WASHINGTON, D.C. – Creighton, without Mo Watson, is lost.
It’s expected, and it’s understandable, and most of all it’s a cruel twist in what should have been the best season in the history of the program.
But it’s a truth that head coach Greg McDermott is going to have to confront head-on if he wants the Bluejays to have a chance to make any noise this season.
No. 16 Creighton was smoked on Wednesday night by a Georgetown team that was 1-6 in the Big East and, prior to Wednesday, had lost to 16 straight Big East opponents not named DePaul or St. John’s; it’s been 364 days since the Hoyas beat the Bluejays in the Verizon Center last season. The final score was 71-51, but it didn’t feel all that close mostly because it never felt like the Bluejays were going to find a way to consistently get good shots, let alone score.
Creighton shot 35.1 percent from the floor, a number that drops to 25 percent when you remove Justin Patton’s 9-for-13 from the equation. The Bluejays were 1-for-18 from three, which is a disaster for a team that, even with a game-and-a-half without Watson on the books, was the 10th best offense, according to KenPom, and the nation’s ninth-best three-point shooting team.
And therein lies the problem for the Bluejays.
This team was built to play a certain way, and they just cannot play that way anymore.
“Maurice is a really good player. It’s not just me, he made the game easier for Coach Mac, me and all of my other teammates,” star center Justin Patton said. “We need to find a different way. When we stepped on campus on June 6th, we didn’t know what type of team we were, but we figured it out. Then we lost Maurice, and it’s like we’re back in that same position again.”
Since Watson, who was leading the nation in assists and found himself on every midseason all-american list, went down, the Bluejays have been using a point guard-by-committee. They’ve started Isaiah Zierdan, a senior sharpshooter that understands how to play but lacks the physical ability to get into the lane and draw defenders the way Watson could. Davion Mintz is a freshman that looked as promising in the loss to Marquette – 17 points and eight assists – as he did in-over-his-head against the Hoyas.
It got to the point that Creighton gave former walk-on Tyler Clement major minutes as McDermott tried to find an answer.
“We’re going to need some young guys to grow up really fast,” McDermott said. “We have to have guys step up and play better, and some guys are being asked to play a role they’ve never played at any point in their career. It’s tough to do that in late January.”
Oddly enough, in a blowout loss that was a deflating dose of reality, Creighton may have found an answer, although it wasn’t exactly hiding.
A redshirt freshman that had jettisoned himself from being a relative unknown to a potential lottery pick, he had 20 points and seven boards against the Hoyas, showing off a dominant array of post moves and looking unstoppable at times. This isn’t the first time he’s played this way, either, and that may be the future of this Creighton program.
If run-and-gun doesn’t work, maybe force-feeding the ball to the best big man in the conference will.
“Justin is not going to be able to make freshman mistakes for us to progress like we need to progress,” McDermott said. “That’s not fair to him. He’s a freshman. He’s 19 years old. He’s supposed to be able to make those mistakes, but our situation is different than it was before.”
The danger in that, however, is that there are essentially six weeks left in the season. Even if McDermott wanted to overhaul what Creighton does offensively, it’s not exactly feasible. At this point in the season, college basketball teams aren’t grinding through practices the way they did earlier in the season. There’s some skill work and some conditioning, but for the most part, these practices are made up of game-planning and prepping to play against their upcoming opponents while dealing with cross-country travel and two games a week.
In other words, installing a new offense now is more difficult than figuring out how to tweak what they do to fit the personnel that is still available.
“I don’t think you can take down and start over,” McDermott said. “We need more time to make the changes that we have to make. But we’e two thirds into the season, we can’t be pounding them into the ground, especially with the injuries and illness we’ve had. It’s tough, but the reality is we have to keep doing it.”
“We just gotta play together without Maurice for a little bit longer,” Patton added, “and we’ll be fine.”