Creighton Bluejays Doug McDermott drives on the Cincinnati Bearcats Justin Jackson during the second half of their second round NCAA tournament game in Philadelphia

Doug McDermott returned to school to take on the challenge of a new league

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

Doug McDermott is living college basketball’s version of the American Dream.

He’s spent his life in places like Cedar Falls, Ames and Omaha. He’s either undersized or not quite athletic enough, depending on what position you’re trying to pigeonhole him into, but he makes up for his tweener reputation by being arguably the best shooter in all of college basketball. He was a scrawny, 6-foot-nothing big man as a freshman in high school, “blossoming” into the sixth-man as a junior on a team that also included Harrison Barnes.

When it came time to pick a college, McDermott passed on a chance to walk-on at Iowa State, where his dad, Greg, was coaching, to sign a letter of intent at Northern Iowa. The only reason he ended up at Creighton was that Greg left ISU before being asked to leave, taking over for Dana Altman, who bolted Omaha for Oregon.

It was there that Doug began to live out the dreams of every kid that grew up in America’s Heartland: he averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 boards as a freshman, launching a college basketball career that will, in all likelihood, see him put his name along side the likes of Patrick Ewing and Wayman Tisdale as three-time AP All-Americans.

He went from “that other kid” on Harrison Barnes’ team to a fixture on Sportscenter and ESPN.com, from a mid-major afterthought to a guy that actively made the decision to forego being a first round pick in the NBA Draft.

His career has been the script of a Disney movie that seems just a bit too good to be true, but it would have ended before this season began if it weren’t for a little luck in conference realignment.

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The first time that Doug McDermott ever set foot in New York City was for an AAU tournament. His team in Iowa had traveled all the way to the Big Apple to play in front of scouts and coaches, to try and earn themselves a scholarship.

The trip was anything but glamourous.

“We took a bus,” McDermott said. “21 hours.”

(MORE: Check out the NBCSports.com Big East Preview. Where does Creighton rank?)

His second trip to NYC came last month. The McDermotts hopped on a chartered jet with a couple of other members of the Creighton program, flying from Omaha to New York to hit Chelsea Piers for Big East media day where they spent hours decked out in suits, giving interview after interview after interview. He answered questions about what it will be like playing in Madison Square Garden or Hinkle Fieldhouse, taking roadtrips to Philly and DC and NYC, playing in a conference whose name evokes so much history and hoops prestige.

“That’s a little different experience,” McDermott said with a laugh, but it’s precisely the kind of experience that McDermott is looking for. It’s one of the biggest reasons that the two-time Missouri Valley Player of the Year will enter this season as the Preseason Big East Player of the Year instead of starting out on the bench on some NBA team’s roster.

McDermott was ready to move on from the Valley, and the new league provided him with precisely the landing spot he was looking for.

“I feel like I really accomplished as much as I could have playing in the Valley,” he said. “I wanted a new challenge, and if the Big East weren’t there, I think the decision [whether or not] to come back would have been a lot easier. I think I would have gone. The new challenge of playing against new teams and traveling to different cities.”

“The excitement around our school and our program is at an all-time high right now, and it’s tough to walk away from that.”

McDermott was effusive in his praise for the Missouri Valley, and it sounded sincere enough to make it clear that the savvy 21 year old wasn’t simply following the fundamental rules of speaking to the media: compliment everyone. He said he’ll miss the conference and the traditions of the league, that he’ll miss the long-standing rivalries and the familiarity of the fan bases. He specifically mentioned his disappointment in losing the rivalry with Wichita State, a statement that anyone with a proper appreciation for college hoops will agree with.

So understand, when McDermott says he was ready to move on and he needed a new challenge, he wasn’t taking a swipe at the Valley.

He’s just being honest.

(CLICK HERE to read through the rest of NBCSports.com’s feature stories)

“In the MVC, everyone seems to kind of have people figured out. That’s why sometimes we would hit a rough patch, like in February when we lost a couple in a row,” McDermott said. “It’s kind of the way it is, it’s a grind. I think the Big East will be that way as well, but it’s going to be new for some of these teams that are playing us. It’s something I thought about, it’s going to feel like an NCAA tournament kind of game the first time around. That’s something that I’m really excited about.”

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The relationship between Greg and Doug is as strong as it has ever been, but when Doug made the decision to enroll at Creighton, he knew that turning Dad into Coach Dad wouldn’t be the easiest transition to make.

“It was really tough at first. I wasn’t a huge fan of it,” Doug said. “It’s almost annoying, like, ‘Man, I’ve heard this stuff over and over again for 18 years, and now it’s in a different tone and he’s yelling at my teammates and my friends?'” But they’ve grown since those first weeks, slowly learning how to keep basketball on the basketball court and family time back at the house.

“Now that everything’s established and we have a good group of guys that understand the whole situation, it’s been really easy,” Doug said. “When we have a tough day and coaches really get on us or something, it’s not like I’m going to be on my dad’s side. Everyone’s in the same boat. I’m pissed off at him too.”

The pinnacle came during Doug’s decision-making process last spring, when McDermott had to choose whether he wanted to lead his father’s program into the Big East or if it was time for him to head off to pursue a career as a professional. Greg never pushed for Doug to stay put, even though he knew it that having an all-american on his roster would allow the Bluejays to compete for the league title in their first season.

“I was completely honest with Doug about the feedback that I received from NBA teams,” Greg said. “Some of it was great, some of it was middle of the road and some of it was ‘I’m not sure if this guy guards, I’m not sure what position this guy plays.'”

“I was proud that he was able to navigate through the process and come to a decision that was best for him. I’m proud as his coach, but I’m also proud as his father.”

Ironically enough, Doug’s decision to return also forced his dad’s hand.

Starting point guard Grant Gibbs received a waiver that will allow him to be eligible for a sixth season, meaning that Creighton was one scholarship over the limit of 13.

Doug, who could become the first player since the mid-80s to be a three-time first-team all-american, is now a walk-on. It’s also the first time that he’s received special treatment since joining the program.

“The only thing is [when] my dad is talking to the team, it’s, ‘Alright, all you scholarship guys and Doug, come watch film’. I’m like, ‘C’mon man’. Everyone was laughing, telling me I’ve got laundry today.”

Maybe things aren’t that different at home and at practice after all.

UConn-Syracuse rivalry game brings back memories of the best of the Big East

NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 05:  Rodney Purvis #15 of the Connecticut Huskies reacts after hitting a three pointer against the Syracuse Orange during the Tire Pros Classic at Madison Square Garden on December 5, 2016 in New York City. Connecticut defeated Syracuse 52-50  (Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images)
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The cliché ‘here, it just means more’ has never rang more true than it did on Monday night in Madison Square Garden.

A bad Syracuse team and a worse UConn team got together in New York City to play an awful basketball game, one where the two teams didn’t crack 100 points combined until there were 2.2 seconds left; where UConn won 52-50 despite shooting 31.4 percent from the floor because the Orange made just 25.9 percent of their field goals; where UConn did everything they could in the final minute to give the game to the Orange, including missing five free throws.

In a game between two teams that entered with a combined 8-6 record, Syracuse and UConn fans packed the Garden and created an environment that was just as rowdy, raucous and bi-partisan as a Big East tournament quarterfinal game that goes to six overtimes.

Businessmen in $5,000 suits were court side, going just as crazy as the UConn fans that packed their student section. Day-traders showed up in Orange t-shirts over their shirt and ties.

It didn’t matter that the Orange entered the game on a two-game losing streak. It didn’t matter UConn, a young team that has already lost two starters to season-ending injury, looks like a team that will be lucky to earn an invite to the NIT.

It never matters when these two former Big East rivals get together in the Basketball Mecca.

“It may be a slap in the face,” said Larry Avitabile, a Connecticut native that now calls Manhattan home, “but I hope UConn shows up as a bad loss when they show Syracuse’s NCAA tournament résumé.”


The rivalry between UConn and Syracuse is unlike any other rivalry in college basketball because of their proximity to New York City and Madison Square Garden, where the Big East has held their conference tournament since 1983.

Both fanbases claim the Big Apple as their own. Both schools consider themselves New York City’s college basketball team. None of the schools that left the Big East and none of the programs still in the conference traveled to the Garden the way that UConn and Syracuse travel to the Garden.

And the result is what you saw on Monday night.

Half of the Garden was blue.

The other half was Orange.

It simply does not get better than that.

Every season, one of the biggest talking points this time of the year is how neutral site games sterilize what makes college basketball special: the energy that comes with playing a game in front of a home crowd. The product on the court is never going to be as good as the product on the floor of any NBA game. That’s a fact of life when the best players at this level are 19 year olds a couple of years away from being able to impact an NBA game or 22 year olds that weren’t quite good enough to be able to make the jump to the pros.

And basketball at any level is never going to be a more popular than the NFL or college football. Unless you live in places like Lexington or Lawrence, college basketball probably isn’t even as important as the MLB or the NHL.

But those big, on-campus games are unparalleled in any sport at any level in this country. The experience of watching, say, UCLA’s visit to Rupp Arena on Saturday or North Carolina’s trip to Assembly Hall last week comes through on the television broadcasts.

When UConn and Syracuse square off in the Garden, it’s like two teams are playing a home game in the building.

“It’s New York City, it’s one of the best venues to play basketball in, it’s on everybody’s bucket list,” said Syracuse guard Andrew White. “Then, given the teams that were here, and the location, you’re dipping into history. This venue and this game is one of the tops all-time.”

White is a fifth-year senior that spent the last four seasons playing for Kansas in the Big 12 and Nebraska in the Big Ten. He’s seen it all. He’s played in the most electric college gyms. He knows what constitutes a great place to play a basketball game.

“I knew what to expect,” said White, who hails from southern Virginia. “I knew what I was getting into coming into this game. It’s Syracuse and UConn at the Garden. Say no more.”

College basketball needs all the games like this that it can get. It’s why those two programs would be doing a disservice to the sport if they decide to discontinue the series after the 2017 Jimmy V Classic, when they will play in the Garden for the second straight season.

Because UConn has too much talent and Kevin Ollie recruits at too high of a level to be down for that long. The Orange are just a year removed from getting to the Final Four and have plenty of young talent of their own on the roster.

Those programs will return to their rightful spots in the top 25 sooner rather than later.

And if those two fanbases can turn one of the ugliest games of the season into what we experienced in the arena on Monday night, imagine what it will be like in that building when those two teams are actually good.

 

Eastern Kentucky basketball player charged with rape

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RICHMOND, Ky. (AP) Authorities say an Eastern Kentucky basketball player has been arrested on a rape charge.

Records at Kentucky’s Madison County Detention Center show 23-year-old Jaylen Babb-Harrison was arrested Sunday in Richmond and charged with first-degree rape.

A statement from Eastern Kentucky says Babb-Harrison, a redshirt senior guard, has been suspended from the team. It says the school is cooperating with police.

Local media organizations cited an arrest citation in reporting that police were called to a Richmond hospital when a female reported she was at Babb-Harrison’s home and that he had sex with her against her will.

WKYT-TV reports Babb-Harrison declined to be interviewed at a jail. His first court appearance is set for Wednesday.

Online jail records didn’t list an attorney for the player.

Judge dismisses sex charges against ex-Michigan State star

3 Apr 2000: Mateen Cleaves #12 of the Michigan State Spartans celebrates on the floor as he holds up the trophy after winning the NCAA Men''s Finals Four Game against the Florida Gators at the RCA Dome in Indianapolis, Indiana. The Spartans defeated the Gators 89-76.
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FLINT, Mich. (AP) A judge has dismissed all charges against former Michigan State basketball star Mateen Cleaves, who was accused of sexually assaulting a woman after a charity golf event.

Judge Cathy Dowd in Flint, Michigan, said Monday there wasn’t enough evidence to send Cleaves to trial. Prosecutors can appeal.

A woman said she twice tried to get away from Cleaves but was pulled back into a motel room and sexually assaulted in September 2015. A witness confirmed that she saw the woman try to escape a room at the Knights Inn near Flint.

But a police officer said the woman never indicated that she was assaulted. Cleaves pleaded not guilty.

The Associated Press generally doesn’t name people who say they were sexually assaulted. Cleaves led Michigan State to the 2000 national championship.

Coaches Poll: Villanova takes the top spot

VILLANOVA, PA - DECEMBER 03: Kris Jenkins #2 of the Villanova Wildcats yells to his team in the first half against the Saint Joseph's Hawks at The Pavilion on December 3, 2016 in Villanova, Pennsylvania. The Villanova Wildcats defeated the Saint Joseph's Hawks 88-57. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
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Villanova has overtaken Kentucky as the new No. 1 in the Coaches Poll on Monday.

The defending champions also took No. 1 in the new AP poll thanks to an 8-0 start while UCLA beat Kentucky at Rupp Arena this weekend. The Bruins finished at No. 2 while Kansas and Duke are right behind them.

RANKINGS: AP Poll | NBC Sports Top 25

  1. Villanova (28)
  2. UCLA (1)
  3. Kansas (1)
  4. Duke (2)
  5. North Carolina
  6. Baylor
  7. Kentucky
  8. Gonzaga
  9. Indiana
  10. Creighton
  11. Saint Mary’s
  12. Virginia
  13. Louisville
  14. Xavier
  15. Butler
  16. West Virginia
  17. Wisconsin
  18. South Carolina
  19. Purdue
  20. Arizona
  21. Florida
  22. Notre Dame
  23. Cincinnati
  24. Oregon
  25. Iowa State

AP Poll: Defending champion Villanova is the new No. 1

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Josh Hart
(Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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The defending national champs are back at No. 1.

Villanova is atop the latest Associated Press top 25 poll this week as the 8-0 Wildcats are off to a hot start. With Kentucky’s loss to UCLA and North Carolina’s loss at Indiana there were some major shakeups in the polls this week.

  1. Villanova (57 first-place votes)
  2. UCLA (2)
  3. Kansas
  4. Baylor
  5. Duke
  6. Kentucky
  7. North Carolina
  8. Gonzaga
  9. Indiana
  10. Creighton
  11. Louisville
  12. Saint Mary’s
  13. Xavier
  14. Virginia
  15. West Virginia
  16. Butler
  17. Purdue
  18. Wisconsin
  19. South Carolina
  20. Arizona
  21. Florida
  22. Cincinnati
  23. Notre Dame
  24. Oregon
  25. Iowa State