Creighton freshening minds, bodies during layoff

Updated: March 14, 2013, 2:12 PM ET
Associated Press

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AP Sports Writer

OMAHA, Neb. -- Greg McDermott knows the drill.

The Creighton coach for the fifth time will go to the NCAA tournament with a Missouri Valley Conference team that will have at least a 10-day layoff after the league tournament. He said Thursday he doesn't know whether the time off helps or hurts early NCAA qualifiers. But he's sticking with the plan he's used since he made it to the tournament the first time with Northern Iowa in 2004.

That means hard practices dedicated to shoring up deficiencies and setting aside time for players to focus on self-improvement.

Creighton played some of its best basketball of the season in winning the Valley tournament in St. Louis, beating Wichita State 68-65 in the championship game Sunday.

The 23rd-ranked Bluejays (27-7) were among the first five teams to earn one of the 31 automatic NCAA bids. More than half of the automatic bids won't be decided until this weekend.

"You come off an emotional win Sunday for us, and it would be great to play three or four days later to kind of carry that momentum right into the tournament," McDermott said. "But there also is a huge advantage to getting your legs back, getting healthy physically and feeling a little bit better mentally. Given the choice, I would much rather have it this way."

One thing McDermott is avoiding during the down time is trying to project where Creighton will land on the bracket that will be announced Sunday evening. He was shocked when the Bluejays were a No. 8 seed in the Midwest last year. They beat Alabama before losing to top-seeded North Carolina.

"We ended up with about the worst possible seed I thought we could possibly have," he said. "I haven't paid a lot of attention to it this year because I'm not sure I'm smart enough to figure it all out."

Doug McDermott, the Valley player of the year and the coach's son, said he sees Creighton as a No. 6 or 7 seed.

"I hope we're in that range, and hopefully we can play somewhere close enough so our fans can come," he said. "Kansas City would be cool. We're in the tournament. That's all we want. It would be fun to play anyone in any town, so we're excited anyway."

Doug McDermott said he senses a different vibe on the team. Last year, the Bluejays were making their first NCAA appearance since 2007, and there was anxiety.

"This year we're a little more laid back," he said. "We know what to expect, and we know we're going to have to play our best basketball if we want to win those games."

The Bluejays have won five straight games since a month-long lull in which it lost six of 11. They posted double-digit wins over Drake and Indiana State in the Valley tournament before holding off Wichita State. McDermott average 20.7 points, shot 57 percent from the field and made 9 of 14 3-pointers in the three games.

The defense was the best it's been all season. Opponents shot 33 percent in the tournament, including 26 percent on 3s, and averaged 53 points.

Gregory Echenique averaged 10 points and 8.3 rebounds and blocked a total of 13 shots. He joined Doug McDermott in getting voted to the all-tournament team.

"He was a monster," Doug said. "That's the reason our defense was so good. He was able to have our back. If anyone got beat off the dribble, he was right there to clean it up with a blocked shot."

Echenique said the February slump didn't change Creighton's opinion of itself. The Bluejays came into the season saying publicly that they had the makings of a Sweet 16 team.

"We never lost faith in what we could do," Echenique said, "so we still think we're that and more."

Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press

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