Five Tourney Teams Featured on Creighton’s 2017-18 Non-Conference Schedule
Creighton’s 2017-18 non-conference schedule is out, and though most of the games were already known (thanks in large part to WBR’s Patrick Marshall, who studiously tracks schedule announcements), the official release adds dates to those, in addition to a few games that weren’t known previously.
The slate features five teams who were in the NCAA Tournament a year ago, with games against Gonzaga, Northwestern, North Dakota, and two of UCLA, Wisconsin, or Baylor in the CBE Classic in KC. It’s top-heavy, though, with those five games offset by four games against teams who were 250 or higher in the computer rankings a year ago. And curiously, there’s just 12 games listed, one below the max of 13; the press release notes they will announce the final opponent at a later date.
In that release, Greg McDermott said “It’s a great schedule. Maybe one of the most difficult ones that we’ve had in my tenure at Creighton.”
— Creighton Basketball (@BluejayMBB) July 11, 2017
Here’s a quick rundown of the schedule:
The defending Division II Peach Belt Conference champs are the Jays’ lone exhibition foe, coming to Omaha on November 3. It seems like an odd game on the surface given the geography, but the Braves have a familiar name on their bench: Eldon Miller, the legendary Northern Iowa coach who guided the Panthers to their first NCAA Tournament in 1990 (where they defeated #3 Missouri in a classic upset) — and perhaps more pertinent to this matchup, coached Greg McDermott during his playing days at UNI. Miller is a volunteer assistant coach for the Braves, alongside his son Ben, who is their head coach.
Yale finished fourth in the Ivy League a year ago (18-11, 9-5 in the Ivy), and advanced to the inaugural league championship game before losing to Princeton. While Harvard is probably the preseason favorite to win the league, Yale features a litany of talented players and a nice incoming class of recruits, and should be in the hunt. Their top four scorers return, plus Makai Mason who was their best player in 2015-16 but missed all of last season with a foot injury.
vs Alcorn State
Wrapping up the opening weekend, Creighton hosts Alcorn State out of the SWAC. The Braves were 18-14 a year ago (13-5 in the league), finishing second behind Texas Southern — who beat them in the conference title game to grab the auto bid to the NCAA Tournament. They lose three seniors off that squad, but return enough talent to once again compete in the SWAC.
In the season’s second week, things get tough in a big hurry. On November 15, Creighton heads out on the road to play Northwestern in the Gavitt Games — albeit not at the Wildcats’ on campus facility, Welsh-Ryan Arena, which is undergoing renovations. This one will be at DePaul’s old home, Allstate Arena, or the “Armpit of All Arenas” as the legend Steve Pivovar of the World-Herald used to call it. Northwestern returns four starters off their first-ever NCAA Tournament squad a year ago, a team that went 24-12 (10-8 in the Big Ten) and beat Vanderbilt in the tourney.
CBE Classic, Kansas City
From there, the Jays head to KC, where they’ll take on either Baylor, UCLA, or Wisconsin in the first round of the CBE Classic, and another of those three teams in the second game. The matchups will be announced later, but all three teams advanced to the Sweet 16 a year ago, so whichever teams the Jays draw will be a great game, both on the court and for resume purposes in March. This is one of the best holiday tourney fields the Bluejays have been a part of in a very long time, and with it being in KC, could be de-facto home games for Creighton.
The Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, Creighton plays host to SIU-Edwardsville, a doormat from the Ohio Valley Conference. “Doormat” sounds harsh, but here’s the facts: the Cougars were 6-24 a year ago, lost their first 15 conference games (beating Eastern Illinois in their final game to avoid the 0-for), lost 21 of 22 games during a three-month stretch, and won just twice after Thanksgiving.
The SIUE game is a good tune-up for what’s next: a road trip to The Kennel and a game against the nation’s winningest program since 2010-11 — the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Fresh off a Final Four berth and National Title game appearance, Mark Few’s team went 37-2 a year ago and was undefeated before losing to BYU on February 25. They do lose several key components from that team, but it’s Gonzaga. They don’t rebuild, they reload. And it’s in Spokane.
Tough, tough game. Bring it on. (Oh, and it’s part of a home-and-home series, so the Zags will be coming to Omaha next year, which is AWESOME.)
Greg McDermott’s first head coaching job came on the North Dakota sidelines from 1989-94. They were DII at that time, but are now fully transitioned to D1, and made the NCAA Tournament out of the Big Sky Conference a year ago (22-10, 14-4 in the league). Two seniors depart from that squad, but three starters return and the Fighting Hawks should be a solid squad ranked in the mid-100s in the computer rankings.
A home game with the Huskers is next, where the Jays will have the opportunity to take the all-time series lead away from them (and right a wrong that has been stuck in Bluejay fans’ craws for decades, as the series was dormant during a long period of great success for the Jays and typical mediocre play by the Huskers). CU has won each of the last six games by double digits, and 10 straight at home; given the turmoil on Tim Miles’ roster and lackluster finish to last season, the Jays will likely be favored to win by double digits again.
Fun fact: It’s the first time this game has been on a Saturday in Omaha since 2007 (!!).
Maryland Eastern Shore
Another cupcake is next, as Maryland Eastern Shore out of the MEAC visits Omaha on December 15. The Hawks finished 14-20 (9-7 in the league) last year, with computer rankings in the 300s.
The Mavericks were 27-9 a year ago and won the Sun Belt, but were upset in the conference tourney by Texas State after losing point guard Jalen Jones to injury in the first game of the tournament. While that loss cost them a chance at the NCAA’s, they rebounded nicely to advance to the quarterfinals of the NIT. The top contributors to that team (minus Jones, who was a senior) return, and this group of players has won road games at BYU, Ohio State, Texas, and Saint Mary’s the last two seasons. A sneaky-tough game, for sure.
USC (the South Carolina one) Upstate rounds out the non-conference slate on December 20. The Spartans were 17-16 (7-7 in the league) a year ago and had computer numbers in the mid-200s. Four starters return, but they lost by 45 points to Georgetown last November — a Hoya team so bad they parted ways with JTIII — so there’s no illusions of this game being anything more than a tuneup before Big East play begins.
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