The Creighton men’s basketball team started Missouri Valley Conference play on a high note with a win against Evansville on Saturday night. The Bluejays will try to test their success on the road with their game against Illinois State on Wednesday.
The Redbirds will likely be fired up for their first home contest in MVC play after an opening loss at Indiana State. ISU can’t afford to start conference play 0-2.
White & Blue Review: Were Illinois State fans surprised that Tim Jankovich left in the offseason for the job at SMU? How has Dan Muller been accepted by the fanbase?
Jim Benson: ISU fans were a little surprised by Jankovich’s departure because this was the season he had geared up for awhile. However, when fans found out he was going to make about $300,000 more at SMU as a “Coach in Waiting,” no one really begrudged him. That was crazy money. Muller’s hiring was very popular. He was part of the last two Redbird teams to make the NCAA tourney (1997-98) and fans remembered him as a hard worker who got everything out of his ability. Now, if the Redbirds don’t get to the NCAA tournament this year, the honeymoon may be short lived, but you have to give a coach time with the players he recruited.
WBR: How is Muller’s coaching style different than Jankovich’s. With a majority of the players back from last season how have they adjusted to the changes.
JB: Muller runs a motion offense, while Jankovich used a lot more ball screens and more high-low with the bigs. Both coaches like to play man-to-man defense, although it seems the Redbirds are using more zone this season than they ever did under Jankovich. The players seemed to have adjusted well to the changes. One area where the Redbirds aren’t doing as well is rebounding. A lot of that is having 6-7 Jon Ekey mainly playing power forward instead of at a wing position.
WBR: How has Kaza Keane done stepping into the point guard role that was left by Nic Moore? Would the Redbirds have a different record if they still had Moore.
JB: Keane has been like a typical freshman, some good games and others not so good. Moore was the same way last season, but everyone just remembers the end of the season where he really took off. Keane is more of a pass-first point guard instead of looking to score like Moore. Keane is a much better defender than Moore was at any point last season. It’s difficult to say if ISU would have a better record if Moore returned under Muller. He would have had to commit more on defense than he did last season.
WBR: With the loss against Indiana State to start conference play, what was it that kept them from winning that game? Were they looking ahead to the game against Creighton on Wednesdsay?
JB: ISU definitely wasn’t looking ahead to Creighton. None of the players have ever won at the Hulman Center and they knew Indiana State was coming off a good showing in Hawaii at the Diamond Head Classic. ISU just wasn’t very sharp against the Sycamores, plus Carmichael got in early foul trouble and only played eight minutes in the first half. They shot 38 percent and were outrebounded by 10, yet had a last-second shot to win the game. It would have been a miraculous victory, but it also shows they are never out of any game.
WBR: Which player does Creighton need to watch out for on Wednesday night that fans may not be aware of?
JB: Johnny Hill is a much improved player from last season. He is playing a lot of point guard for the first time in his life and has improved tremendously at both ends of the court. Of course, most Creighton fans probably remember Hill from getting ejected at Redbird Arena last year after a scuffle with Grant Gibbs. He does play with a little bit of an edge, which every team needs. Gibbs is the same way.
WBR: Who wins the battle down low between Doug McDermott and Jackie Carmichael? They had quite a battle last season in the MVC Tourney Championship game?
JB: I really don’t expect McDermott and Carmichael to ever guard each other. Carmichael usually is at the 5 spot and will likely be matched against Echenique. McDermott will be guarded by Ekey and John Wilkins. If you’re talking about scoring and rebounding totals, I would definitely give McDermott the scoring edge and Carmichael the rebounding advantage.
WBR: With the changing landscape due to conference realignment, what is your opinion on what happens with the MVC. Will Creighton or other schools look to leave at some point or will the MVC grow stronger?
JB: Good question. I know why Creighton would want to be part of a major hoops league with the Big East defectors, but be very careful what you wish for. When the Jays have a “down” season in the Valley, they seem to go 10-8 or 11-7. A “down” year in that new league would be 6-12 or 5-13. I think the Valley will survive if Creighton bolts, but it obviously won’t be as strong. I really don’t see any other teams leaving the league at this point, but things are changing rapidly so you never know. I am confident if Creighton leaves that Doug Elgin will strike fast to get a quality replacement.
WBR: What is your final prediction? What will Illinois State need to do to keep Creighton from stealing a win in Normal?
JB: Creighton 84, Illinois State 80. McDermott is going to get his points, but ISU can’t let the other guys like Wragge and Manigat have a career night, too. I just think at this point Creighton has a little too much for the Redbirds, but the gap will shrink as the season goes on. Don’t be surprised to see these teams play three teams again this season. It should be a fun atmosphere at Redbird Arena. ISU should be even more hungry after coming short at Indiana State and really needs to win to keep in touch with Creighton in the league race if they want to win the regular-season title.