Can Creighton be trusted?

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In the 10 years since Greg McDermott became head coach at Creighton, his Bluejays have typically combined a great offfense with a so-so defense. But in March, that combination has meant McDermott’s teams can’t be trusted to make much impact in the NCAA Tournament. 

So, are the Bluejays, who won nine times in a 10-game stretch from Jan. 18 to Feb. 23 that included road victories over Villanova, Seton Hall and Marquette, trustworthy this March? 

Before Sunday, it appeared so. Now? Maybe. 

Creighton is 22-7 overall and tied for second place in the Big East after being blown out 91-71 at St. John’s over the weekend. 

Despite the loss — Quadrant 1 since the Red Storm is 64th in the NCAA’s NET —the Bluejays are 17th at KenPom and 13th in the NET. 

As is typical of a McDermott-coached team, Creighton has a great offense. It’s No. 6 in KenPom’s offensive efficiency ratings, the fourth time the Bluejays have been ranked in the top 10 in that metric under McDermott. 

The defense, however, is not elite. But it is improving. 

Prior to the loss on Sunday, Creighton was No. 68 with an adjusted defensive efficiency of 97.2 (points allowed per 100 opponent possessions). 

While the Bluejays aren’t threatening defenses like Kansas’ or Virginia’s, that’s a decent number. And Creighton had climbed 20 spots since starting Big East play 2-3 and 66 spots since a late-November blowout loss to San Diego State. 

In his breakout sophomore season in 2012, Doug McDermott, the coach’s son and the best player in program history, ranked in the top 30 in shooting from both sides of the arc and led the Bluejays to a 29-6 record. 

Creighton had the No. 5 offense that year but the No. 166 defense, according to KenPom’s numbers. That defense was the Bluejays’ undoing in an 87-73 second-round NCAA Tournament loss to North Carolina that saw the Tar Heels shoot 51 percent from the field and make 8 of 16 shots from long range. 

The following season, the younger McDermott shot 49 percent from beyond the arc (fourth best in the country), but the Bluejays made another second-round exit when they went just 2-for-19 from deep in a loss to Duke. 

In McDermott’s senior season, Creighton rode the nation’s No. 2 offense to a 3-seed in the NCAA tournament, but had trouble scoring and defending in an 85-55 loss to Baylor, once again in Round 2. 

The loss to St. John’s three days ago, illustrates the risks of backing Creighton in the win-or-go-home games at tournament time. 

The Red Storm, one of the worst long-range shooting teams in the nation, made 14 of 22 from 3-point range. The Bluejays, meanwhile, 18th in the country shooting from deep, were just 4-for-17. 

Creighton dropped eight spots in adjusted defensive efficiency in just that game. 

Still, there is reason for optimism this March. 

The Bluejays finish the regular season with home games against Georgetown and Seton Hall. A win over the Pirates (NET No. 12), combined with a strong showing in the Big East tournament next week could put Creighton in line for a program-best No. 2 seed when the NCAA Tournament selection committee reveals the bracket in 11 days. 

That seed would allow the Bluejays to avoid other top teams until the second week. 

The cold streak at St. John’s marked just the second off-night shooting for Creighton in the past two months. If the Bluejays can get back to their offensive consistency, the Sweet 16 or better is a strong possibility. 

Here are this week’s picks. The numbers for the spreads are based on game predictions at KenPom.com.  

Wednesday 

Dayton -4 at Rhode Island: Recent losses to Davidson and Saint Louis, have put the Rams’ NCAA Tournament at-large chances in jeopardy.

Rhode Island is a very good defensive team, especially at the 3-point line. But Dayton doesn’t have to hit 3’s to win (just ask Davidson).

The Flyers won the first meeting, 81-67 last month. DAYTON

Georgetown at Creighton -11, Total 155: The Bluejays couldn’t have picked a better opponent for a bounce-back game.

The Hoyas rank either ninth or 10th among the 10 Big East schools in the four most important defensive metrics.

But Georgetown can score and should get second-chance points against a poor Creighton rebounding team. These two teams combined for 163 points in a Georgetown win in January.

The Bluejays have lost just once at home all season. CREIGHTON and OVER

Thursday

Boise State vs. UNLV -3: The Mountain West Tournament is being played at the Thomas & Mack Center and the Rebels finished the regular season with five straight wins, including an upset of San Diego State and a 10-point victory over these Broncos on this court.

UNLV might not make 71 percent from inside the arc again, but Boise State is one of the worst-defending teams in that area.

The Rebels, a trendy dark horse pick in the Mountain West tournament, can limit the Broncos’ second-chance opportunities. UNLV

Last week: 2-2

Season: 33-32-1

About the Author

Ched Whitney

Ched Whitney has been a journalist in Las Vegas since 1994. He worked for the Las Vegas Review-Journal for 18 years, where he was the paper’s art director for 12. Since becoming a freelancer in 2012, his work has appeared at ESPN.com, AOL, The Seattle Times and UNLV Magazine, among others. ​

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