Hello? Back here in the back, behind all of the commotion about the NCAA tournament and the Big East? Yes, I have a question.
Was this Greg McDermott's best coaching job?
First, the season's not over. But Creighton is 27-7 and won the outright Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title and the league tourney. The Jays won the league tournament as the No. 1 seed for the first time since 1991.
But McDermott doesn't get a lot of credit for that. Which is part of the deal. They were supposed to do all of that. They were picked to win the league, and Mac himself set the bar high, striving to make the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tourney.
Wichita State's Gregg Marshall won league coach of the year, and he did a superb job with a rebuilt team. Coaches who are picked to win and win are just doing what they're supposed to do.
There's still the NCAA tourney. A lot of people around Creighton will probably allow that McDermott did a heck of a job if he gets that Sweet 16. Anything less and he probably blew it. Which, if you think about it, is kind of crazy.
This isn't about appreciation or credit or accolades. McDermott is paid — and paid well — to win big at Creighton, fill the arena, recruit good players and make sure they graduate. Not always, but usually, in that order.
I don't know if it's Mac's best coaching job. It was certainly the most challenging season he's coached. It wasn't easy, not when trophies bring relief as much as they do celebration.
“I think one of the hardest things to do in sports is do what you're supposed to do,” McDermott said two weeks ago in St. Louis. He was giving credit to his players, but he could have been talking about himself.
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The problem is, his team can make it look so easy.
When the Jays are hitting every shot, and the All-American is playing like an All-American, and the unpredictable center is playing with fury, and all cylinders are on, it looks like they don't need a coach so much as a conductor.
When the Jays are rolling offensively, they are a sight to behold. They put up 84 on Wisconsin. That still might be the most amazing stat of the season.
He had an All-American. He had what people called great talent. There were opposing coaches calling this “a team of a lifetime.”
But really, how talented was this bunch? Other than Doug McDermott?
Senior Grant Gibbs is limited physically, with a body damaged by injuries, and relies on guts and basketball IQ. He's a good player, a glue guy, a terrific passer. A great role player.
Senior center Gregory Echenique became a tour de force in St. Louis, blocking everything but the Arch and looking like an NBA prospect. But for most of the season, the Big E faded in and out of foul trouble and was inconsistent.
Mac had two huge holes to fill. One left by graduated point guard Antoine Young. The other by senior Josh Jones, an instant offense guy off the bench, an energy guy the team relied on. He retired in mid-December to take care of his heart condition.
So there was a new point guard, sophomore Austin Chatman, who was taking over the team's key position. Try to win 27 with a first-year point guard. It's not easy.
There was sharp-shooting Ethan Wragge, who was mostly reliable but could go through cold spells. Jahenns Manigat, who could hit a 3 or guard the other guy's leading scorer. Avery Dingman and Will Artino, who came off the bench to spell starters mostly.
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Superstar. Glue guy. New point guard. Inconsistent big man. Role players.
And they played with a target, with expectations in Omaha as heavy as a piano and a world in which fans can enter the locker room and a player's head via social media.
They won both championships, rallied from a February slump. Won 27.
The captain of the ship kept the vessel steady. You might call it managing. It's called coaching, too.
“You're everybody's big game,” CU Athletic Director Bruce Rasmussen said. “We didn't play as well as we liked all the time. We had injuries, Grant Gibbs was beat up. We lost Josh.
“There were some ups and downs, but the thing Coach did was he was consistent. It was one of the things I've always said about Tom Osborne — you knew what you were getting every day. When things were really up or really down, he never changed. The kids feed off that. They needed a steady hand.”
He was the same guy who started 17-1, won the Vegas tourney, beat St. Joe's and Akron and Cal.
He was the same guy who some fans were howling about during a three-game losing streak in February. The players were burned out. Mac had ridden them too hard. Couldn't get Doug the ball. Couldn't adjust at halftime. Couldn't find other ways to score when the 3s weren't falling. Didn't he always do this in February?
The problem was that some of us forgot, or didn't allow, that a team built on perimeter shooting wouldn't always light it up. That teams would smother Doug and the new point guard and make the role players and the inconsistent center beat 'em.
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Now, Mac didn't have a lot of other options. But keeping it real, keeping it steady, was the smart play, too. Keep shooting. Eventually the shots did fall. And Doug did get open.
“It was a classic lull in a season,” said Nick Bahe, Creighton's radio analyst and a former Jay. “And I'm sure Coach would like to have some things back during some games. Everyone has that.
“This team was made up of specific parts that were designed to come together as a team. During that stretch, other teams weren't letting us use those parts. You really just had to stay the course and get something to work.
“There's a huge misconception that coaching is all about X's and O's, when a lot of what you're doing is managing the team, managing the season, trying to keep it on course and get it back when it goes off. You're managing people day to day, the stuff on social media, school stuff, the media.”
On top of it all, the superstar was the coach's son. Doug McDermott took 487 shots — the second most was 217 by Chatman. And people wanted Doug to shoot more, score more. It's a no-brainer, sure, but it can mess with team chemistry and dynamics, even with a close team.
Unless you have a father and son who know how to handle it.
“I'm blown away by what (Greg McDermott) has done in three years,” Bahe said. “That's a very delicate situation. If things didn't go well, it could have blown up.”
The one time Mac looked like he might be going after his players, calling them too nice and chiding them to hold their teammates more accountable, he knew what he was doing because he knew his team.
But this season was an untraveled road for Mac, starting with his statement back in October that the team should shoot for the Sweet 16.
“I've never had a season like this because I've never had a team with expectations like this,” McDermott said. “But I felt like I trusted my guys, trusted them to handle it. They understood it wouldn't be easy. There would be ups and downs.
“I tried to stay encouraging. You have to keep things in perspective. As I get older, I learn to take what happens and learn from it, don't hold onto it and flip the page. We are where we are today because we stayed the course.”
We'll probably never know how good Mac was this year, how hard it was, what it meant. That's OK. He was the Creighton Coach of the Year. And the year's not done yet.
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