NCAAB - BIG EAST
Arena: CHI Health Center
Coach: Greg McDermott
Creighton Blue Jays
Expectations were moderate for the 2021-22 version of the Creighton men’s basketball team. Picked to finish in the bottom half of the Big East Conference, the Bluejays have shown this season that while they don’t belong geographically, their doggedness as a program has allowed them to find success in the hypercompetitive Big East. Creighton is off to a 10-4 start, including a 2-1 mark in the conference that put the Bluejays in the top four early on.
The Bluejays’ best victory thus far came against No. 24 BYU. Beating top teams has become a hallmark for Creighton under 12th-year coach Greg McDermott. Before he came to Creighton, the Bluejays were 18-115 against top-25 opponents. The Bluejays now have a top 25 win in eight straight seasons and McDermott’s teams are 25-36 against ranked opponents.
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Creighton has seen long periods of sustained success as a program but has also followed through several dry stretches. The Bluejays have made 22 appearances in the NCAA Tournament, including its last appearance in 2019. Creighton has been especially successful since 2000, making the NCAA tournament in four straight years between 2000 and 2003.
The Bluejays’ deepest run through the NCAA tournament came during the 2021 season. Creighton knocked off UC Santa Barbara and Ohio University before bowing to eventual national runner-up Gonzaga in the Sweet 16. The Bluejays reached the Elite Eight in 1941, but that’s when the tournament only took eight teams. Creighton was a long-time member of the Missouri Valley Conference, serving as a member of the league between 1976 and 2013. The Bluejays were then offered an opportunity to step up into the Big East, joining in 2014.
2022 Key Stats
Creighton’s team this year isn’t built around efficient shooting. The Bluejays only shoot 30.1 percent from the 3-point line and 69.2 percent from the free-throw line. What Creighton is built around is being a balanced attack, which scores effectively from the two-point range. Ryan Hawkins leads the team in scoring by averaging 13.4 points per game. Ryan Kalkbrenner (12.3 points per game), Ryan Nembhard (12.1), and Alex O’Connell (11.9) also average in double figures scoring.
Creighton ranks last in the Big East Conference in 3-pointers made per game, making 3.4 per contest. The Bluejays are fifth in the conference in defensive rebounding, grabbing 28.8 per game. Creighton grabs 4.5 more rebounds per game than its opponents.
Championships Won by the Team
Creighton were the kings of the Missouri Valley Conference. During its run in the MVC, the BlueJays won 12 conference tournaments, which is still the most in league history. Creighton won its first by defeating Indiana State 54-52 in 1978. The Bluejays also left a lasting impression when they were exiting the league. In Creighton’s final two seasons, the Bluejays won the 2012 and 2013 titles.
In 2012, Creighton beat Illinois State in overtime to win its 11th crown. The next year, the Blue Jays would survive a close one, 68-65, with Wichita State.
Important Team Events
Creighton had struggled for the late part of the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s before convincing Dana Altman to come home. Altman, a Nebraska native, was lured away from Kansas State to take over the BlueJays in 1995. During Altman’s tenure, which stretched from 1995 to 2010, Creighton won the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament six times. The Bluejays reached the NCAA Tournament seven times under his stewardship.
Altman’s success in March Madness was mostly mixed. Creighton never got past the Sweet 16 and only won two games. The Bluejays beat Louisville 62-58 in the first round in 1999 and Florida 83-82 in the first round in 2002. While the NCAA Tournament proved fruitless during Altman’s era, he was able to set the foundation for McDermott’s success and the program’s transition to the more prestigious Big East.
Rodney Buford scored 2,116 points under Altman at Creighton and went on to have a long professional basketball career. While Buford would have a cup of coffee with several NBA teams, he would go on to have a long career internationally. Buford first played with the Miami Heat during the 1999-2000 season and would end his career in 2013 after playing with the London Lightning in the National Basketball League of Canada.
Doug McDermott, son of Greg, helped make Creighton’s transition to the Big East much easier. McDermott finished his collegiate career as the fifth-leading scorer in NCAA history with 3,150 points. McDermott would be drafted in the first round of the 2014 NBA Draft before being traded to the Chicago Bulls. McDermott has developed into a solid NBA player, averaging 9.1 points and 2.4 assists per game in 502 career games.
Altman remains the all-time winningest coach in school history with 327 wins. While he was the coach at Creighton, he led his team to seven straight years where they increased their win total. Altman also went to the postseason 13 years ago between the NIT and NCAA Tournament. Greg McDermott is closing in on the record with 263 wins. McDermott’s success has been impressive, with Creighton finishing in the top three of the Big East for the previous five seasons. During the 2019-20 season, the Bluejays finished with a share of the conference’s regular season title. However, the COVID-19 pandemic put an end to their title pursuit. Creighton’s final game that season was halted at halftime. The Bluejays were playing in the first round of the Big East Tournament when the NCAA decided to shut down the season. Creighton was trailing 38-35 at halftime.
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Once, in 1941.
Dana Altman, who coached Creighton from 1995-2010.