chance to make the NCAA tournament. When we get there, we'd like to make some noise.”
Mac didn't stop there. He put out the comparisons that fans like to make. Not coaches.
“I think (Sweet 16) would help us tell our story,” McDermott said. “I don't think our story's been told nationally because we haven't had that opportunity to get to the second weekend of the tournament.
“It's happened for Xavier, happened for Gonzaga, happened for Butler. I don't think we're any different than any of those programs. I think our community and school have a lot to offer that people don't understand. And we're one weekend from changing that.”
What the man is talking about is the transformation of Jays basketball to an entire new level. A national level.
It's a lofty goal. But hardly a new one. Creightonians have long talked about becoming the next Gonzaga, and now Butler.
What's new is having the head coach definitively put a target on the Sweet 16, rather than act like it's some sort of long-shot lottery ticket you buy at the store.
This is a good idea. For starters, CU has the team to make the run. Nine regulars are back, including All-American Doug McDermott. There's experience. And leadership. A lot of weapons. D-Mac doesn't have to carry this team.
I also like this tack from a psychological angle. Greg McDermott didn't make a guarantee. But stating the goal puts some pressure on the team. This group is old enough to handle that pressure.
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This could also keep the group focused. The Jays will be favored to win the Valley and make the NCAAs. Keeping the Sweet 16 carrot out in front could ensure that nobody thinks the job is done by winning the league or Valley tourney or hearing their name on Selection Sunday. Or, if they're able to win their NCAA tournament opener.
A team returning experienced pieces usually wants to go further than the year before. But the Sweet 16 can be an intimidating phrase to digest if you haven't been there, won that.
The Creighton program is at a place where it can happen. Why not embrace it?
That's the easy part. Laying the groundwork? Much more difficult.
The Jays' margin for error is thin. We were reminded of that last year. Creightonians were miffed when a No. 8 seed showed up on Selection Sunday. But the Jays didn't win their league and had good, but not great, nonconference wins.
Creighton has a chance to open some eyes in Las Vegas after Thanksgiving. If the Jays want a high seed, like a No. 4 or No. 5, they should plan on beating Wisconsin and then Arizona State or Arkansas the next night. There are no guarantees there; beating Northwestern last year ultimately didn't help CU's résumé. But when you get a shot at major teams, you have to beat them.
The Jays must absolutely win the Valley regular-season title. A mid-major team that can't win its league has a hard case to argue for tourney pole position.
That's a big to-do list. The Jays will also wear targets. But having the Sweet 16 goal in their heads might keep them focused in Las Vegas, Wichita and Evansville.
Some people wanted a trip to Lawrence, Kan., or Durham, N.C. Those are hard to get, even one-way nonconference games to the marquee name of your choice.
They're easier to get for Gonzaga or Butler. Why? The networks love 'em. The big boys respect them. They've been to the Sweet 16 and beyond. There is a magic to that.
The Jays can open a lot of doors, change their future, with a Sweet 16 pelt on their wall.
It's time to go for it. Embrace this season, this moment. That's the coach's message. Crazy? It might just be brilliant.
“It's not often you have nine guys back and one of them's an All-American,” McDermott said. “That doesn't happen often at our level. Our fans need to enjoy it, because it's difficult to do.”
The hard part lies ahead. But it's the fun part, too.
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