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Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Creek's injury a tough break for Indiana


Maurice Creek will be a pro. He will be a stud for Indiana over the course of his career.

That's Tom Crean's projection as he tries to put a positive spin on the fractured left knee cap Creek suffered on Monday night against Bryant that will end his season.

Creek, who was the team's top scorer as well as the nation's top freshman scorer at 17.6 points a game, hung 31 points on Kentucky. He was the one player that the Hoosiers could count on to be a difference maker in the Big Ten.

"Maurice was literally scratching the surface as a player, rebounder and defender," said Crean as he drove to Indianapolis to see Creek after his surgery Tuesday. "He understood the offense and a lot of his points were coming on his pure ability."

Crean wasn't sulking. Let's be honest here, the expectations were low this season for the Hoosiers. Clearly, Indiana is more competitive than the 1-17 Big Ten team (6-25 overall) from last season. IU has already beaten Pitt in New York by 10 and has been more than a pest for stretches in losses to Kentucky and Maryland.

So gauging the progress of this program shouldn't be measured in Big Ten wins and losses now that Creek is done. The Hoosier program is clearly in a better place this season than last. With Creek returning next season, there will be an expectation that the Hoosiers will be a top-half rather than a bottom-half Big Ten team in the third year of Crean's regime. That shouldn't be a reach, as the Big Ten will likely go through a bit of a transition if some of the league's better talents leave school early for the NBA.

"Last year we had to field a team, now we're building a program," Crean said. "I'm anxious to see who is going to come through in the Big Ten [which starts with Michigan Thursday]."

Crean said Creek has as quick a release on his jump shot as anybody he has coached.

"He's a future pro once he gets his knee healed," Crean said. "He has proven he can be a really good player and did against Kentucky."

• New Mexico made it to No. 12 in the rankings. UNLV has been ranked, too.

But the best team in the Mountain West, the one that was predicted to win the conference yet again, hasn't had a sniff.

But it should. And if you had any doubts, then you need to check out BYU's 30-point pasting of Arizona in Tucson Monday night. Junior guard Jimmer Fredette scored 49 on the Wildcats, setting a McKale Center record.

"There aren't too many years where there have been four or five teams from the Mountain West Conference ranked," BYU coach Dave Rose said. "It's great that teams are ranked in the Top 25. We've been there in the past three years. It's not something that we think about in order for us to be a good team. We've got a good team."

That shouldn't be in question. The Cougars' lone loss was at Utah State, an understandable defeat at a rival school that gets up to play BYU more than any other opponent. Utah State likely will finish in first or second place in the WAC.

The Cougars beat Arizona State 81-68, beat Arizona 99-69 and defeated Nebraska by 22 in Las Vegas, scored 110 on Nevada (but gave up 104) and have won two true road games (at Hawaii and at Fresno State). The cynic might say that the Cougars haven't beaten an NCAA tournament team yet. That's true. But if you watch this squad, notably the perimeter of Fredette, Jackson Emery and Tyler Haws, you'll see how it can hang with and/or beat most of the second-tier teams in the country (i.e. not the ones in the top 10 with a chance to get to Indianapolis).

"We've got a good team," Rose said. "We depend on jump shots and if we keep shooting the ball well and getting to the free-throw line a lot, we'll score."

Rose said the BYU staff have all seen Fredette score in stretches the way he did against Arizona, but never over the course of a 40-minute game to put up 49. Fredette was a mere mortal against Arizona State, shooting 1 of 13 against the Sun Devils, 0 of 5 on 3s, but he was 8 of 8 on free throws to make himself matter in that win. He was 16 of 23 (9 of 13 on 3s) and 8 of 9 on free throws in his performance against Arizona.

The Cougs will know a lot more about their team in two two-game stretches: at home to UNLV and at C-USA favorite UTEP Jan. 6 and 9, respectively; and at San Diego State (Jan. 23) and New Mexico (Jan. 27).

• Temple coach Fran Dunphy wouldn't commit to how the Owls have turned what could have been a rebuilding season into a stellar 10-2 mark, with wins over Villanova and at Seton Hall and a No. 19 ranking.

"I'm not sure how," the dry-witted Dunphy said en route to Northern Illinois Tuesday. "Maybe with smoke and mirrors so let's hope it continues."

Dunphy is a low-ego guy but let's do the self-promoting for him. What he's done at Temple is quite remarkable. He took over for Hall of Fame and larger-than-life persona John Chaney and after a normal first-year transition period, the Owls have been in the NCAAs two years in a row. Make it a third this March. Meanwhile, his Penn successor Glen Miller got sacked earlier this month and the program is likely to lean on his former player, Jerome Allen, to bring back some of the Quaker glory from him.

To think some questioned whether or not Dunphy could recruit and coach on Broad Street like he did at the Palestra is quite simply a joke.

Next up after Northern Illinois (the third MAC road trip due to a football deal) the Owls will host top-ranked Kansas Saturday. And guess what? They have a chance.

"Do they have confidence and feel good about the performances? I hope so. But we've got a long way to go to establish our goals," Dunphy said.

The Owls were a bit enigmatic offensively earlier in the season when they mustered just 45 points in a one-point loss at Georgetown. But what happened recently is players whom the staff wasn't sure could pop off productively in big games have done just that. Juan Fernandez scored 33 in the win over Villanova and 21 in the win at Seton Hall. Ryan Brooks scored 24 in that win over Seton Hall and 19 in wins over Penn State and Bowling Green.

"Someone is stepping up each night that we didn't know had it in them," Dunphy said. "It's not necessarily always the leading scorer."

Temple will have company in the A-10 this March, fighting off Dayton, Richmond, Xavier, Charlotte and Rhode Island. But the Owls already have quality nonconference wins over 'Nova and the Hall and could pull off the biggest one to date if it can score an upset over Kansas.

Dunphy deserves tons of credit. As the New Year approaches, he has to be considered one of the five favorites for national coach of the year.