- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Now that you know what you need to watch in every conference in the country in 2013-14, we've turned our attention to the theme of change -- from coaching swaps to player development to good old-fashioned rules, and anywhere in between. Today: Is Creighton's defense good enough?
Last October, in the heart of the 2012-13 preview window, the Creighton Bluejays made for an easy diagnosis. The previous season's breakout star, All-American forward Doug McDermott, was set to return for another year, as was point guard Grant Gibbs and a host of other key contributors. The Bluejays, already one of the five or six best offenses in the country, were sure to drench opponents in points in 2012-13. The only question was their defense.
Thirteen months later, the story remains the same.
McDermott eschewed the draft in favor of his senior 2013-14 season, in which he has a chance to become the first three-time All-American since Patrick Ewing and Wayman Tisdale. Gibbs was granted a slightly miraculous sixth year of eligibility, so he returns as well.
The Bluejays still have a host of veteran supporting pieces positioned to execute with maximum offensive efficiency, which they of course already did last season. But still, there is that nagging question: Can Creighton get stops?
It is less of a question than it was last October. Indeed, the Bluejays markedly improved on the defensive end last season, turning a defense that allowed over a point per trip to opponents in 2011-12 into one that held offenses to just .96. The Bluejays kept their key characteristics intact -- they still protected their own glass and eschewed steals in exchange for fewer fouls -- but improved on each.
And still, in the end, it got them exactly as far as they went in 2011-12: the second round of the NCAA tournament. No further.
To be fair, compared to the 1.2 points per possession yielded to North Carolina in March of 2012, the Bluejays' second-round tournament loss in 2013 wasn't a product of bad defense (Creighton held Duke to just 66 points on 64 possessions) so much as bad offense (they scored just 50 of their own). And besides, the NCAA tournament is a crazy place; there is only so much analytical value in those individual results. But the point remains: Creighton will be a very good offensive team this season; so good it will be hard to find much room to improve. (Maybe if McDermott and Ethan Wragge shoot 55 percent from 3 or something, which actually doesn't sound that ridiculous.) But it could still defend better. Not only is leading shot-blocker Gregory Echenique gone, but the Bluejays are moving to the new Big East and facing a much tougher night-to-night conference slate therein.
There is good news: Even if the Bluejays don't change a lick this season, they're going to be good. Gibbs and McDermott are old hands now; they can post, kick, re-post and score in REM sleep. This offense is still going to be excellent, and excellent to watch. But whether Creighton can get to that proverbial next level -- whether it can present itself as a legitimate national title contender befitting of the peerless work of its star -- will still have to come on the defensive end.