Published Thursday, October 17, 2013 at 1:00 am / Updated at 10:52 am
Big East coaches say Bluejays well-prepared to earn stripes in new league
Big East preseason poll
1. Marquette (5), 74
2. Georgetown (2), 70
3. Creighton (1), 61
4. Villanova, 58
5. St. John's (2), 56
6. Providence, 41
7. Xavier, 38
8. Seton Hall, 20
9. Butler, 19
10. DePaul, 13

Preseason player of the year: Doug McDermott, Creighton
Preseason rookie of the year: Rysheed Jordan, St. John's
Preseason first team: Markel Starks, Georgetown; Davante Gardner, Marquette; Bryce Cotton, Providence; D'Angelo Harrison, St. John's; Semaj Christon, Xavier.
Preseason second team: Cleveland Melvin, DePaul; Jamil Wilson, Marquette; JaKarr Sampson, St. John's, Fuquan Edwin, Seton Hall; Ryan Arcidiacono, Villanova; JayVaughn Pinkston, Villanova.
Preseason honorable mention: Kadeem Batts, Providence; Chris Obekpa, St. John's.

NEW YORK — Creighton's learning curve as it prepares for its first season of Big East play might not be as steep some fear.

At least that's how Georgetown's John Thompson III and DePaul's Oliver Purnell see it.

Asked at Wednesday's basketball media day how he believes Creighton will handle the adjustment from the Missouri Valley, Purnell acknowledged that the new Big East is a “big, strong and physical league.”

“But Creighton, they played against Wichita State,” Purnell said. “We played Wichita State last year, and there wasn't anyone in our league that was more physical than Wichita State. At least at the top of that league, Creighton has had to face that.”

Thompson — whose team was second in the coaches' preseason poll, one spot ahead of Creighton — doesn't buy the notion that the Bluejays and fellow newcomers Xavier and Butler have some catching up to do with the seven holdover schools from the old Big East.

“I don't think it's going to be that big of an adjustment for those three schools,” Thompson said. “Those are three terrific programs that are used to winning. They are programs that have played and won at a high level already.”

Creighton coach Greg McDermott has said repeatedly since last March when the Bluejays were announced as Big East members that the move creates a new set of challenges.

One of the stiffest, Villanova's Jay Wright said, is the same one he faced when he left Hofstra to take over the Wildcats.

Although Wright said he's never coached in the Valley or the Atlantic 10 — the former home for Butler and Xavier — he can't imagine either conference being as physically demanding as the Big East.

“The physical pounding night in and night out, whether you're playing the 10th-place team or the first-place team, was something I had to deal with,” Wright said. “When you play Georgetown on Saturday and St. John's on Monday, it beats guys down.

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“I don't know about those other leagues, but I do know the Big East, and it's a physical brand of basketball. You have to be aware of that as you move through the season.”

At the same time, Xavier's Chris Mack said, that's part of the challenge that should make this season fun. It's the same challenge the Musketeers faced when they moved from the Mid-Continent to the Atlantic 10 in 1995.

“When they decided to go to the Atlantic 10, it was going to be all about better teams and better athletes and tougher travel,” Mack said. “Within a couple of years, Skip Prosser won an A-10 championship and we never looked back.

“For our program and our fans, this is the next challenge. We want to be one of the best programs in the Big East. If you are, then you're one of best teams in the country.”

The biggest adjustment Mack sees is simply learning more about new conference rivals.

“It's different styles of play and different athletes,” Mack said. “There's a lack of familiarity between the programs. Usually when you have a senior and he's battled a senior from another program for years, your guy can't stand the other guy. He knows all the tricks in the bag.

“Here, it's going to be a lot of learning.”

The biggest challenge for Butler, coach Brandon Miller said, is simply trying to figure out where the points will come from this season. The Bulldogs lost their top two scorers — Rotnei Clark and Andrew Smith — from a team that went 27-9 and lost to Marquette in the NCAA tournament's round of 32.

Miller took over for Brad Stevens, who left to coach the NBA's Boston Celtics. His team was dealt another blow when forward Roosevelt Jones suffered a season-ending wrist injury during the summer.

“When you think of the brand for Big East basketball, it's tough, defensive-minded teams,” Miller said. “When you lose your top three leading scorers, and the strength of the conference is to keep you from scoring the basketball, that's a challenge.”

So is the grind of playing a double round-robin schedule against some of the top teams in the country. Until Butler joined the Atlantic 10 last season, it played in the Horizon League. The Bulldogs dominated that conference.

“You look from top to bottom in this league, there are no gimme games,” Miller said. “You can't say that when we play this team, you can chalk it up and we're going to win this game. It's going to be tough playing at that level night in and night out.”

All of the advantages, though, do not rest with the holdover schools. Purnell and Providence's Ed Cooley said the home-court advantages at Butler, Xavier and Creighton will make it difficult on the seven holdover schools.

“Some of the teams we lost didn't have as tough a home court as these three,” Purnell said.

Said Cooley: “Going out to Creighton and playing, that is probably one of the best home-court advantages in the country. It's big-time-big time. Great arena, passionate fans.”

Marquette coach Buzz Williams cited another factor that could help ease Creighton's transition.

“I think coach McDermott's son is by far the best player in the league,” said Williams, referring to preseason player of the year Doug McDermott. “I think that's always healthy when you come into a new league and you have the best player.”

Contact the writer: Steven Pivovar    |   402-679-2298    |  

Steven Pivovar is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and primarily covers Creighton athletics and the College World Series.

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