Creighton isn’t great defensively, but they only need to be “clutch”


SPRINGFIELD, MO – After Wednesday night’s 66-65 win over Missouri State, the No. 19 Creighton Bluejays have taken control of the Missouri Valley race. They are tied with Wichita State at 7-1 in the league with a three game lead on everyone in the conference other than Drake and they have already won on the Shocker’s home court, something that is not an easy thing to do.


Creighton has done plenty of damage outside of the league as well. They beat Iowa by 23, knocked off Nebraska by 10 and beat Northwestern. They went into Viejas Arena and knocked off San Diego State despite trailing by 17 in the first half. Again, that’s not an easy thing to do.


I don’t mean to pick on the Rebels, but the point is that UNLV is a very good basketball team, one that climbed as high as 12th in the polls last week. And they couldn’t win at Wichita State or at San Diego State. That should give you a sense of just what Creighton is capable of doing this season. Throw in the fact that they have a National Player of the Year candidate in their front court, two high-profile transfers in their starting lineup and what seems like nine different guys capable of knocking down a three or scoring 15 points on a given night, and its no wonder the Bluejays are having such a successful season.

They can score as well as anyone in the country.

But that doesn’t mean that Creighton isn’t a flawed team. In fact, their biggest issue is quite obvious and well-known: this is not a very good defensive basketball team. Kenpom has them at 144th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, and its not difficult to figure out why. Creighton does not have many defensive playmakers. They are 328th in the country in turnover percentage, they are 303rd in the country in block percentage and they are 297th nationally is steal percentage.

Its not all bad — they are an excellent defensive rebounding team and they don’t allow their opponents to get to the foul line — but being very average when it comes to forcing tough shots magnifies the fact that they aren’t manufacturing the end of possessions with turnovers.

“Getting stops is one of the most important things,” center Gregory Echinique said on Wednesday. “We’re a team that can score a lot, we’ve been trying to make our defense our strength.”

Creighton has lost just two games on the season, but in both of those games they allowed their opponent’s best player to get in a rhythm. In an 80-71 loss at St. Joseph’s, Carl Jones, the Hawks leading scorer, went off for 20 of his 29 points in the second half, providing the spark that Phil Martelli’s team needed to score 45 second half points and cruise relatively unchallenged to a nine point win. In the first game of MVC play at home against Missouri State, Kyle Weems, the reigning Valley player of the year, scored 25 of his career-high 31 points in the second half and Anthony Downing went off for 26 points and five assists in a 77-65 win.

If you cannot slow down a good team’s best player in crunch time, you aren’t going to be winning too many basketball games.

And that is why Wednesday’s game was so promising.

Playing on the road against a Bear team that has had their number the last two seasons, Creighton overcame an eight point deficit in the second half, and they did it with their defense. Creighton switched from their typical man-to-man defense to a zone, a change that threw off Missouri State’s offensive rhythm.

“We went zone and took away penetration. If they were going to beat us, they were going to beat us with a jump shot,” Creighton head coach Greg McDermott said after the game. “We don’t play a lot of zone. As I told the guys in the time out, we practice it plenty and we don’t use it very much and its for times like this that we practice it.”

It was more than just a switch in defenses, however. Creighton never let Weems get going.

McDermott spent most of the game matched up with Weems, but every time he touched the ball, the Bluejay defense shifted their focus. They doubled him in the post and when he put the ball on the floor, they had plenty of help side defense to cut off driving lanes. It was a team effort, one that kept Weems from getting many open looks. After going 11-22 from the field and 3-4 from three in their first meeting, Weems had just 13 points on 5-16 shooting, hitting only one of the five threes he took.

“Our guys have some pride and competitive spirit,” the elder McDermott said. “They scored 40 or 45 on us in the second half at our place. You look forward to that opportunity to play again if you’re a competitor. I thought that our team defense was better on them. Kyle’s tough to guard one-on-one because of his ability to do things off the dribble. I thought we at least made him take challenged shots.”

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Creighton buckle-down defensively like this, either.

In the win over Wichita State, Creighton found themselves in a 44-35 hole early in the first half. The Shockers, playing in front of a rocking home crowd on New Year’s Eve, looked like they were on the verge of turning the game into a blow out. But Creighton buckled down, holding WSU to just 17 points over the final 15 minutes, including one 10 minute stretch where the Shockers managed just seven points while hitting just 3-14 from the field.

Creighton did the same against San Diego State. After a Tim Shelton jumper put the Aztecs up 62-57 with 8:38 left, Creighton forced misses on seven of SDSU’s next nine shots, using a 21-10 surge over that stretch to open up a six point lead with two minutes left. If it wasn’t for a flurry of tough threes from Jamaal Franklin down the stretch, Creighton would have won the game going away.

“We’ve worked on it in practice,” Echinique said, “and tonight we were able to do that. We still gotta get better, it shows that we’re improving in that area.”

The bottom line is that Creighton is never going to be a great defensive team. Its not for a lack of effort or a lack of coaching, they just don’t have the kind of physicality or athleticism that can overwhelm an opponent.

But they don’t necessarily need to be a great defensive team. They have enough offensive weapons that they are never going to be out of a game. The question is going to be whether or not they can string together enough stops in key moments to win a game. They did against Wichita State, San Diego State and Missouri State and they won all three games on the road. They didn’t against St. Joseph’s and Missouri State at home, and they lost.

Its as simple as that.

Tu Holloway is not a great offensive player. He’s not overly quick, he’s not a great shooter and he’s limited vertically. There is a reason that his name is shooting up NBA Draft boards right now. But Holloway is clutch. He hit two huge threes in overtime to help Xavier beat Vanderbilt and followed that up with three bigger threes as the Musketeers came back from 19 down against Purdue.

Holloway is at his best in the biggest moments, and its won Xavier two games already this season.

If Creighton can be at their best defensively down the stretch — if they can get the “clutch” stops, so to speak — they are going to win a lot of basketball games.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

Charlotte head coach Ron Sanchez resigns after winning CBI title

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Ron Sanchez resigned as head coach of the Charlotte 49ers.

Sanchez took over the 49ers on March 19, 2018, inheriting a team coming off a 6-23 campaign. In five years Charlotte went 72-78 under Sanchez, highlighted by winning the College Basketball Invitational championship this past season, the Niners’ first post-season tournament title in school history.

The 22 wins this past season are the most for Charlotte since 2001.

“Ron took over a proud but struggling program and carefully rebuilt it into a 22-game winner. He has led with class, dignity and devotion to our young men,” Charlotte director of athletics Mike Hill said. “His decision to step down from Charlotte was a difficult one for him and everyone associated with our program. We wish him and his family every happiness.”

Hill said the team has already begun a national search for a replacement.

“This is a bittersweet day for me and my family as I step down to pursue other opportunities,” said Sanchez, who came the 49ers after working as an assistant coach at Virginia under Tony Bennett. “It has been a tremendous privilege to lead the 49ers basketball program over the past five years and I want to thank Niner Nation for its support. I will be forever grateful to my staff, players and the university.”

Marquette extends Shaka Smart’s contract through 2029-30 season

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MILWAUKEE — Marquette coach Shaka Smart has received a contract extension after leading the Golden Eagles to their first outright regular-season championship and tournament title in the Big East.

Smart’s contract now runs through the 2029-30 season. This is the first extension Smart has received since signing a six-year deal when he took over as Marquette’s coach in 2021.

Marquette didn’t release financial terms of Smart’s deal.

“In a very short period of time, Shaka and his staff have done a tremendous job of establishing a winning culture, both on and off the court,” athletic director Bill Scholl said in a statement. “Shaka’s vision for the program is focused on extended, sustainable success. The individuals who interact with the team on a daily basis are able to observe frequent examples of growth and the excitement around the program is contagious.”

Marquette has gone 48-20 in Smart’s two seasons and reached the NCAA Tournament each of those years.

The Golden Eagles went 29-7 and won the Big East’s regular-season and tournament championships last season after the league’s coaches had picked them to finish ninth out of 11 teams. Marquette’s season ended with a 69-60 loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s round of 32.

Purdue’s Edey returning to school at NBA draft deadline; Kentucky’s Tshiebwe stays in

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Purdue’s Zach Edey decided it was the right call to go back to school instead of staying in the NBA draft. His predecessor as national player of the year, Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, is sticking with his pro pursuit.

And Connecticut’s reign as NCAA champion will begin with multiple starters having left for the NBA draft and one returning after flirting with doing the same.

The 7-foot-4 Edey and UConn guard Tristen Newton were among the notable names to announce that they were withdrawing from the draft, the NCAA’s deadline for players who declared as early entrants to pull out and retain their college eligibility.

Edey’s decision came in social media posts from both the center and the Boilermakers program that earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament behind Edey, The Associated Press men’s national player of the year.

But Tshiebwe announced late in the afternoon that he would remain in the draft after a college career that included being named the AP national player of the year in 2022.

For the current champions, Newton (10.1 points, 4.7 assists, 4.5 rebounds) is returning after being one of four Huskies to declare for the draft after a run to UConn’s fifth national championship in early April. He scored a game-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds in the victory over San Diego State in the title game.

The others were Final Four Most Outstanding Player Adama Sanogo, wing Jordan Hawkins and versatile guard Andre Jackson Jr. Sanogo (17.8 points) and Hawkins (16.3) have made it clear they have closed the door on their college careers, while team spokesman Phil Chardis said that Jackson (6.1 points, 5.8 rebounds, 4.6 assists) would remain in the draft.

The Huskies have 247sports’ No. 3-ranked recruiting class for next year to restock the roster, led by McDonald’s All-American point guard Stephon Castle.

The NBA’s withdrawal deadline is June 12, but is moot when it comes to college players returning to school due to the NCAA’s earlier timeline to retain playing eligibility.


TREY ALEXANDER: Creighton gets back a 6-4 guard who averaged 13.6 points and shot 41% from 3-point range in his first full season as a starter.

ADEM BONA: The 6-foot-10 forward and Pac-12 freshman of the year is returning to UCLA after starting 32 games as a rookie and averaging 7.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.7 blocks – with coach Mick Cronin praising his toughness for “competing through multiple injuries for as long as he could” in a statement Wednesday.

EDEY: He averaged 22.3 points, 12.9 rebounds, 2.1 blocks and 1.5 assists while shooting 60.7% from the field. His presence alone helps Purdue be a factor in the Big Ten race.

JOSIAH-JORDAN JAMES: The 6-6 guard went through the NBA G League Combine and had workouts with multiple teams before opting to return to Tennessee for a fifth season alongside teammate Santiago Vescovi.

JUDAH MINTZ: The 6-3 freshman averaged 16.3 points and 4.6 assists for Syracuse, ranking third among Division I freshmen in scoring behind only Alabama’s Brandon Miller and Lamar’s Nate Calmese.

OWLS’ RETURNEES: Florida Atlantic got good news after its surprise Final Four run with the return leading scorers Johnell Davis (13.8) and Alijah Martin (13.4). ESPN first reported their decisions, while Martin later posted a social media statement.

TERRENCE SHANNON JR.: Illinois got a big boost with Shannon announcing his night in a social media post. The 6-6 guard is returning for a fifth college season after averaging 17.2 points.

SPARTANS’ RETURNEES: Michigan State announced that guards Jaden Akins and A.J. Hoggard have withdrawn from the NBA draft. Standout guard Tyson Walker had previously withdrawn in April, setting up Tom Izzo to have five of his top scorers back.


KOBE BROWN: Missouri’s 6-8 swingman opted against returning for a fifth college season after being an AP first-team all-Southeastern Conference pick averaging 15.8 points last season.

JAYLEN CLARK: The third-year UCLA guard averaged 13.0 points and 6.0 rebounds while leading the Pac-12 with 2.6 steals en route to being named Naismith national defensive player of the year. Cronin called him a winner with strong intangibles who made UCLA “a better program because he chose to be a Bruin.”

BRICE SENSABAUGH: The Ohio State freshman averaged 16.3 points and 5.4 rebounds in 31 games before missing his final two in the Big Ten Tournament due to a knee injury. He’s a potential first-round prospect.

TSHIEBWE: The 6-9, 260-pound forward is a tough interior presence who led the country in rebounds for two straight seasons (15.1 in 2022, 13.7 in 2023) while racking up 48 double-doubles. But he faces an uncertain next stop and is projected at best as a second-round prospect.

North Carolina transfer Caleb Love commits to Arizona

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Caleb Love is now headed to Arizona.

The North Carolina transfer tweeted, less than a month after decommitting from Michigan, that he will play next season with the Wildcats.

“Caleb is a tremendously talented guard who has significant experience playing college basketball at a high level,” Arizona coach Tommy Lloyd said in a statement. “We look forward to helping Caleb grow his game at Arizona. And as we near the completion of the roster for the upcoming season, we feel great about how everything has come together. Now it’s time for the real work to start.”

A 6-foot-4 guard, Love averaged 14.6 points and 3.3 assists in three seasons at North Carolina. He averaged 17.6 points in seven NCAA Tournament games, helping lead the Tar Heels to the 2022 national championship game.

Love entered the transfer portal after leading North Carolina with 73 3-pointers as a junior and initially committed to Michigan. He decommitted from the Wolverines earlier this month, reportedly due to an admissions issue involving academic credits.

Love narrowed his transfer targets to three schools before choosing to play at Arizona over Gonzaga and Texas.

Love will likely start on a team that will have dynamic perimeter players, including Pelle Larsson, Kylan Boswell and Alabama transfer Jaden Bradley.

Biden celebrates LSU women’s and UConn men’s basketball teams at separate White House events


WASHINGTON – All of the past drama and sore feelings associated with Louisiana State’s invitation to the White House were seemingly forgotten or set aside Friday as President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden welcomed the championship women’s basketball team to the mansion with smiles, hugs and lavish praise all around.

The visit had once appeared in jeopardy after Jill Biden suggested that the losing Iowa team be invited, too. But none of that was mentioned as both Bidens heralded the players for their performance and the way they have helped advance women’s sports.

“Folks, we witnessed history,” the president said. “In this team, we saw hope, we saw pride and we saw purpose. It matters.”

The ceremony was halted for about 10 minutes after forward Sa’Myah Smith appeared to collapse as she and her teammates stood behind Biden. A wheelchair was brought in and coach Kim Mulkey assured the audience that Smith was fine.

LSU said in a statement that Smith felt overheated, nauseous and thought she might faint. She was evaluated by LSU and White House medical staff and was later able to rejoin the team. “She is feeling well, in good spirits, and will undergo further evaluation once back in Baton Rouge,” the LSU statement said.

Since the passage of Title IX in 1972, Biden said, more than half of all college students are women, and there are now 10 times more female athletes in college and high school. He said most sports stories are still about men, and that that needs to change.

Title IX prohibits discrimination based on sex in federally funded education programs and activities.

“Folks, we need to support women sports, not just during the championship run but during the entire year,” President Biden said.

After the Tigers beat Iowa for the NCAA title in April in a game the first lady attended, she caused an uproar by suggesting that the Hawkeyes also come to the White House.

LSU star Angel Reese called the idea “A JOKE” and said she would prefer to visit with former President Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, instead. The LSU team largely is Black, while Iowa’s top player, Caitlin Clark, is white, as are most of her teammates.

Nothing came of Jill Biden’s idea and the White House only invited the Tigers. Reese ultimately said she would not skip the White House visit. She and co-captain Emily Ward presented team jerseys bearing the number “46” to Biden and the first lady. Hugs were exchanged.

Jill Biden also lavished praise on the team, saying the players showed “what it means to be a champion.”

“In this room, I see the absolute best of the best,” she said, adding that watching them play was “pure magic.”

“Every basket was pure joy and I kept thinking about how far women’s sports have come,” the first lady added, noting that she grew up before Title IX was passed. “We’ve made so much progress and we still have so much more work to do.”

The president added that “the way in which women’s sports has come along is just incredible. It’s really neat to see, since I’ve got four granddaughters.”

After Smith was helped to a wheelchair, Mulkey told the audience the player was OK.

“As you can see, we leave our mark where we go,” Mulkey joked. “Sa’Myah is fine. She’s kind of, right now, embarrassed.”

A few members of Congress and Biden aides past and present with Louisiana roots dropped what they were doing to attend the East Room event, including White House budget director Shalanda Young. Young is in the thick of negotiations with House Republicans to reach a deal by the middle of next week to stave off what would be a globally calamitous U.S. financial default if the U.S. can no longer borrow the money it needs to pay its bills.

The president, who wore a necktie in the shade of LSU’s purple, said Young, who grew up in Baton Rouge, told him, “I’m leaving the talks to be here.” Rep. Garret Graves, one of the House GOP negotiators, also attended.

Biden closed sports Friday by changing to a blue tie and welcoming the UConn’s men’s championship team for its own celebration. The Huskies won their fifth national title by defeating San Diego State, 76-59, in April.

“Congratulations to the whole UConn nation,” he said.