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Monday, January 13, 2014
Game Plan: The McDermott chase is on

By Eamonn Brennan

Game Plan is our Monday morning primer designed to give you everything you need to know about games that were and the games that will be in college hoops this week. Send us feedback and submissions via email and Twitter.

When Grant Gibbs lost four to six weeks of his final season at Creighton, it wasn’t just bad news for the Bluejays, or a sad break for a 24-year-old senior who is a senior precisely because he has so frequently been injured. It was also -- or at least it appeared to be -- very bad news for senior Doug McDermott.

After Sunday’s 35-point, 7-rebound, 5-assist, 13-of-24-from-the-field clinic in Creighton’s win over Xavier, let's just go ahead and issue a correction:

Grant Gibbs
It seemed as if the injury to Creighton's Grant Gibbs would complicate teammate Doug McDermott's player of the year candidacy. But the Bluejays adjusted well against Xavier.
Never mind.

Not that the concern wasn’t well-founded. The two-time All-American has always drawn the lion's share of the Bluejays' headlines, and rightfully so: He is one of the best and most thrilling offensive players in recent decades. The last time any college basketball player scored like this -- this often, and this efficiently -- his name was Kevin Durant.

But few realize just how important Gibbs has been to that three-year run of success. As Gibbs himself pointed out to SI.com’s Luke Winn in November, McDermott maintains his crazy combination of efficiency and usage in large part because he "often scores while holding the ball for less than a second." Since McDermott’s breakout sophomore season, the majority of his possessions have taken place on the low block. This season, per Synergy data, nearly 28 percent of his trips end in post-ups. And when McDermott posts up, he doesn’t back dudes down for six seconds like, say, Anthony Mason. ("Compare Doug McDermott to Anthony Mason" achievement unlocked.) He pivots and seals and works over either shoulder, depending on where the defender has left himself exposed, often before that defender even knows what's happening. It is immediate and intuitive.

If McDermott is defended well, he'll fade off his back foot, or he'll kick and repost or slide to the wing. But most of the time, he's posting up, and for the past two seasons no player has been better at slinging low pinpoint bounce passes to exactly the place McDermott needs them than has Gibbs.

It was fair to ask whether Gibbs' sudden absence -- to say nothing of the sprained shoulder McDermott suffered in the same game -- would lessen the ease with which the forward racked up his patented buckets. Creighton's sublime offense hinges on McDermott's ability to score frequently and efficiently at the same time, and Creighton's overall chances hinge on its offense. For McDermott, the individual stakes were clear. What if Gibbs' absence diminished his status as the front-runner for national player of the year? What if it cost him his chance to score 3,000 points -- a historic feat only a handful of college basketball players have ever achieved?

Never mind all that. Sunday's by-the-book outburst against a good Xavier group is a one-game sample, sure, but it was also a pretty clear statement: Both the Bluejays and their generational star are versatile enough on the offensive end to thrive without Gibbs, at least for the time being. In the process, McDermott leapt from 36th to 28th on the all-time scoring list, passing Jimmer Fredette, Joe Dumars, Don MacLean, Mark Macon and Calbert Cheaney.

The Bluejays will be fine. McDermott will be fine. So get your Google Alerts aligned, and get your Twitter saved searches on point. The chase for 3,000 is officially on.

ICYMI: TOP STORIES

Iowa 84, Ohio State 74: The Hawkeyes finally finish. "Last season's Iowa squad would not have won Sunday's game at Ohio State because it would not have finished. The 2012-13 Hawkeyes were a frustrating bunch. Although clearly boasting a strong roster, they didn't know how to win big games, how to finish them. The latter is all that matters in college basketball. … That’s why No. 20 Iowa’s 84-74 win at No. 3 Ohio State was such a meaningful victory for the program. Sure, it's the team's first true signature win of the season. And even though it's early in the conference season, the win puts the Hawkeyes in solid position for Big Ten contention. Beyond that, however, Iowa proved it could finish a marquee game on the road. That's the most significant lesson of this moment for Iowa basketball." — Myron Medcalf, ESPN.com

Knee injuries sideline Colorado’s Spencer Dinwiddie, Pitt’s Durand Johnson. In the big scheme of things, a road loss to a rebuilding Washington team in Pac-12 play is no big deal. Far more important to Colorado is whether guard Dinwiddie, who had to be carried off the court in the first half after a gruesome-looking knee injury Sunday, will be able to return this season. "My gut says it's not good," Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. "But we'll see." The loss would for Colorado would be immense; no player has been more important to the Buffaloes' rebirth under Boyle. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh already knows the sad truth about emerging sixth man Johnson: He's out for the season with a torn ACL.

Oregon just keeps losing. During its 13-0 start, the inverse of that headline -- "Oregon just keeps winning" -- appeared in this exact location. Heady days, those. In a matter of two weeks, the Ducks have dropped three straight games, the latest of which (Thursday’s 96-83 loss to Cal and Sunday’s 82-80 loss to Stanford) both came on their home floor. The Ducks are still among the nation's best offenses, but they allow more than 1.03 points per possession, and it's killing them. (Oh, and don’t look now, but Stanford has recent wins at UConn and Oregon, and is looking more like a tournament team by the day.)

STAT OF THE WEEK: What happens when bad North Carolina offense meets ruthless Syracuse defense? A 57-45 loss that yielded two remarkable statistics: (1) The Orange won despite shooting just 35 percent. (2) The Tar Heels scored fewer points than any UNC team since 1997. The last time a North Carolina team scored fewer than 45 points in a game was a 1985 -- 1985! -- NCAA tournament loss to Villanova. In the words of noted North Carolinian Marty Huggins: It’s a mess.

THE GAMES YOU NEED TO SEE

(An all-Saturday slate follows here, but check back Monday morning for separate previews of two of this week's big early games.)

Saturday

Pittsburgh at Syracuse, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN: Here are a few things you can expect from Pittsburgh-Syracuse: A physical rebounding battle on both ends of the floor (Pittsburgh rebounds 39.1 percent of its misses; Syracuse grabs 40.2). A lot of prodding, probing offense by the Panthers, who record an assist on nearly 64 percent of their possessions and rarely give opposing teams steals -- and are sure to lose if Syracuse can force them. And a lot of "Get ready for a Big East conference matchup oh wait" jokes on Twitter.

Michigan at Wisconsin, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN: Whether Wisconsin will still have its status as one of the nation’s four remaining unbeatens come Saturday is to be determined; the Badgers visit Indiana Tuesday night. But either way, Iowa's win at Ohio State Sunday makes Wisconsin's tight victory over the Hawkeyes last week even more impressive in retrospect, and further establishes the Badgers as a neck-and-neck Big Ten favorite alongside Michigan State.

Michigan State at Illinois, 8 p.m. ET, BTN: Speaking of Wisconsin, Illinois' 95-70 loss to the Badgers in Madison Wednesday wasn't nearly their worst result of the week. That came Sunday, when John Groce's team scored 43 points in 58 possessions at -- wait for it -- Northwestern. Yeah. That sound you just heard is every Illini fan smashing their head against their desk. But hey, what better way to recuperate than a chance to upset Michigan State in Champaign, Ill.?

Oklahoma State at Kansas, 4 p.m. ET, CBS: Last February, Oklahoma State did something no Oklahoma State team had done since 1989: win in Allen Fieldhouse. They have the chance to do it again this weekend, only this time, the win won't break an extended Kansas home winning streak, and it wouldn't come as much of a shock -- just another sign that this is the year the Big 12 may finally shake loose of the Jayhawks' iron grip for the first time in a decade.

Louisville at Connecticut, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: It's hard to decide which team needs this game more: The Connecticut team that opened American play by dropping back-to-back road games at Houston and SMU, and that plays at Memphis on Thursday night? Or the Louisville group that just fell to Memphis in its own building, and is desperately searching for some frontcourt balance to match its backcourt in the wake of Chane Behanan’s dismissal? Let’s call it a draw.

PHOTO OF THE WEEK

Doug McDermott
Creighton forward Doug McDermott draws a foul, and screams, against Xavier's Justin Martin in Sunday's 95-89 win over the Musketeers. Note to prospective McDermott defenders: If you find yourself in this position, you've already lost.