Creighton generally has regarded BracketBusters Saturday as a necessary evil.
The Bluejays were locked into the event because the Missouri Valley Conference required all of its teams to participate.
Former coach Dana Altman hated BracketBusters. Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen is hardly a fan. Though he benefited from the event when he was at Northern Iowa, coach Greg McDermott has soured on it a bit because it seemingly has strayed from its original purpose.
That was to give mid-major teams an ESPN stage to showcase their talents and possibly enhance their chances of earning a spot in the NCAA tournament. Sounds like just what Creighton needs after a 5-5 stretch has left outsiders questioning the worthiness of a team that appeared to be an NCAA lock five weeks ago.
The Bluejays’ next BracketBusters assignment takes them to Moraga, Calif., on Saturday to square off against St. Mary’s. A victory in the 5 p.m. game at McKeon Pavilion would polish a Creighton résumé that has grown some warts in recent weeks.
“Last year helped us out a ton when we beat Long Beach,” guard Grant Gibbs said. “For all the bashing it has gotten in this area, it was big for us last year and it could be huge for us this year.
“I don’t think it’s all bad in that regard.”
St. Mary’s, which defeated BYU on Thursday night, brings a 23-5 record into the game against the 22-6 Bluejays. The Gaels have been hovering around the 50 mark in the NCAA RPI, moving up to No. 47 to start this week.
Initially, the matchup was viewed as one that could benefit St. Mary’s more than Creighton. That might not be true at this point.
“It’s going to be as big a game for us as it is for them,” Gibbs said. “The way it has worked out, it would be almost perfect timing for us if we could get a big win.”
This is the last year for the BracketBusters, though the home teams will still owe the visitors a return contest in the next 18 months. McDermott likes the fact that the Gaels will be one of the highlight games on the Bluejays’ nonconference schedule next season or in 2014-15.
He’s not wild about packing up in the midst of a conference race and heading to California.
“We’re fighting for a conference championship, and that has to be our priority,” he said. “It’s going to be a great game, St. Mary’s is a great team and we’re going to get a chance to play in a great college basketball environment.
“But if I had my choice, I wouldn’t be traveling across the country this time of year and trying to get out of here in a blizzard. I’d rather stay in Valley play.”
At the same time, Saturday’s game could provide Creighton with a nice respite from the grind of conference play. The Bluejays close the regular season with games Wednesday at Bradley and March 2 at home against Wichita State, the team they trail by a game in the Valley standings.
Those teams, like other Valley squads, know Creighton’s tendencies inside and out. On the other hand, St. Mary’s will have one day to prepare for a team that features first-team All-American Doug McDermott.
The 6-foot-8 junior averaged 23.1 points in 12 nonconference games, scoring 27 points or more five times. In 16 Valley games his average has dropped to 22 points, with four games of 27 or more.
Creighton was averaging about 80 points per game in nonconference play. The average has dropped to 76 since the start of Valley play.
“I think this is going to be good for a team like us that has been in a grind here for a while,” Doug McDermott said. “We’re going to be seeing a team that will want to play up-and-down with us, and they haven’t seen us much.
“I think this is a really good opportunity on national TV to show what Creighton is all about.”
While the St. Mary’s players might not be that familiar with Doug McDermott, their coach is. Randy Bennett was an assistant on the U.S. under-19 national team that McDermott played on between his freshman and sophomore seasons.
“Coach Bennett has a good idea for what Doug’s strengths are as well as some of his weaknesses,” Greg McDermott said.
Still, the timing might be in Creighton’s favor since the Gaels had to spend much of this week getting ready for Thursday’s West Coast Conference game against BYU.
“That was a huge one for them,” Greg McDermott said. “They’re going to have to try to get ready for us in one day. I think it’s going to be more ‘here’s what Creighton does, and we have to try to stop it.’
“In a one-day prep, you’re not going to change the world. You have to stick to some of your core principles defensively, and I think that’s what they’ll do.”
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