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Creighton plans to contend right away in Big East

AP - Sports
Creighton plans to contend right away in Big East
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OMAHA, Neb. (AP) -- Doug McDermott has been the face of Creighton's program for going on four years. His supporting cast plans to show the Big East there's more to the Bluejays than just the two-time All-American and that they belong in the reconstructed league.

''People on the East Coast and West Coast haven't quite maybe heard of Creighton, and that's something we take very offensively and we want to make a statement about it,'' Ethan Wragge said. ''We want them to know we're not a mid-major team. We do have something to prove this year.''

The Bluejays were the dominant program in the Missouri Valley Conference most of the past decade. They were picked third behind Marquette and Georgetown in the Big East coaches' preseason poll.

That's largely because of the versatile McDermott, the preseason player of the year and the nation's top returning scorer at better than 23 points a game.

Creighton also brings back starters in Grant Gibbs, Austin Chatman and Jahenns Manigat, and one of the nation's top 3-pointer shooters in Wragge.

Gibbs' return was as big a surprise as McDermott's. Two months after McDermott announced he would forego the NBA draft, the NCAA granted Gibbs a sixth year of eligibility because of medical issues dating to his days at Gonzaga in 2008.

Though Gibbs' game isn't flashy, his court presence is important. He's the starting shooting guard, but he has a knack for feeding the post and delivering the ball exactly where McDermott wants it.

''This inaugural year there's a responsibility with this group to establish ourselves in the league and hit the ground running so we can be a contender and taken seriously,'' Gibbs said.

About the only personnel question is how the Bluejays will replace center Gregory Echenique, who shot a Valley-best 65.7 percent and averaged 6.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks. The 6-foot-11 Will Artino is in line to start, with 7-footer Geoffrey Groselle expected to play significant minutes.

''We have to come up with creative ways to defend the post and rebound by committee more,'' coach Greg McDermott said. ''Those blocked shots become a huge part of your defense, and we don't have as much of it this year. Our margin for error is a little smaller because we don't have Gregory.''

Creighton opens at home Nov. 8 against Alcorn State. The Bluejays' Big East opener is at home against Marquette on Dec. 31.

Five things to know about Creighton:

DIGGING DOUG: Everything goes through McDermott, who goes into his final season owning Creighton records for career points, field goals and 3-point percentage. Basketball legends Oscar Robertson and Larry Bird are the only other Valley players to score 2,000 points in their first three seasons.

TAKING THE NEXT STEP: Creighton's goal is to make it past the NCAA tournament round of 32 for the first time. That's where the Bluejays have lost two straight years, to North Carolina in 2012 and Duke in 2013. The Bluejays have made the tournament nine times since 1999 and 18 times overall.

ON A ROLL: Creighton has won 20 games 14 of the last 15 years, and its 57 victories the past two are tied for seventh nationally behind Louisville, Syracuse, Kansas, Ohio State, Kentucky and Gonzaga. The Bluejays' 80 wins since 2010-11 are the most by the program over a three-year span.

WINNING TOUCH: The Bluejays were 29-1 in games in which Wragge made at least half his 3s. The Missouri Valley's Sixth Man of the Year made a team-high 78 shots from long range. McDermott hit 77 - in double the minutes Wragge played.

HOT TICKET: Creighton is on track to set another attendance record. Its 17,155 average at CenturyLink Center ranked sixth in the nation and was higher than 14 NBA teams. With anticipation high for the first season in the Big East, more than 15,000 season tickets have been sold, about 1,300 more than last year's record. The school also has sold more than 1,250 all-session tickets for the conference tournament in New York.

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