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Plenty of Storylines Surround Creighton Men’s Basketball This Season

The middle of September brings fresh drama to millions of households nationwide via Fall TV! But here at WBR, we are more interested in the buzz surrounding the upcoming Bluejays men’s basketball season. And this year, due to Dana Altman leaving, Greg McDermott taking over the program, and a slew of other developments, the Jays promise to be squarely on the media’s radar of mid-major basketball programs.

For example, last week Creighton announced that current St. Joseph’s University President, Father Timothy R. Lannon, S.J., will take over as Creighton’s 24th president in July 2011. That announcement has created a lot of emotions between the two schools: St. Joe’s faithful feel they are losing a man who helped turn the university around and gain national recognition, while those in the Creighton community welcome home one of their own to succeed Father John P. Schlegel, S.J.

And while Phil Martelli and his St. Joe’s Hawks will be too busy defending Kenny Lawson and Antoine Young to pay attention to Fr. Lannon’s impending transition to CU, Martelli might not have played in Omaha twice in the past few years had it not been for his friend and ultimate boss. It is widely understood that Fr. Lannon was instrumental in setting up a series between the Bluejays and Hawks: Creighton posted in a win in Omaha in December 2007, and then traveled to Philadelphia for a victory over St. Joe’s in the fabled Palestra. One can assume he had a hand in facilitating this season’s game in Omaha and next year’s return to Philly.

Another interesting twist regarding Lannon’s move to Creighton from St. Joe’s: his assistant vice president for marketing communications at SJU is none other than Joe Lunardi, ESPN’s Bracketologist. Lunardi was among a group of St. Joe’s employees who came to Omaha for his introduction as president a few weeks ago. Is it really that presumptive to think that a year or so down the line, if the Bluejays are on the bubble according the nation’s bracketologists, that Lunardi wouldn’t look at Creighton’s chances in a different context than normal?

Sure it is. But these are the types of storylines the media love to talk about before, during, and after games — instead of, you know, analyzing the action on the court. More now than ever, collegiate athletics are treated as reality TV shows, complete with drama and action and entertainment. Here are a few other angles the media might take when manufacturing more talking points about the Bluejays in 2010-2011.

McDermott’s Return to the Valley: It is rare for a coach to voluntarily go from a high major conference such as the Big 12 to a mid major conference like the MVC (sure, you have the Steve Alfords of the world, but it doesn’t happen too often). And it is even more unlikely for this type of transition to occur to the same conference from which they elevated to the supposedly better job in the first place (albeit it o a different team in that original conference). But that’s what Coach Mac has done, becoming just the fourth coach in the modern era to be the head coach for two different schools in the same conference. With this move comes the awakening of past rivalries and relationships on a seemingly night by night basis this winter. Should be fun, right?

McDermott’s Return to Iowa State: Just 12 months ago, McDermott announced at Big 12 Media Days that Iowa State would meet the Bluejays at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines in November 2010. But no one could have expected then that Coach Mac would be on the Creighton bench when the game rolled around. Casual hoops fans in the Midwest may make some time to follow up on this game, as McDermott will bring a veteran Creighton team to Iowa to face some of the players McDermott recruited while in Ames.

Creighton’s Date With the Big 10 (current): Creighton returns to Chicago for the first time since Josh Dotzler made his first start at CU and Nate Funk hurt his shoulder in a road game against DePaul a few days after Thanksgiving in 2005. But instead of returning last year’s BracketBuster game at Loyola, the Jays will head north on Lake Shore Drive and visit the Northwestern Wildcats.

Creighton fans hoping to watch the Bluejays battled this team from the Big 10 and then catch Kyle Korver playing for the Bulls at the United Center will be disappointed, though: the Bulls are finishing up a long road trip while the Jays are in town. Maybe the Bulls will be around in the fall of 2011, though, when CU returns the Loyola game then. Northwestern will come to the Qwest Center sometime that season, too.

Creighton’s Date With the Big 10 (future): Did you hear? Nebraska, perpetual cellar dweller in the Big 12 hoops landscape, is taking its ball and heading to the Big 10 for hoops. In the last season of the Huskers repping the Big 12, the Bluejays travel to Lincoln where they will look to post the first win for a visiting team in the series since 2004-2005. Coach Mac prepped for Doc Sadler’s Huskers twice a season for four years, as he and Sadler both started their Big 12 coaching careers in 2006.

Can CU Schedule South Florida, Too? Nebraska and Northwestern are two of the three high major conference schools to never win an NCAA Tournament game. Creighton should have added the Bulls of South Florida somehow, so the Bluejays could have played them all at once.

BYU and the MWC/MVC Challenge: Back when Creighton was stringing together consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, the Bluejays and the Cougars met in some tight games. The last time Creighton and BYU got together, it was a hard fought Bluejay win at the Civic.

Now, as BYU gets ready to leave the Mountain West Conference along with Utah, what seemed to have the makings of a solid “challenge” event each season has lost a little luster. I’m sure with a few years left in this “challenge” series, the Bluejays will get matched up with Fresno State since the Bulldogs are joining the MWC.

McDermott Facing … Northern Iowa: Coach Mac and bff Ben Jacobsen squared off while Mac was at Iowa State, but these games will be much more intriguing. And, trust me, you will get sick of hearing about how close they are, how UNI is McDermott’s alma mater, how he used success at UNI to leave for Ames, etc. The radio folks, the newspaper folks, and the TV folks will chirp about this relationship. Every. Single. Game.

McDermott Leaving … Northern Iowa: Oh, and if you think Coach Mac is the only one in his immediate family upon whom Panthers fans will unleash some interesting comments this season, you’re wrong. Doug McDermott, a freshman at Creighton and two-time state title winner at Ames High, originally committed to Northern Iowa. He was set to play for his godfather, Jacobsen, but asked for a release from his Letter of Intent to come to Omaha and play for his father instead. If Doug is half as good as many UNI fans thought he would be before he left for CU, and half as good as many Jays fans think he will be now that he’s playing for the White and Blue, you can expect the focus of some media and fans to shift to the younger McDermott during the next few years when these teams play.

McDermott Facing … Drake: Whether he was coaching Northern Iowa or Iowa State, Coach Mac has played the Bulldogs at least once in each of the past 8 seasons. He was just 1-3 versus Drake in the past seasons at Iowa State, and he is 1-4 in his past 5 games against the Bulldogs, regardless of what sideline he’s on.

Merfeld Makes His Way Through the Valley: Steve Merfeld is a MVC stalwart. He traded in on his success at Hampton for the top job at Evansville. After leaving the Purple Aces bench, he spent time on Jim Les’ staff at Bradley. However, seven games into his third season on the Braves bench, Merfeld abruptly resigned and left the team. Coach Mac hired him to join his first staff at CU, where he will share a spot on the sideline with Altman era holdover Darian DeVries and newcomer Steve Lutz.

Mac, Merfeld Head Back to Bradley: Even after leaving UNI, McDermott scheduled the Braves. Iowa State lost both games in the series (a neutral game in Des Moines, and a return game in Peoria). So while he hasn’t been in the Valley for awhile, Coach Mac has kept an eye on Les’ squads. Plus, with Merfeld on his bench, McDermott has someone with intimate knowledge of the Braves program sitting just a few offices away. Maybe that will help the 2010-2011 team make up for CU’s last game against Bradley.

Fewer Sweater Vests when the Sycamores Come to Town? In the hours leading up to Creighton naming McDermott head coach, many supporters of the program voiced their opinion that the Powers That Be bring Kevin McKenna back to Omaha to serve as Altman’s replacement. Sure, McKenna was at rival MVC school Indiana State, but it would be a homecoming for him, returning to his alma mater. McDermott got the job, and it seemed the rivalry would perhaps increase in intensity in the coming seasons as McKenna seemed to have the Sycamores trending upward. But when Altman was looking to fill out his coaching staff in Oregon, he tabbed longtime assistant McKenna for the role and the head Sycamore took off for Eugene. So while McKenna won’t be there when CU and ISU-Blue meet in Omaha on January 29 this season, you can bet there will be some people at the Qwest Center wondering if McKenna should have been given the job as Creighton’s head coach.

Getting hungry for some hoops? October 15 can’t get here fast enough.

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