Creighton is wrapping up a regular season that will see the Bluejays reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight season. Leading scorer Doug McDermott, averaging 26 points per game in his senior season, has been the reason the newly-minted Big East team has been so successful. But if the Bluejays are going to reach their first Sweet Sixteen since 1974 and first Elite Eight in school history, McDermott's supporting cast will have to shoulder some of the load.
At 13-3 in the Big East and 23-5 overall, Creighton has shown it can play team basketball like an elite program. But no other program ranked in the top 10 relies so heavily on one player, like the Bluejays do with McDermott. The closest comparison is Cincinnati, who leans hard on the scoring of Sean Kilpatrick. Also a senior, Kilpatrick nearly doubles the scoring production of the second-best Cincinnati scorer. But the Bearcats are bruisers on defense, while Creighton insists on racing its opponents to 80 points.
The most interesting statistic regarding McDermott's production is what he has done in games Creighton has lost. McDermott has gone over 20 points and shot at least 50 percent from the field in four the team's five losses this season. providing further evidence that the Bluejays need more than their star to get over the hump.
After the surefire Wooden Award winner, Creighton's secondary weapon is Ethan Wragge. Because of the attention paid to McDermott, the sharpshooting senior has put up career-high numbers. Wragge has hit half of his three-pointers this season while attempting seven shots per contest. His nine threes against Villanova single-handedly broke the Wildcats, earning Creighton its biggest win of the season. The real value with Wragge is his consistency, with his worst stretch coming in a three-game slump where he shot 2-for-10 from deep.
After the two leading scorers, the Bluejays are a mishmash of puzzle pieces. No player besides McDermott averages five rebounds. No player on the team averages five assists. These are arbitrary benchmarks, yes, but are indicative of a reliance on McDermott to create his own shot and crash the boards.
On the defensive end, Creighton doesn't live up to any benchmarks. No player puts up anywhere near a block per game, and Jahenns Manigat leads the team with 1.2 steals per contest. The Bluejays are the worst defensive team in the AP Top 10, 75th in the country in field goal percentage allowed. Stat-cruncher Ken Pomeroy ranks Creighton 87th in his adjusted defensive metric. The only other top team with a real weakness on defense is Duke, who Pomeroy rates at 55th. Like Creighton, the Blue Devils thrive on offense but don't have stifling personnel on the other end. Duke trails only Creighton in offensive production on KenPom.com.
For both the Bluejays and Blue Devils, success in the NCAA Tournament will require an abundance of offense in every game. But at least for Coach K's team, the production is spread around. Jabari Parker can score in bunches, but so can Rodney Hood. Poor shooting from McDermott, which has a non-zero chance of happening, or a cold night from Wragge could send the Bluejays back to Omaha without recording their first deep run in March Madness. An early exit for Creighton would be an injustice served to McDermott's prolific college career.