The Big East might not be what is used to be, but it has still packed a punch with the new 10-team, round-robin format during its first three seasons.
However, when we think of the top teams in the conference, Villanova, Providence and Georgetown usually come to mind. You know, the blue bloods of the Big East. This year, though, there is one team that people keep leaving out when talking about making a run at the conference title.
When you saw the headline of this article, you were probably thinking, “Creighton, huh? Where is that school?” Or something along the lines of, “Remember when they had that ‘Dougy McBuckets’ kid? Yeah, he left, so they must stink now.”
Yes, it has been a struggle without former star Doug McDermott, but his father, head coach Greg McDermott, has a strong team this year. As you might have guessed, no one thought that was possible heading into this season.
The Jays finished dead last in the Big East a season ago. After losing to Georgetown in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament, many thought the future looked dim. Creighton lost senior veterans like Austin Chatman, Avery Dingman and Will Artino. A talented squad that helped the Bluejays get back to national prominence had moved on, and the program had to pick up the pieces.
Flash-forward to this season. Creighton was picked ninth out of 10 teams in the Big East Preseason Coaches’ poll. It had zero players named to any of the Preseason All-Big East teams or awards. No media outlet of note had the Bluejays ranked higher than seventh, let alone in the top half of the conference.
Despite all that, with just five games left in the regular season the Bluejays are 17-10 and 8-6 in conference play. Now, consider that they are tied for third place, just two and a half games back of second-place Xavier, a top-five team nationally and one Creighton defeated a week ago.
A big reason why Creighton is in this spot is the play of 5-foot-10 junior point guard Maurice Watson Jr., who is in the mix for a spot on an All-Big East team. During his first season playing for the Jays after transferring from Boston University, Watson has been terrific. The point guard is averaging 15.2 points, 6.6 assists, 3.4 rebounds and 1.0 steals per game. He is shooting 48.8 percent from the field, too.
Watson is the engine that makes this team go.
Watson does have help in the form of Geoffrey Groselle, one of the most efficient big men in the country. Groselle shoots 67.5 percent from the field, fourth-best in the nation.
Sharpshooters Isaiah Zierden and, last year’s breakout star for the Jays, James Milliken have started to heat up recently, as well. On Saturday against Marquette, Milliken hit a three-pointer with just over a minute to play that ended up being the winning bucket.
This team is starting to hit its stride, and that is not good for the rest of the conference.
The Big East is arguably the most unpredictable conference on a night-to-night basis, and it is about to get even crazier as six middle-of-the-pack teams jockey for position in the conference tournament.
Do not be surprised if Creighton is one of the teams that rises above and finishes in the top three or four.
If the Bluejays keep this run going, we might even see them making a push in next month’s NCAA Tournament. Certainly, no one had that happening four or five months ago.
If you take one thing away from the article, make it this: Do not sleep on Creighton. If you do, the Bluejays will send your team home a loser.
Sean Saint Jacques can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. edu or on twitter at @SSaintj7.