Conventional wisdom says Creighton probably can't afford to rely on a 6-foot-7 post player with marginal athleticism as it ventures into a league where the big men are going to be bigger, stronger and more athletic than those the Bluejays are used to facing.
Then again, the benefits that Creighton might receive on the offensive end from pairing Ethan Wragge with a two-time first-team All-American might nicely offset what it would be giving up on the other end of the court.
At least that's how Doug McDermott sees it.
“Our defense as a team is good enough that if Ethan and I are on the floor together, we can work around it,” McDermott said. “And Ethan is strong enough to hold his own against '5' men in this league.
“We'll find a way to do it, and then it's going to be a pain for teams to guard us on offense. It will be a matchup nightmare.”
At this point, using Wragge and McDermott for longer periods together than he has in the past is just one of the options Creighton coach Greg McDermott is considering. After all, the Bluejays are just four practices into preseason drills and have a month before they play their first game.
But Greg McDermott acknowledges that the prospect intrigues him as he tries to replace the one starter — three-year starter Gregory Echenique — he loses from last season's 28-win team.
“I think it's definitely a possibility,” the coach said. “In some ways, it will be up to them. If we can defend and rebound with those two on the floor, then why wouldn't you want those two on the floor on the other end?
“That's going to be the challenge, whether we will be able to defend and rebound enough to get away with it for longer periods of time.”
Creighton's other options are tied to the development of Will Artino, Geoffrey Groselle and Zach Hanson. The 6-11, 230-pound Artino averaged 3.9 points and 2.5 rebounds as a sophomore while playing eight minutes per game last season, primarily as Echenique's backup.
Groselle, at 7-0 and 250 pounds, is Creighton's biggest player. He saw mop-up action in 17 games last season but has been slowed by Achilles problems in both feet. The 6-9, 245-pound Hanson is a true freshman trying to learn the system and possibly avoid a redshirt season.
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“A lot of it will depend on Will's continued development, Geoff's health and getting Zach potentially ready to play,” Greg McDermott said. “There are a lot of factors that go into it.”
The 6-7, 225-pound Wragge would give Creighton its most experienced option. Although he is more comfortable sharpshooting from the perimeter — he begins the season third on the Bluejays' all-time 3-point field-goal chart with 224 — he has logged considerable time the past two seasons in backing up Echenique.
“I'm comfortable when I have to play inside,” Wragge said. “Obviously, I'm not the biggest guy, but there are ways around that. I feel like I'm strong enough to play inside, and we can provide a lot of help with other guys coming and digging on opposing post players.”
Echenique gave Creighton a luxury the past three seasons in that he was strong enough to play opposing centers one-on-one. Given that whoever the Bluejays play inside will probably need extensive double-team help once new Big East action begins, putting Wragge in that spot probably isn't as big a risk as it might seem.
“Ethan is a strong dude, and he can handle himself inside,” Creighton guard Grant Gibbs said. “Then, on the other end, having him on the floor causes a lot of matchup problems for other teams. There is a ton of stuff we'd be able to do with both Doug and Ethan on the floor at the same time.”
The two players have been paired up enough in the past that Doug McDermott said they are comfortable playing off one another on offense.
“When we've been out there together, I've probably been more of a 5-man with him on the perimeter,” McDermott said. “That allows me to go more one-on-one with my defender because they're not going to leave Ethan. He's the best shooter on the court.”
One of the features Creighton tries to use offensively with either McDermott or Wragge is to have them trail the action down the court, then pass the ball back to either one of them for wide-open 3-point attempts.
“He's not the guy that has to trail on every play,” McDermott said. “He can get down the floor and set up in the post, and then we can run some action that gets him back on the perimeter.”
From Gibbs' standpoint as one of Creighton's main distributors, it would be a bonus to have two shooters the caliber of McDermott and Wragge on the floor at the same time.
“We would have two of the country's top shooters on the floor, and teams will struggle to guard both of them,” Gibbs said. “We can do a lot of stuff with them, running pick-and-pops and running them off screens.
“The big concern would be the defensive glass, but that would just mean that everyone on the court would have to make a greater effort. When you look at everything, having the two of them playing together would give us a lot of advantages.”
One factor weighing into decisions is just how much better the big men of the new Big East will be than the players Creighton was accustomed to facing in the Missouri Valley. Several teams return star-quality inside players this season, but a number of schools have question marks inside.
In order to combat some of the athleticism Creighton expects to face this season, McDermott and his staff have spent considerable time in the early practices on fundamental work that could bolster the Bluejays' defense.
“A lot of it has to do with making sure we're in the right position,” Wragge said “We might not be able to match up in terms of God-given athletic talent with some of these teams, but we have a team full of smart guys. There are ways of taking away some of that advantage teams might have on us athletically.”
In the end, the Wragge-McDermott option comes down to whether the advantages Creighton might gain on the offensive end outweigh any of the defensive disadvantages.
“It comes down to the other end (defensive) of the floor,” Greg McDermott said. “There aren't many bigs that have to guard the things that Doug and Ethan can do on the offensive end. That provides us with a potential advantage.
“Ethan is strong enough and physical enough to make this work. He's become a much better inside defender that we can at least get away with it for periods of time and it really allows us to space the floor on offense.”