The gentleman doth protest too much, methinks.
Game #9-306: Northern Iowa Panthers at Creighton BluejaysJanuary 15, 2013 8:00 pm
In a recent essay, The Hopping Cats captain, Ian McCormick, provided a two paragraph justification for his selection of USC Upstate's Torrey Craig as the second overall pick in the TMM9 fantasy player draft. As a Ballyfest Destiny member who definitely was stunned with this choice, I read Ian's rationale with some interest. While I appreciate his desire to select someone that he could see in person, my brow furrowed a bit when he indicated that Our Game featured no star player mentioned frequently on ESPN or celebrated on this site. In the case of Doug McDermott, to the extent that those statements are true, I'd say that is to the detriment of both ESPN and this site.
Being fortunate enough to have my business travel now take me to Omaha on a semi-regular basis (a phrase I'm not sure I've ever typed or spoken before), I thought I might have a chance to see Creighton in person this season. Indeed, the stars did so align on this mid-January evening! In earlier trips to the city, I had seen the CenturyLink Center (nee Qwest Center) from the freeway as I drove past, but as I walked towards it Tuesday night, this felt much different from any other arena that I'd visited as part of The Mid-Majority.
In a state in which football is revered, the Omaha area does a tremendous job of supporting Creighton basketball. They rank #6 nationally in attendance, and this was announced as their fourth straight sell-out in an arena that seats over 17,000. Not bad for a Tuesday night in January. As someone who sat in a half-empty Hinkle Fieldhouse three years ago when Butler played its last conference home game en route to a perfect Horizon League season, I was very impressed with Omaha's ability to generate a full house.
Inside the CenturyLink Center, small seating sections are formed with Bluejay themes so that everyone can feel part of the action.
The announcement of the starting lineups here is done with the main lights turned off and the fanfare ramped up. Interestingly, the local hero McDermott is announced first rather than last, and you get the sense that'd he be just fine staying out of the spotlight.
Like it or not, the spotlight is bound to shine on McDermott in this particular rivalry, as both McDermotts have an interesting past with Northern Iowa University. Greg McDermott coached at Northern Iowa from 2001-2006, and led the Panthers to NCAA tournament berths in each of his last three seasons. He then moved above the Red Line to lead Iowa State during four largely disappointing seasons - these four seasons paralleled young Doug McDermott's high school years. By the time Doug was being recruited, Greg could sense the writing on the wall, and discouraged Doug from joining him at Iowa State. Creighton was interested in Doug, but then-coach Dana Altman didn't have a scholarship available for him, so Doug committed to Northern Iowa. All was well until after the 2010 season, when Altman left for Oregon, and Creighton offered the open position to Greg McDermott. Given this fresh start, Greg and Doug decided that they'd like to team up at Creighton, which meant that they needed to obtain a release from Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson, who four years before had succeeded Greg McDermott at Northern Iowa. This makes for quite a Missouri Valley soap opera! Releasing a kid from a scholarship is always likely to be a source of irritation, but releasing that kid to a conference rival is especially frustrating, and when that kid goes on to become a leading candidate for National Player of the Year, it has to be incredibly painful for Jacobson and the university. While my travels don't take me very close to Cedar Falls, Iowa, I suspect the environment at Northern Iowa is particularly rough when the McDermotts come back to town, as they will do again on February 13. I doubt that valentines will be shared.
Northern Iowa does have three holdovers who were freshmen on their 2010 Sweet 16 team, and two of them, guard Anthony James and forward Jake Koch were prominently featured in the first half in this game. Koch got off to a quick start with seven early points, and provided a physical presence against McDermott defensively. James was able to consistently beat his defenders, getting into the lane for open pull-up jumpers for fifteen first-half points. The other member of this trio, senior guard Marc Sonnen, had just come off a game against Bradley in which he hit seven-of-nine from three-point range, and so he was a key focus of Coach McDermott's defense. Sonnen was smothered throughout the half, and managed only a single shot, which missed the mark.
For Creighton, the first half mainly featured The Supporting Cast. Doug McDermott was relatively quiet, with a scoreless stretch of nearly fifteen minutes, while senior center Gregory Echenique picked up two early fouls and was a non-factor before halftime. During that time, McDermott's teammates took advantage of open looks and made five of seven three-pointers; two from Austin Chatman, and one each from Ethan Wragge, Avery Dingman, and Grant Gibbs. With just under five minutes left in the half, and Creighton holding a 27-24 lead, McDermott began to take control of the game - a three-point play, a three-point shot, and a bucket off of a strong post move helped the Bluejays stretch the halftime lead to five points.
The seating area in the highest levels of CenturyLink Center is very steep, so any particular seat is located almost directly above that in the row in front of it. Because of this configuration, I had the opportunity to sit directly in front of, and just beneath, a most precocious young man who I guessed to be about seven years old. I further estimated the distance between his mouth and my right ear to be about 14¼ inches. Throughout the first half, I was able to hear the young boy provide nuggets of super-fandom ("Go Dougie! Go Dougie! Go Dougie! Go Dougie! Go Dougie! Go Dougie! Go Dougie! Go Dougie!") and of brilliant strategy ("Why are you shooting a two-pointer, you stupid head? Don't you know three points is worth more than two points?") My entire view of an efficient offense was re-shaped within a 45-minute span thanks to that young man, who apparently has been influenced by Rick Pitino. I didn't catch his name, but I have no doubt he'll have a bright future in the coaching profession about a quarter of a century from now.
To clear my head, I took a quick tour of the concourse at halftime. I stumbled upon a really unique and impressive exhibit inspired by an old TV show celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2013. Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom uses animatronics of a number of different wild animals, and kids can use buttons and joysticks to make the animals move per their commands. This captivated my attention for quite a while, and I wondered how long I'd have to wait to take over one of those controllers.
I then noticed a man standing next to me, who was equally fascinated by the exhibit. He was one of the few in attendance donned in Northern Iowa garb; when he returned my glance, I couldn't help but ask him the question I was thinking about all evening long.
Me: "Hey, I'm just here as a neutral observer, but I really have to ask - how do you feel when you see McDermott playing against your team?"
He looked at me with a pained expression, let out a slightly audible moan, averted his glance, shook his head, and walked away. I felt terrible and quickly apologized, but he had already moved back into the crowd. Poor guy - all he wanted to do was look at the polar bears, and I ruined his enjoyment.
Alas, if I would not have spoiled this Panther fan's fun, it would not have taken long for Doug McDermott to do so. As he is prone to do, McDermott scored 21 second-half points, and helped the Jays pull away to a 79-68 win. He demonstrated the ability to score from most anywhere on the floor, but I was especially impressed with his skills in the low post. He consistently used his strength in his lower body to create space for his shot, and he was extremely prolific once he did that. I am not an NBA scout, and I very rarely watch the game at that level, but I would be surprised if McDermott would be unable to have a long and productive career in that league.
One final thing - I believe that Gregory Echenique was tipped off to the TMM9 Sneaker Watch. He dressed appropriately for consideration against the defending champion Miles Cartwright, so I felt it only appropriate to feature him here.
at CREIGHTON 79, NORTHERN IOWA 68
NORTHERN IOWA 9-9 (2-4) -- M. Sonnen 2-4 0-0 5; A. James 11-20 1-1 25; J. Koch 7-13 5-5 19; S. Tuttle 4-10 0-0 9; M. Bohannon 0-1 0-0 0; D. Mitchell 4-8 0-0 8; C. Rank 0-1 0-0 0; A. Pehl 0-0 0-0 0; N. Buss 0-0 0-0 0; M. Martino 0-1 0-0 0; M. Singleton 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 29-59 6-6 68.
CREIGHTON 17-1 (6-0) -- A. Chatman 4-8 2-2 12; D. McDermott 12-22 6-7 31; J. Manigat 3-5 0-0 6; G. Gibbs 5-6 0-1 11; A. Dingman 1-4 2-2 5; E. Wragge 1-3 0-0 3; G. Echenique 2-5 1-1 5; W. Artino 3-3 0-0 6; N. Johnson 0-0 0-1 0; T. Stormberg 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 31-56 11-14 79.
Three-point goals: UNI 4-15 (A. James 2-3; J. Koch 0-4; M. Sonnen 1-1; M. Martino 0-1; C. Rank 0-1; M. Bohannon 0-1; D. Mitchell 0-3; S. Tuttle 1-1), CREI 6-12 (G. Gibbs 1-1; E. Wragge 1-3; D. McDermott 1-2; J. Manigat 0-1; A. Chatman 2-3; A. Dingman 1-2); Rebounds: UNI 26 (A. James 6), CREI 31 (G. Gibbs 6); Assists: UNI 13 (A. James 3), CREI 21 (G. Gibbs 7); Total Fouls -- UNI 19, CREI 13; Fouled Out: UNI-None; CREI-None.