This was mid-December, and the seventh week of the Associated Press poll. There were the top 25, plus 25 more who received votes — 50 teams in all, including seven from the Big East.
Creighton wasn’t one of them. Not a single vote.
Noticed what’s been going on lately?
“They’re playing. . . as good as anybody in the country,” Butler coach LaVall Jordan said Sunday, having just seen the business end of the Bluejays. The 81-59 thrashing inflicted upon his Bulldogs pushed Creighton to 22-6 on the season. The Bluejays have won nine of their last 10, and that includes road victories at ranked Seton Hall, Villanova and Marquette. Butler — another top-25 opponent — showed up in Omaha Sunday and it was down 40-21 by halftime.
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At the moment, Creighton is an opponent noooobody would want to face. Why? Fifteen things to know about the Bluejays:
1. They’re certainly upwardly mobile. In mid-December, Creighton was No. 56 in the NCAA’s first NET rankings. As of Monday, the Bluejays were No. 9. They moved to No. 10 in the AP poll this week. They were picked to finish seventh in the Big East. They’re now one game off the lead.
2.The Butler rout was their ninth Quadrant 1 victory. Only Kansas, Baylor and Seton Hall have more.
3. Creighton is now 20-32 against ranked opponents in Greg McDermott’s 10 years. All the other Bluejay coaches before him were 15-118.
4. Creighton leads the Big East in scoring, field goal percentage and assists, and is seventh in the nation in assist-turnover ratio and eighth in 3-point shooting.
5. Making a lot of this offensive noise for the Bluejays are the Birds of Trey — Ty-Shon Alexander, Marcus Zegarowski and Mitch Ballock. They’re shooting 41.8 percent from 3-point land, and have combined to make 221 of them. They all rank in the top five in the Big East in 3-point percentage. Zegarowski went 7-for-7 against Butler. Only two other guards in the nation have had a day like that this season.
6. The three are an efficient bunch who look for one another, too. In the past 10 games, Alexander’s assist-turnover ratio is 31-6, Ballock’s is 37-10. In one early season game, the three combined for a ratio of 17-0. “I think we’re all on the same page at all times,” Zegarowski said. “No one cares who scores, no one cares who does what, we just want to win.” And they hardly ever leave the floor. Ballock averages 36 minutes a game, Alexander and Zegarowski just under 35. They’re first, fourth and fifth in the Big East in minutes played.
7. Alexander is a force at each end. In three games against two primary national player-of-the-year candidates – Marquette’s Markus Howard and Seton Hall’s Myles Powell – Alexander averaged 20.3 points and shot 48.8 percent. Howard and Powell, guarded much of the time by Alexander, averaged 14.3 and shot 28 percent. “If there’s a better two-way guard in this league, I don’t know who it is,” McDermott said.
8. Zegarowski is averaging 16.1 points and five assists. No Creighton player has put together a 15-3.5 point-assist average in 35 years.
9. You don’t want to play these guys in Omaha on Sunday. Creighton is 42-3 at home on Sunday since 2002.
10. Creighton has three true road wins against top-25 opponents. One of them, 87-82 at Seton Hall, was a study in will. The Bluejays finally got control of the game after 20 lead changes and 15 ties.
11. Creighton has reached the 20-victory mark in 20 of the past 22 seasons. The only other programs who can say that are Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Kentucky and Florida.
12. While the guards keep doing their damage, the rapid development of sophomore forward Christian Bishop as both a scorer and passer has been key. Take his Butler game: 19 points, five assists. “Probably the most improved part of our game from the start of conference play to now is Christian’s impact on our offense and his ability to play at the top of the key,” McDermott said.
13. The Bluejays were outscored 216-137 in bench points over the first 10 games. Then transfer wing Denzel Mahoney became eligible. Since then, Creighton has a 275-243 advantage in points by reserves. Mahoney came off the bench for 21 at Villanova.
14. Creighton can claim the sixth highest point producer in Division I history. It’s been six years since Doug McDermott – now with the Indiana Pacers — played for his father. Apparently, they still remember him in places other than Omaha. When the Bluejays played at Butler this season, someone addressed the Creighton coach in his post-game press conference as Doug. McDermott genially mentioned that he wishes he were Doug each month on NBA payday. “I’ve been called worse,” he said. Not that dad couldn’t play back in the day. Greg McDermott was 16th in the nation in field goal percentage his junior season at Northern Iowa.
15. Omaha loves its Bluejays, just as much as it loves the College World Series, which is played just across the street from the arena. Creighton averages more than 17,000 fans a home game, fifth best in the nation. This will be the ninth consecutive season to finish in the top 10. But it’s the steady climb toward the top 10 in the rankings creating the buzz right now. This team needs watching in March.