High-scoring Creighton looks to improve on defense
Creighton expects to be one of the best offensive teams in the nation again this season.
The Bluejays don't expect to be one of the worst on defense.
When the players were issued practice jerseys last month, they found the number ''222'' stamped on them - their national ranking in field-goal defense.
''Last year, we were so good offensively that we just fell into the mentality that we were going to try to outscore people,'' senior guard Grant Gibbs said. ''It put us in a lot of close games, and we were fortunate to win a lot of those. We have to have a mentality where it has to hurt when people score on us.''
With preseason All-American and Valley player of the year Doug McDermott and nine of the top 10 players returning, Creighton is the overwhelming choice to win the Missouri Valley Conference. The 16th-ranked Bluejays, who matched a school record with 29 wins, hope to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament after losing in the third round to North Carolina last March.
The Bluejays know they probably can't get away with allowing opponents to shoot 44.1 percent from the field, 36.1 percent on 3-pointers and average 69.7 points like they did last year.
''It's what the coaching staff has been preaching to us since the end of the season,'' junior guard Jahenns Manigat said. ''It's one of the reasons we couldn't get by North Carolina in the tournament. Seeing it on our practice jersey each and every day is a constant reminder of how terrible we were last year and how much better we could be as a team if we improve on that number.''
Scoring shouldn't be a problem.
McDermott's 22.9 points a game ranked third in the nation, and 82 percent of the scoring from a team that averaged better than 79 points is back. The Bluejays were second nationally in field-goal shooting (50.4 percent), third in 3-point shooting (42.4 percent) and second in assists (17.6).
Senior center Gregory Echenique, one of the Valley's top defensive players, resculpted his 6-foot-9, 260-pound frame in the offseason and has worked to improve on the offensive end.
Gibbs, who led the Bluejays in assists and steals, and Manigat, who shot 49.2 percent on 3s in Valley games, are the other returning starters.
The biggest change is at point guard, where sophomore Austin Chatman takes over for Antoine Young.
The rest of the Missouri Valley:
ILLINOIS STATE: Former Vanderbilt assistant Dan Muller is in the unusual of position of being a first-year coach who takes over a team in position to contend for a championship. Tim Jankovich left in April to become head coach-in-waiting under Larry Brown at SMU. The Redbirds are looking to get to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998, Muller's last season as a Redbirds' player. Jackie Carmichael, who averaged 15 points and 11.7 rebounds, is among four returning starters from the team that reached the Valley tournament final.
NORTHERN IOWA: The Panthers, coming off a fourth straight 20-win season, return four starters and four other players who have significant experience. Seth Tuttle, the Valley freshman of the year, shot a league-high 65.2 percent. The versatile Jake Koch was only Valley player with 30-plus 3-pointers, offensive rebounds, assists, steals and blocks. Anthony James is the top returning scorer (12.5 ppg). UNI will get tough Thanksgiving test in a Bahamas tournament, with Louisville, Missouri and Stanford on its side of the bracket and Duke, Minnesota, Memphis and VCU on the other.
WICHITA STATE: Coach Gregg Marshall is overseeing a team with lots of moving parts because of newcomers and injuries. Seniors Carl Hall (8.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and Demetric Williams (5.5 ppg, 2.1 apg) are the only starters back from the defending regular-season champion Shockers, who went to the NCAA tournament and won 27 games. Williams has been limited in practice after having ankle surgery in August. Transfer Malcolm Armstead made 52 starts in two seasons at Oregon and will help Williams at the point. Junior-college transfer Cleanthony Early should be a factor right away.
EVANSVILLE: The Purple Aces finished third in the Valley for their best finish in 13 years. Everything revolves around preseason all-conference pick Colt Ryan, whose 20.5-point average was 11th in the country. Point guard Troy Taylor (5.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg) can fill a stat sheet in a variety of ways. Ned Cox, who backed up Taylor, was the Valley's sixth man of the year after averaging 9.2 points. Ryan Sawvell (6.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg) was on the MVC all-freshman team.
DRAKE: Seth VanDeest, the Bulldogs' 6-foot-11 center, is back after missing last season because of problems with both shoulders. He's up to 265 pounds, 40 heavier than when he started every game as a freshman and sophomore. VanDeest's return to the post should help preseason all-MVC pick Ben Simons (16.4 ppg), a 43-percent shooter on 3s, and Jordan Clarke, who will be able to move back to his natural power-forward spot. Utah transfer Chris Hines averaged 9.6 points and started 26 games for the Utes two seasons ago.
INDIANA STATE: The Sycamores are in rebuilding mode after losing four senior starters. They do return preseason all-MVC pick Jake Odum, one of four players nationally to average at least 10 points, five rebounds and 4.5 assists. R.J. Mahurin (7.2 ppg, 2.4 rpg) is the only other returning player who was a significant contributor. The Sycamore sustained a blow when junior-college transfer Mike Samuels, the biggest player on the roster at 6-11, broke a foot during a summer exhibition tour of the Bahamas. He's probably out for the season.
MISSOURI STATE: Anthony Downing (11.5 ppg) will need to increase his scoring to fill the void created by the departure of graduated star Kyle Weems. Christian Kirk (3.7 ppg) and Nathan Scheer (2.5 ppg) are the other returning starters. Coach Paul Lusk likes his six freshmen. Bruce Marshall, at 6-10, is the biggest player on an otherwise undersized roster. Lusk touts the freshman's willingness to muck it up inside even though he weighs just 220 pounds.
BRADLEY: With four starters back, coach Geno Ford is confident the Braves will be better than the squad that won just seven games and finished last in the Valley. Walt Lemon Jr. (12.6 ppg) is the top returning scorer. Sixth-year post player Will Egolf, who averaged 8.0 points and 4.1 rebounds in 2010-11, is back after missing last year with a torn ACL. Newcomers Ka'Darryl Bell and Tyshon Pickett are players to watch.
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS: Coach Barry Hinson, formerly at Missouri State, is back in the Valley after working for Bill Self at Kansas the past four years. Four starters are back. Wyoming transfer Desmar Jackson gives the Salukis plenty of depth at guard. Jeff Early (8.6 ppg) is the top returning scorer. Forward Dantiel Daniels (8.3 ppg) is out five weeks with a leg injury, a setback for a team already short on size.