A BracketBusters game between Creighton and St. Mary’s figures to have more upside for the Gaels than the Bluejays.
The Feb. 23 game in Moraga, Calif., was announced Monday on ESPNU. For the Gaels, the home game comes against a nationally ranked Creighton team with an RPI of 28. A win over the Bluejays would be looked at as a big plus on Selection Sunday.
In a telephone interview on the selection show, St. Mary’s coach Randy Bennett called the pairing with Creighton exciting.
“It’s tough but that’s why we get in BracketBusters,” Bennett said. “We know that if we have a good season, we’ll play a really good opponent.”
It could be argued that none of the home teams Creighton had a chance to be paired with would have provided the kind of résumé spike that BracketBusters was set up for when the event began with 11 games 11 seasons ago.
The fact that BracketBusters has strayed from its original concept probably is the primary reason this is the last season for the event.
“It’s changed and it’s not what it originally was,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “You have some teams in some leagues that once were a part of it that are no longer a part of it. That dilutes the field.”
St. Mary’s is 19-4 but its NCAA RPI was 58 on Monday. At 18, Belmont had the lowest RPI of this season’s designated home teams but St. Mary’s probably has more name-appeal and national reputation.
At this point, a victory over either team probably wouldn’t benefit Creighton greatly on Selection Sunday. As it stands, the Bluejays might not see the biggest positive from the game until a season or two from now.
“It’s going to be a heck of a return game for us,” McDermott said.
St. Mary’s will have to play in Omaha either in 2013 or 2014, depending on when the schools can arrange the nonconference matchup.
Another positive from this season’s matchup, McDermott said, is that it is the marquee game on this year’s BracketBusters schedule. The 5 p.m. game will be broadcast by either ESPN or ESPN2.
“It’s going to be the premier game of the event on national television,” McDermott said. “That can do nothing but help your program.”
St. Mary’s has won its first 13 home games this season at 3,500-seat McKeon Pavilion. Creighton guard Grant Gibbs played at McKeon when he was at Gonzaga, and he came away impressed with the game-day atmosphere there.
“It’s loud and it’s small and they pack it in there,” Gibbs said. “It feels like a high school gym with a college atmosphere. It’s probably the loudest place I’ve ever been in.”
Louder than Wichita State’s Koch Arena, considered the loudest place to play in the Missouri Valley?
“Louder, and louder than Michigan State, where I’ve played,” Gibbs said. “It gets crazy loud in there.”
One of the things that obviously appealed to the television folks is the star power each team brings. Creighton has Doug McDermott, the first-team All-American and a top candidate for player of the year.
St. Mary’s best player is Matthew Dellavedova, one of the best point guards in college basketball as well as a member of the Australian national team. The 6-foot-4 Dellavedova leads the Gaels in scoring with a 16.3 average and is 14th nationally in assists per game (6.6).
St. Mary’s has six other players averaging between 6.9 and 11.9 points per game. The Gaels rank in the top 50 nationally in 10 statistical categories charted by the NCAA, including 17th in scoring at 77.7 points per game.
“They’re a quality opponent,” Gibbs said, “and it’s going to be a tough game.”
Bennett said the same about Creighton, especially since he is well-acquainted with what Doug McDermott is capable of doing on the basketball court. Bennett was an assistant coach on the United States under-19 team that McDermott played on in the summer of 2011.
“It’s fun to see him having the career he is,” Bennett said. “I thought when we had him, he was one of the best players on our team.”
The trip to St. Mary’s will be the second time this season that Creighton has played in the San Francisco area and the third time the Bluejays will have played in the Pacific time zone. Creighton defeated California in mid-December and won a pair of games in Las Vegas in late November.
Creighton had difficulty adjusting when returning home after each trip. The Bluejays lost to Boise State in the first game that followed the Las Vegas trip, and they appeared sluggish in their game against Tulsa that followed the contest at California.
On both of the previous trips west, Creighton left a couple days early to get adjusted to the switch in time zones. Greg McDermott said that won’t be the case on the trip to St. Mary’s.
“We’ll fly in the day before and then fly back right after the game,” he said. “We’ll operate on our body clock. It will be like a regular Valley Saturday in terms of the travel.”
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