(AP) -- - Creighton's first season in the Big East just might end up being the best in the program's nearly 100-year history.
The Bluejays are in first place at the halfway point of the conference schedule. They also are ranked No. 12 nationally, are projected to be as high as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament and have the leading candidate for national player of the year in Doug McDermott.
''It goes without saying I didn't ever imagine this, that the first time through we could be in this position,'' coach Greg McDermott said. ''There is a long ways to go. Anything can happen in this league. There is just so little difference from the teams that are on the bottom right now and the teams that are on the top. I hope we just don't beat each other's brains in these last nine games because our league could probably use four or five teams to create some separation.''
Nine days after its last game - the longest break on the conference schedule for any Big East team - the Bluejays open the second half of league play Friday night at home against a DePaul team that's lost five straight and is tied for last place.
Creighton (18-3, 8-1) shares the lead with Villanova, which the Bluejays beat by 28 points on the road last month.
''It's definitely going to be a challenge this next run through because everybody is going to be coming at us,'' Doug McDermott said. ''We're the new guys in the conference, so they're going to want another crack at us.''
The second go-round has the Bluejays playing conference co-leader Villanova and third-place Providence at home. Providence handed Creighton its only conference loss.
After hosting DePaul (10-13, 2-8), the Bluejays go to New York for a Sunday game at Madison Square Garden against a St. John's team that nearly knocked them off after making up an 18-point, second-half deficit.
Creighton's 81.3 points a game lead the Big East, and the Bluejays are first nationally in 3-pointers per game (11), 3-point accuracy (43.2 percent) and assists (18.3). McDermott is second in the nation in scoring, at 25 points a game, and Ethan Wragge's 49.7-percent 3-point shooting is best among players with at least 100 attempts.
McDermott's 39-point performance last week against St. John's, which included his tie-breaking 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left, strengthened his bid for national player of the year.
Greg McDermott said he and his son, who passed on declaring for the NBA draft after his junior season, are enjoying the present and not thinking much about Doug's candidacy for the Wooden Award.
''We'll see what happens at the end of the season,'' Greg McDermott said. ''He's had a good first 20 or 21 games. He's been remarkably consistent. And probably more so than any time in his career, he's been able to step up when his team has needed him the most. So I'm very proud of him, both as his coach and his father, and if he turns out to be player of the year, so be it. If not, that's OK, too.''
Creighton has won the last three meetings with DePaul, taking the most recent one 81-62 on the road Jan. 7. McDermott was limited to 19 points, but four other Bluejays scored in double figures.
Creighton will be taking on a Blue Demons team that's missing leading scorer Cleveland Melvin due to suspension. Melvin, averaging 16.7 points, is suspended indefinitely and missed his third straight contest Monday as DePaul lost 71-59 to visiting Georgetown.
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