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Breaking down Creighton's 2021-22 schedule

Breaking down Creighton's 2021-22 schedule

Jon Nyatawa discusses the top storylines as Creighton opens practice this week.

The Big East released its regular season schedule last week, officially filling up the Jays' slate for this upcoming season.

So let's break it down!

We'll start with the biggest question: Does this schedule help Creighton make the NCAA tournament?

Certainly the Jays are young and inexperienced — a schedule that's too overbearing could bog down the growth process. So the fact that the nonconference games don't project to be as difficult as recent years' November-December slates might help them gain some confidence early on.

Conversely, however, fewer marquee games could drag down CU's schedule strength. Creighton finished with one of the 25 toughest schedules in 2019 and 2020. It seems that the Jays should have enough top 100-ish nonconference foes this year (plus the Big East) to ensure their SOS won't drastically stand out. But we'll see.

My way-too-early guess: Creighton needs eight nonconference wins and 11 league wins (plus one or two in the Big East tournament) to feel good about an at-large bid. Obviously, avoiding bad losses and picking up quality wins is key — and determining which are which is a bit of a guessing game until January/February.

But what's indisputable is that an 11-9 league record, without any major land mines in nonconference, would put CU in a good position. All but three of the 33 Big East teams that have finished with a regular season league schedule above .500 have made the NCAA tournament since 2014.

Here's how it could look:

>> 2-2 record vs. the high-profile nonconference teams (at Nebraska, Arizona State, Iowa State, vs. BYU)

>> 2-1 record in the Paradise Jam

>> 4-0 record in buy games (Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Kennesaw State, SIUE, North Dakota State)

>> 2-4 record vs. Big East top tier (Villanova, Xavier, UConn)

>> 4-4 record vs. Big East mid tier (Butler, Seton Hall, St. John's, Providence)

>> 5-1 record vs. Big East bottom tier (Marquette, DePaul, Georgetown)

>> 1-1 or 2-1 in Big East tournament

That'd put CU at 20-13 or 21-13 on Selection Sunday. Likely in. Creighton could get there. Even if it's a couple wins shy of that mark, it'd potentially still be in the hunt (depending on who CU beat and how strong the Big East turns out to be).

Most would predict "no" on an NCAA bid for Creighton today but then again, nobody has actually seen this revamped roster yet.

More schedule notes are below. The must-see games, the tough showdowns, the intriguing rivalries. Check it out:

Best game: Friday, Dec. 17. Creighton-Villanova inside the CHI Health Center. The Jays are 3-5 against the Wildcats over the last three seasons. It's been high-level basketball every time these two squads have gotten together of late. Villanova will begin the year labeled as a national title contender.

Toughest nonconference test: BYU. The Jays will play the Cougars on Dec. 11 in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. BYU's been a program on the rise under coach Mark Pope (finishing top 20 in the Ken Pomeroy rankings the last two seasons). Guard Alex Barcello, an honorable mention All-American, is back after averaging 16.1 points and 4.3 assists per game and shooting a ridiculous 47.7% from 3-point range last year.

Toughest four-game stretch: Jan. 26-Feb. 4. Three road games (at Butler, at UConn, at Seton Hall), plus home game against Xavier. That's four teams I project to be NCAA tournament caliber.

The nonconference tournament: Paradise Jam. A lot of times you'd look at the title game in an event like this as the prove-yourself opportunity for Creighton. If the Jays get there, they'd potentially play Colorado, a 2021 NCAA team. That'd be fun. ... But the biggest test for Creighton in the U.S. Virgin Islands might actually come in the tournament's second round. Colorado State is a potential NCAA at-large squad — maybe the best team in the field. If the Rams and Jays win their openers, they play on Nov. 20 or Nov. 21.

The rivalry: This year's Creighton-Nebraska game is set for Tuesday, Nov. 16 in Lincoln. It's the first time since 2006 (and just the second time ever) that the two teams will play before Thanksgiving.

Upset alert: North Dakota State on Nov. 30. The Bison challenged CU in a 69-58 defeat in Omaha last season and nearly upset Kansas one week later. And everybody's back for NDSU.

Fun finish: The final week of the regular season features home games for Creighton against UConn (March 2) and Seton Hall (March 5). The last time the Pirates visited Omaha for senior day was in 2020 — and the Jays clinched a share of the Big East title with a momentous late-game surge in a 77-60 win.

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