Creighton can focus the next three-plus weeks solely on the task of refining its basketball skills.
The Bluejays finished up first-semester final exams last week. Monday, they took to the court for practice knowing it will be more than three weeks before they have to worry about classes, papers or homework.
“Since we don't have school taking up our time, we can get up in the morning and get some shots up,” Creighton guard Jahenns Manigat said. “We don't have to worry about school and we know we only have one job to do for the next month.
“That's all about getting ready to play as hard as we can.”
Creighton has done a good job of doing that while juggling academic demands during the first five weeks of the season. The Bluejays are 10-1 heading into Wednesday's home game against Tulsa, their last nonconference test before starting Missouri Valley play on Dec. 29.
The time away from school, though, will allow the coaches and players to fine-tune some areas of concern heading into conference play.
“We have some timing issues offensively that we can clean up,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “You always add a few wrinkles going into conference play. And we can always improve defensively and in our rebounding.
“One good thing is that we have a little more time to watch film this time of the year and know that we have their full concentration because they don't have anything else going on.”
The Bluejays have made some nice strides in shoring up a defense that a year ago ranked in the bottom third in three key statistical categories. Creighton has allowed its first 11 opponents to average only 61.3 points per game while shooting 39.4 percent from the field and 28.4 percent from 3-point range.
A season ago, Creighton gave up an average of 69.7 points per game, with its opponents shooting 44.1 percent from the field and 36.1 percent from beyond the arc.
“If you compare to what we did a year ago through 11 games, there have been some pretty significant strides made on the defensive end,” McDermott said. “Our turnovers are down, our free-throw percentage is up. The number of fouls we've committed are far less than last year.
“There's been some good progress.”
One area that has slipped a bit, McDermott said, is the Bluejays' rebounding. Creighton finished last season 27th nationally in rebounding margin at plus-5.5. This season, the Bluejays are outrebounding opponents by an average of 3.6 per game.
“Our rebounding isn't as good as it was last year,” he said. “Individually, we've had some guys doing things a little differently, but for the most part we've had some decent improvement across the board against what I think is a better schedule than we played last year through the first 11.”
Creighton has beaten four power-conference teams — Wisconsin, Arizona State, Nebraska and California. All four games were played away from home and ended with the Bluejays scoring double-digit victories.
The lone blot on the record was the 13-point home loss to Boise State on Nov. 28. The players still carry the sting of that decision, which center Gregory Echenique said will motivate them to stay focused in the coming weeks.
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“We know what can happen when we go on the court and not play up to our potential,” Echenique said. “We know we have to stay focused on the details in practice and keep improving every day. We know we're a pretty talented team, but we also know we can't take anything for granted.”
Echenique and Manigat agreed that the holiday break is good for the players in terms of allowing them to hone their skills and get better as a team.
“It is kind of bittersweet with the holidays coming up and you kind of want to be with family,” Manigat said. “But this is what we're here for and what we all signed up to do, playing a sport that we love for a university and community that we love.
“This time of year, we see a lot of different kind of crowds. We don't have a student section with everyone else at home, but Omaha comes here to try to support us. We just have to do our best to try to have them leave as happy fans.”
McDermott earns another Valley honor
Doug McDermott's performance in Creighton's win over California on Saturday landed the junior forward a couple more honors Monday.
The Missouri Valley named McDermott its player of the week for the fourth time this season and ninth time in his career. The only player in league history to have been named player of the week more was former Bradley All-American Hersey Hawkins (14).
McDermott also was named the national player of the week by college basketball analyst Seth Davis.
McDermott's team remained ranked 13th in the USA Today coaches poll but dropped a spot to 17th, in the Associated Press Top 25 despite a 10-point road win over California. Unbeaten New Mexico (11-0) leapfrogged the Bluejays after defeating New Mexico State 73-58.
The Bluejays remained ranked in the nation's top 10 in six statistical categories: sixth in 3-point percentage (41.5), seventh in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.55-to-1) and field-goal percentage (50.8), ninth in 3-point baskets per game (8.9) and 10th in winning percentage (.909).
Creighton also is 12th in assists per game (17.2) and scoring margin (plus-18.4).
Individually, Grant Gibbs is second in assist-to-turnover ratio (6.9-to-1) and 17th in assists per game (6.31), while McDermott is third in scoring average (23.7) and 59th in field-goal percentage (55.5). Gregory Echenique is 52nd nationally in double-doubles with three.
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