Since Greg McDermott brings his son to practice every day, Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard figured it would be fitting to bring his boy to a workout in the days leading up to the game against Creighton.
“I wanted to see if my son could do the same thing that Greg’s son does, and he couldn’t,” Willard said. “I was a little disappointed. I started yelling at him, telling him he needed to be able to do a step back and a Euro move. He’s looking at me and saying, ‘Where are my Legos?’ ”
Colin Willard is 7 years old. His dad’s anecdote was designed to underscore the difficulty opposing teams, especially Creighton’s new Big East brethren, have in preparing for the Bluejays.
No coach in the country has a son as talented as McDermott’s, and few coaches have a team that presents as many challenges offensively as Creighton does, especially for opponents that have not yet faced the Bluejays.
Oliver Purnell and DePaul are the next group to face that task. The Blue Demons host the Bluejays on Tuesday in an 8:02 p.m. game at the Allstate Arena in Chicago.
The Bluejays (12-2) bring a seven-game winning streak — including double-digit Big East victories over Marquette and Seton Hall — into the game. DePaul (8-7) has lost Big East games to Georgetown (61-54) and Marquette (66-56). Creighton opened conference play with a 66-49 blitz of the Golden Eagles.
Marquette coach Buzz Williams talked after that loss about the difficulty that comes with preparing to play Creighton. Willard echoed those comments after Saturday’s 79-66 loss to the Bluejays.
“It’s not fun,” said Willard, sizing up the challenge.
In the months leading up to the start of play in the reconfigured Big East, there was plenty of discussion about how Creighton would fare in its new league. The consensus was that the Bluejays might struggle because they lacked the athleticism and toughness of the teams moving over from the old Big East.
What the Bluejays have is a two-time first-team All-American in Doug McDermott and an unconventional offensive approach. McDermott, who can score anywhere on the court, is surrounded by an array of shooters capable of spreading teams out and offsetting their deficiencies.
That approach, the Bluejays believe, provides an advantage as Creighton makes its way through the conference schedule for the first time.
“The teams that we see in the Big East have been about pack defense and protecting the inside,” Creighton guard Jahenns Manigat said. “We are a team that likes to spread you out to try to get layups and open 3s.
“The second time we play teams, people will have a different game plan, but this could be an advantage for us in this first go-round.”
Teammate Grant Gibbs agrees.
“We’re making a jump with the teams we’re playing athletically, but a lot of teams haven’t seen the things we do,” Gibbs said. “Having two guys at the 4 and 5 that shoot the 3 is difficult to adjust to if you haven’t seen it before.”
Starting forwards McDermott and Ethan Wragge have combined to make 87 of Creighton’s 159 3-point baskets this season. The Bluejays are shooting 42.6 percent from 3-point range, with Xavier, another of the league’s newcomers, second at 36.6 percent.
“We’re hoping the unfamiliarity of what we do offensively,” Gibbs said, “continues to be a factor for us.”
That unfamiliarity cuts both ways. Greg McDermott said his staff has had to work overtime trying to come up with game plans for teams the Bluejays have not played in years. He scheduled a shootaround the morning of the Seton Hall game because the Bluejays had never played in the Prudential Center.
“Normally, we wouldn’t have done that for an afternoon game,” he said. “But everything we’re doing is a little new. You watch these teams on film over and over, but until you experience a game and you see what Buzz Williams is trying to do with his team and Kevin Willard is trying to do with his team, it’s hard to get a feel for things.”
McDermott grinned when it was suggested his team must be causing opposing coaches plenty of indigestion in the days leading up to those first meetings with the Bluejays.
“Like it is hard for us to simulate some of the things we saw against Marquette or Seton Hall, because we’re not as long or athletic, it’s hard for Marquette and Seton Hall to put two 6-8 guys out on the perimeter and have them fire 3s in practice,” McDermott said. “They don’t have those guys on their team because if they did, they’d be on the floor.
“We present some problems because we play a little bit different.”
Bluejays return to rankings
Creighton’s seven-game winning streak has lifted the Bluejays back into the USA Today coaches rankings.
The Bluejays received enough votes to tie Iowa for the 23rd spot. Creighton remained unranked in the Associated Press Top 25, receiving the 27th most points in voting by writers and broadcasters.
The Bluejays were ranked in both polls until back-to-back losses to San Diego State and George Washington at the Wooden Legacy tournament. Creighton has won seven straight games since, all by 10 points or more.
Also Monday, the Big East selected Doug McDermott its player of the week. McDermott also was named CBSSports.com’s national player of the week.
McDermott averaged 24.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.5 assists in victories over Marquette and Seton Hall. He shot 50 percent from the field and 45.5 percent from 3-point range in the two wins.