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Top 25 Countdown: No. 18 Creighton Bluejays

Oct 10, 2012, 3:00 PM EDT

NCAA Basketball Tournament - Creighton v North Carolina Getty Images

Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 29-6, 14-4 MVC (2nd); Lost in the Round of 32 to

Head Coach: Greg McDermott

Key Losses: Antoine Young

Newcomers: Isaiah Zierden, Andre Yates, Mogboluwaga Oginni

Projected Lineup:

- G: Jahenns Manigat, Jr.
- G: Austin Chatman, So.
- F: Grant Gibbs, Sr.
- F: Doug McDermott, Jr.
- C: Gregory Echinique, Sr.
- Bench: Ethan Wragge, Jr.; Will Artino, So.; Avery Dingman, So.; Josh Jones, Sr.

Outlook: Doug McDermott is a name that you are going to hear quite a bit about heading into the season.

After putting together an All-American caliber season as a sophomore, McDermott is just about as close as you can get to being a consensus Preseason First Team All-American. We had him on the first team. So did every other publication that I’ve seen that’s worth paying attention to. When you throw in the fact that McDermott plays for a program that resides outside of the six power conferences and that he averaged 22.9 points as a sophomore, the assumption for those that have never seen him play will likely be that he is a gunner.

And while McDermott does take a lot of shots, he’s anything but a “gunner”. In fact, McDermott is one of the most efficient scorers in the country, a statement that both the stat-nerds and basketball gurus will agree on. What makes McDermott so efficient, in the Kenpom sense of the word, is that he makes a lot of threes (48.6% on 111 threes last year), hits 63.2% of his twos, knocks down his free throws and doesn’t turn the ball over. But McDermott’s efficiency goes beyond simple excel spreadsheets; I’m not sure that anyone has managed to put together a stat for it yet, but I’d be willing to be that McDermott averages the fewest number of dribbles-per-point in the country. When he’s hitting threes, they are off of a catch-and-shoot. When he’s scoring around the basket, it’s usually because he’s sealed off his man to the point that all he needs to do is turn and lay the ball it.

It’s remarkable to watch, but it is also a microcosm of what Creighton does offensively. The Bluejays are a delight to watch on that end of the floor. They spread the floor, they move the ball well, they not only make the extra pass but they make the right pass, they don’t turn the ball over and they seemingly never miss an open look. You want an awesome stat? I got an awesome stat: Creighton made 287 threes last season, and 276 of them came off of an assist.

The biggest reason for that was Grant Gibbs. A 6-foot-5 wing, Gibbs led the MVC in assists last season. He’s not overly quick or explosive, but he’s crafty and has terrific vision. A good word to describe his game is patient; he never seems to be in a rush and always makes the right play. He’s got a bit of “old-man” game, and it works with this group. Gibbs’ ability to create becomes that much more important with the graduation of Antoine Young, who was Creighton’s point guard last season, chipping in with 4.5 assists-per-game.

Who joins Gibbs on the perimeter will be interesting to see play out. Creighton has four other guards returning from last season’s rotation: senior Josh Jones, junior Jahenns Manigat and sophomores Austin Chatman and Avery Dingman. Chatman — who, like Young, is a small, quick, penetrating guard — looks like the guy that will take over at the point with Manigat, who started last season and shot 46.8% from three, alongside him. Jones is the biggest of the bunch, and he, like Dingman, will likely see extended minutes off the bench. Whether Chatman, or any of the other guards, can grow into the point guard role will be one of the most interesting subplots this year for the Bluejays.

Joining McDermott up front will be Gregory Echenique, a Rutgers transfer that plays on Venezuela’s national team. Echenique is a lumbering, 6-foot-9, 275 pound center that does for Creighton what centers are expected to do: scores around the rim, blocks some shots, gets some rebounds and bangs with other bigs. He also just may have the biggest head in the country. Ethan Wragge, a 6-foot-7 sharpshooter, is the name to know off the bench, while 6-foot-11 sophomore Will Artino will see time off the bench.

Predictions?: You notice how I didn’t once mention Creighton’s defense above. That’s because it was borderline non-existent last season. The Bluejays finished the season ranked 178th in defensive efficiency according to Kenpom. They don’t force turnovers — in fact, Creighton was one of the three worst teams in the country in turnover percentage — or block shots, and they’re ranked 200 or below in defensive effective field goal percentage and defensive three-point percentage. In other words, they don’t have play-makers that can force the end of a possession and they struggle when it comes to forcing teams to miss shots. About the only thing Creighton does well defensively is box out; they were ninth in the country in defensive rebounding percentage.

I know that’s a lot of numbers to throw at you, but the point is that the Bluejays have a cap this season if they don’t improve defensively. It has been a point of emphasis for the team during the preseason, but it has also been a point of emphasis for the team in preseasons past. The problem is that this group is made up of small guards in the back court and land warriors in the front court. I really like this group and this program, but until they prove they can get stops, I have a tough time seeing them make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

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