PHILADELPHIA — In discussing Creighton’s move to the Big East next season, Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin was asked about the degree of difficulty the Bluejays will face.
“That depends on whether Doug McDermott is on the team or not,” Cronin said, chuckling. “If he loves his dad, he’ll come back.”
Turning serious, Cronin said it’s obviously not that simple, but the return of a two-time All-American would definitely make things a little easier for Creighton.
“It’s all about players,” Cronin said. “It’s going to take them some time to get the players they need whether Doug comes back or leaves. With the type of support Creighton receives, I believe they have a chance to be successful.
“But it all depends on recruiting.”
Cronin’s team will square off against Creighton on Friday in a second-round NCAA tournament game. This year’s tournament will be the Bearcats’ last as a member of what was the old Big East.
Seven Catholic universities that do not play football decided last December to break away from the conference. They have added Creighton, Butler and Xavier; retained the Big East name; secured a lucrative Fox television deal and will begin play next season.
By coincidence, one of Creighton’s new conference brethren, Georgetown, is also playing at the Wells Fargo Center. The Hoyas will face Florida Gulf Coast in a South Region game. Creighton and Cincinnati are in the Midwest Region.
Georgetown coach John Thompson III said he’s excited about the potential the new Big East brings to the table.
“I think you will quickly see in our inaugural season the rebirth of the Big East,” Thompson said. “We’re going to be one of the best basketball conferences in the country, and that’s something I say confidently.
“Over time you will see us establish the rivalries, the venom that Georgetown and Syracuse had with some. As it relates to the quality of play, the quality of the players, the quality of the coaching, it’s going to be one of the best from day one.”
The old Big East had 15 teams. Cronin’s team finished tied for ninth in the league with a 9-9 record, partly because of what the coach called a brutal February schedule that included games against Seton Hall, Providence, Villanova and Georgetown.
Those schools, along with Marquette, DePaul and St. John’s, are used to the grind of playing in one of college basketball’s premier conferences. While Creighton, Butler and Xavier have demonstrated the ability to compete at a high level, all three schools face challenges in adjusting to their new environments.
In Creighton’s case, Cronin said, the Bluejays will find the commitment the school makes to men’s basketball will be matched by every other school in the new league.
“That probably wasn’t the case in the Valley,” Cronin said. “Creighton has great support and tradition, and their coaches do a good job in recruiting, but when they look around at the other schools, it will be like looking in a mirror.
“All those schools have great support, tradition and recruiting. I think moving to the new league will help Creighton’s recruiting, but it’s going to take time.”
Thompson doesn’t see the challenge for Creighton, Butler and Xavier being as daunting as some.
“I don’t think it’s going to be that big of an adjustment,” he said. “Those guys are used to playing basketball at the highest level there is. They’re good teams, and that’s why we want them to be part of what we have.”
The new schools aren’t the only ones facing an adjustment, Thompson said.
“The challenge for them is going to be the same as for the other seven,” he said. “It’s all about getting familiarity with how each school is going to try to skin the cat, how each one is going to try to win games.”
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