Category archive: Creighton Bluejays

Doug McDermott isn't just returning to Creighton.

He's getting a rare chance to play for the same school, in the same arena, but have a completely different experience in a new league -- a Big East that will provide the Bluejays, their fans and his father, the head coach, a chance to create a lasting impression in some of the major cities in the Midwest and East Coast.

The decision to return for his senior season and the opportunity to be a three-time All-American as well as the national player of the year was agonizing for McDermott. But in the final days, the new Big East started to become a clinching factor.

"I thought about it quite a bit,'' said McDermott. "My dad wasn't pushing me to stay and I know he would have been proud if I left. But I truly care about Creighton and the fans and what they've done for me the last three years. I want to give them one more year and take care of business in the Big East so we can prove people wrong.''

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Doug McDermott
Eric Francis/Getty ImagesDoug McDermott returns to Creighton as a top candidate for national player of the year, but questions linger about the Bluejays' inside game.

Greg McDermott said he told Doug not to make the league a reason for staying. But it did become a discussion point in the final days.

"I don't think that entered into the equation until this week,'' said Greg McDermott. "I was adamant that it not be the factor. We got the facts and research from the NBA. But he did see the opportunity to play on the first Creighton team in the Big East. That's something he'll always have and you can't take that away from him. I'm excited for him, to play in those venues. The emotion tugged at him. But there was connection to his teammates and to the fans and he wanted to embark on this new journey together. He wanted to be a part of that.''

Creighton's credentials dwarf a number of the seven new Big East teams in Providence, Seton Hall, DePaul and St. John's. The big three -- Marquette, Georgetown and Villanova -- can boast stronger résumés. But Creighton wasn't first up on the invitation list for the fledgling league. That went to Butler and Xavier out of the Atlantic 10. And while Butler has been on the fast track from the Horizon to the A-10 to now the new Big East, the Bulldogs played in two national title games.

Creighton was the 10th team. And first impressions are important.

"What does it mean for Creighton?'' said athletic director Bruce Rasmussen. "Well, for me, I'm in the same office, the same city and the same university but I've got a completely different job. He's on the same team, but he's got a completely different job in a new league. They all have to step up. We're confident in our own ability but we're not arrogant. He looked at the ability to play with his dad and be with a group of guys and good friends. He can go to different places and go against different competition. It was exciting for him and it's definitely going to make the transition easier for us.''

Rasmussen said there is an expectation that the Bluejays will continue to have one of the most well-attended games in the country. Playing 18 Big East games will only enhance that, but if the Bluejays struggled without their star player, then that certainly would have hurt their perception in the new league.

"We are concerned and you want to be a productive member in this league and your fans don't give you a long time to make a transition,'' said Rasmussen. "We will continue to put 17,000 in the building. But we are aware of the exposure and we're better prepared with Doug a member of the team than without him.''

McDermott said he fully enjoys being a college kid. The NBA can wait.

"I feel like I can be a lot better and the whole Big East deal and helping Creighton with the transition to the new conference and playing for my dad for another year was all important,'' said McDermott. "At the end of the day, that's where my heart was and I couldn't pass it up.

"It's going to be a whole different season next year. It hasn't hit me yet that we're going to be playing in Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, D.C. and cities with good programs, and we're looking forward to what we can do and the damage we can do.''

McDermott's decision wasn't lost on some of the coaches who will have to scout to stop him.

"He's the preseason unanimous player of the year,'' said Marquette's Buzz Williams.

"It's great for Creighton and great for the Big East,'' said Villanova's Jay Wright. "Doug can be national player of the year.''

"He's a marquee player, he's one of the best if not the best player in America,'' said Xavier's Chris Mack. "The league will have its hands full. I'm petitioning to have Creighton return to the MVC one final year so Doug can set all their league records.''

"The Big East has always had great players and Doug adds to that long list and tradition,'' said Providence's Ed Cooley.

"Doug McDermott deciding to return to college will further bolster the assemblage of outstanding talent in an already deep Big East conference,'' said St. John's coach Steve Lavin.

The Bluejays have two major holes to fill with the departure of Greg Echenique and Grant Gibbs. But Doug McDermott said point guard Austin Chatman has been playing exceptionally well. He also said Will Artino and Ethan Wragge are more than capable of stepping up.

Creighton will be considered a contender to win the league with Marquette and in line with Georgetown and Villanova with Butler, Xavier, Providence and St. John's more than capable of making a run toward the top three spots. The balance in the league will be comparable to last season's 10-team Mountain West Conference, which placed five of the nine teams in the NCAA tournament.

The Bluejays built a nonconference schedule with the thinking they would be in the MVC, not the Big East. Creighton is in the Anaheim Classic, with other potential NCAA teams Arizona State, Marquette (will have to be on opposite sides of the bracket) and San Diego State. They also play Tulsa, Nebraska and Cal at home and are on the road at Saint Joseph's and Long Beach State.

"Obviously we will have one of the best players in college basketball and that's a huge plus,'' said Greg McDermott. "I'll be able to coach my son that's obviously important to me and something I'll look back on as a special time. I hope we can compete for a league title. It's a tall task.''

The season begins in a week with games at military facilities on both coasts and Germany as well as defending champ Kentucky playing Maryland in Brooklyn.

Every team has questions.

There are favorites, but none seem intimidating or unbeatable nationally or in their conferences.

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Doug McDermott
Chris Keane/Icon SMIDoug McDermott helps make Creighton the favorite in the Missouri Valley Conference.

And yet there are two teams that have me most intrigued outside the power six conferences that could possibly land in Atlanta at the Final Four: No. 16 Creighton and No. 18 UNLV.

Creighton has a consensus All-American in junior forward Doug McDermott. He could be the latest national player of the year outside of a power six conference (two years ago, it was BYU's Jimmer Fredette).

The Bluejays don't have guard Antoine Young anymore to balance McDermott's experience. But senior forward Gregory Echenique is back, and there are rotation players who will have a significant role.

The Bluejays have plenty of make-good games, like Wisconsin in Las Vegas (sans Josh Gasser and possibly Mike Bruesewitz), maybe Arkansas on Night 2 in Las Vegas, Saint Joseph's and at Cal.

The schedule could certainly have been tougher, but it has a few power-rating opportunities.

Creighton coach Greg McDermott said Friday that there are five specific aspects of his team he has learned a week before the season.

They are:

1. "We need to limit turnovers."
2. "We have great offensive potential."
3. "When healthy, our bench is much improved."
4. "Defense is improving."
5. "Defensive rebounding must improve.''

Creighton was the pick to win the Missouri Valley, and outside of a challenge from Illinois State and Northern Iowa, the Bluejays shouldn't have an issue.

UNLV has quite a fight in the Mountain West. The Runnin' Rebels were picked behind San Diego State and will have to fend off New Mexico and Colorado State for the MWC title.

UNLV has a similar nonconference schedule to Creighton's, but the conference slate will push its power rating much higher.

The Runnin' Rebels play Oregon and possibly Cincinnati in Las Vegas on Thanksgiving weekend (Iowa State is the other team), go to Cal, host Northern Iowa and travel to North Carolina in a rematch of last season's upset.

The Runnin' Rebels have one of the best rebounders in the country in Mike Moser, one of the top freshman forwards in Anthony Bennett, one of the top midyear transfer big men in Pitt's Khem Birch and a stable of returning guards, including Anthony Marshall, Justin Hawkins and USC transfer Bryce Jones, who had been injured in the preseason. The addition of freshmen Savon Goodman and Katin Reinhardt beefs up the wings.

What has UNLV coach Dave Rice learned about his team ?

Rice said:

1. "We have terrific leadership in returning players Mike Moser, Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins. They've helped our six new players make the transition to our system."

2. "We still have things to learn, but this is a very competitive group. They have brought a great effort every day in practice."

3. "We have consistently shared the ball. We have an unselfish group."

4. "Our depth is going to allow us to play full-court basketball on both ends of the court."

5. "We are a very good offensive rebounding team and need to become a more consistent defensive rebounding group.''

If I'm forced to pick one now, I'd lean toward UNLV as a possible Atlanta pick over Creighton, with McDermott as a national player of the year.

But it's a tough call, and in one-game elimination, either team could be a good pick in March.

College basketball could use a Heisman-like award, one main honor instead of the five mainstream national awards.

The problem is that finding a consensus for the Wooden, Naismith, AP, Rupp and Oscar Robertson honors is no easy task.

The awards voters do tend to coalesce behind one candidate. And maybe that will be the case again.

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Harrison Barnes
Peyton Williams/Getty ImagesA favorite in the preseason, Harrison Barnes hasn't been the dominating player for UNC.

But it seems that this season's race will be as wide open as ever. If you need more evidence, take a look at the 25 finalists for the Wooden Award, released on ESPNU and ESPN.com on Tuesday.

It appears that the only two players who are consensus candidates are Kansas' Thomas Robinson and Creighton's Doug McDermott. It's not a reach to say these two players are the favorites in mid-January, a stunning development considering how much preseason hype Ohio State's Jared Sullinger and North Carolina's Harrison Barnes received. The amazing part thus far is that I don't believe Sullinger nor Barnes would be a first-team All-American if the voting were conducted today.

Before we get to the list of players compiled by the Wooden folks, it's important to note that these are simply the 25 players who they felt should be honored on their midseason list. Players who do not show up are still very much eligible to win the Wooden Award at the end of the season and will be given equal consideration.

So players who have legitimate claims to being on this list -- Maryland's Terrell Stoglin and Seton Hall teammates Herb Pope and Jordan Theodore come to mind -- still have a shot.

So without further ado, here are the 25 Wooden finalists (in alphabetical order):

Harrison Barnes, 6-foot-8, So., F, North Carolina
Stat line: 16.8 ppg, 4.8 rpg

Chances: Fading. Still has a shot to be a second-team All-American. Barnes hasn't been the dominating player on the Tar Heels. To be fair, he has some of the best talent in the country (John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Kendall Marshall) surrounding him. UNC's 33-point loss to Florida State didn't help his case, either.

Will Barton, 6-6, So., F, Memphis
Stat line: 18.2 ppg, 9.0 rpg

Chances: No shot. He could be the Conference USA Player of the Year, though. Barton has greatly improved and has been the most consistent player during the Tigers' inconsistent season.

William Buford, 6-6, Sr., G, Ohio State
Stat line: 15.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg

Chances: No shot. Buford won't win Big Ten POY, either. He has been OSU's best perimeter threat, but he won't be a first-team All-American. Buford might not even be first-team All-Big Ten. He is an integral part of the Buckeyes' title hopes, but is not a POY contender.

Anthony Davis, 6-10, Fr., C, Kentucky
Stat line: 13.1 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 4.6 bpg

Chances: High. Davis has been the most dominant post player in the country. He blocked a last-second shot by North Carolina's John Henson in December, preventing the Tar Heels from winning a game at Rupp. He alters and changes more shots than any other player. If the Wildcats win the national title, Davis will be one of the reasons why. He would be ahead of Ohio State's Jared Sullinger on the All-America ballot if you had to choose one of them.

Marcus Denmon, 6-3, Sr., G, Missouri
Stat line: 17.8 ppg, 5.5 rpg

Chances: Not great. Denmon is the leading scorer for Mizzou. But it's hard to separate him from Kim English, Ricardo Ratliffe, Michael Dixon and Flip Pressey in his importance to the Tigers. They all have played an equal role in Missouri's impressive start. It will be interesting to see which of these players earns first-team All-Big 12.

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Green
Mike Carter/US PresswireIf Michigan State stays in the Big Ten race, Draymond Green has a shot at first-team All-American.

Draymond Green, 6-7, Sr., F, Michigan State
Stat line: 15.8 ppg, 10.1 rpg

Chances: In the mix. If he continues his current pace of scoring and rebounding, Green could end up nudging out Sullinger for Big Ten Player of the Year. The Spartans did lose at Northwestern on Saturday, but Green has been a tremendous leader. He will stay in the chase for a first-team All-American spot if his team stays in the race for the Big Ten title.

John Henson, 6-11, Jr., C, North Carolina
Stat line: 14.4 ppg, 9.7 rpg

Chances: No shot. Henson didn't convert the biggest shot of his season against Kentucky. Davis blocked it. And if Barnes isn't the national player of the year, Henson isn't either. The 33-point loss to Florida State will haunt all Tar Heels candidates.

John Jenkins, 6-4, Jr., G, Vanderbilt
Stat line: 19.8 ppg, 2.8 rpg

Chances: No shot. Jenkins is a superb shooter and scorer and is leading the revitalized Commodores. But his role isn't more important than Jeffery Taylor, Brad Tinsley or Festus Ezeli -- it is equally important. The 'Dores mid-nonconference slide hurts Jenkins' campaign. The success of the Kentucky freshmen also makes it almost impossible for Jenkins to get SEC Player of the Year.

Orlando Johnson, 6-5, Sr., G, UCSB
Stat line: 20.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg

Chances: No shot. Johnson is having a stellar season for the Gauchos, and he may be one of the higher draft picks on this list. But the Gauchos are 8-6 and are trailing Long Beach State in the Big West. Johnson should be an All-American, but he won't make the first team.

Darius Johnson-Odom, 6-2, Sr., G, Marquette
Stat line: 18.2 ppg, 3.3 rpg

Chances: No shot. DJO has had a superb season for the Golden Eagles. He has a legit shot at Big East Player of the Year. But that won't be enough to get a first-team All-American spot or the national POY. Marquette has been decent, but not great enough for DJO to stand out on that pedestal.

Kevin Jones, 6-8, Sr., F, West Virginia
Stat line: 20.6 ppg, 11.1 rpg

Chances: Decent. Jones has put it all together as a senior and has put up just a monster season for the Mountaineers. Just seems like it's double-double after double-double for Jones, who will need to keep the Mountaineers in the top 3 of the Big East in order to stay in Wooden contention.

Perry Jones III, 6-11, So., C, Baylor
Stat line: 14.2 ppg, 7.5 rpg

Chances: No shot at player of the year, but he is in the hunt for a first-team All-American slot. The problem for Jones' candidacy is that Quincy Acy has been a comparable inside scorer and guard Pierre Jackson has been an integral member of this team. Jones didn't help his case when he and the Bears were dominated by Kansas' Thomas Robinson in a loss on Monday night. But he can't win national POY if he isn't the Big 12 Player of the Year. And Robinson is the favorite for that honor.

Kris Joseph, 6-7, Sr., F, Syracuse
Stat line: 13.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg

Chances: No shot. Joseph is leading the Orange, but this team is so deep, so talented and so balanced that you would have a hard time picking just him. Dion Waiters may be Syracuse's MVP. A number of other players have taken turns being the star for the Orange, too.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, 6-7, Fr., F, Kentucky
Stat line: 13.4 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 49.4 FG percentage

Chances: Solid. Kidd-Gilchrist could be the SEC Player of the Year. And if he gets that honor, he'll be in contention for the national POY. Kidd-Gilchrist took a few games to get going, but once he did he was an offensive force. He has delivered on his talent and effort.

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Doug McDermott
Peter G. Aiken/US PresswireCreighton's Doug McDermott has been one of the most complete players in the nation.

Jeremy Lamb, 6-5, So., G, Connecticut
Stat line: 17.9 ppg, 4.2 rpg

Chances: No shot. Lamb is leading the Huskies in scoring. But UConn is still finding its way in the Big East. The Huskies haven't featured Lamb as much, either. Andre Drummond may end up being the team's featured scorer by season's end. Lamb isn't the Big East Player of the Year right now, so he isn't winning the national honor.

Damian Lillard, 6-3, Jr., G, Weber State
Stat line: 25.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.5 apg

Chances: He won't win national POY, but he should be in contention for second-team All-American honors. Lillard is having a stellar season for the Wildcats, who are in first place in the Big Sky. He leads the nation in scoring and his stat line is as good as any in the country. The problem is that Weber has been in obscurity so far this season. Lillard will likely not be seen by the masses until March.

Doug McDermott, 6-7, So., F, Creighton
Stat line: 24.3 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 62.1 FG

Chances: High. McDermott has been one of the most complete players in the country and is a first-team All-American, at the very least. He could be this season's Jimmer Fredette, coming from outside a power six conference to win the national player of the year honor. McDermott has led the Bluejays to the top of the Missouri Valley and into the Top 25. He is the focus of every opposing defense, too.

Scott Machado, 6-1, Sr., G, Iona
Stat line: 13.1 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 10.3 apg

Chances: Not happening for POY, but he's in the hunt as a first-team All-American. Machado has been the most dominant point guard this season and easily leads the country in assists. Iona has played a decent schedule and is the team to beat in the MAAC. Few teams will want to face the Gaels in March, and Machado is one of the key reasons why.

Kendall Marshall, 6-4, So., G, North Carolina
Stat line: 5.8 ppg, 9.6 apg

Chances: No shot. Marshall is a key for the Tar Heels. He hasn't been the best point guard in the country, but has been a solid contributor this season and does rank second behind Machado in assists. But that isn't enough to win the award or be a first-team candidate.

Mike Moser, 6-8, So., F, UNLV
Stat line: 13.9 ppg, 11.2 rpg

Chances: No shot. But Moser has to be in contention for a first- or second-team All-American spot. His rebounding has been epic (especially against North Carolina). Moser and fellow UCLA transfer Chace Stanback have been the major reasons the Runnin' Rebels are ranked and in contention for the MWC title.

Arnett Moultrie, 6-11, Jr., C, Mississippi State
Stat line: 16.5 ppg, 10.9 rpg, 0.9 bpg

Chances: Not good for POY, but he's a serious candidate for first-team All-American. Outside of Moser, Moultrie has had the most impact of any transfer. He has increased MSU's chances of being a serious threat to Kentucky in the SEC. Moultrie is a double-double machine for coach Rick Stansbury and has allowed the Bulldogs to avoid relying only on Renardo Sidney.

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Thomas Robinson
Peter G. Aiken/US PresswireBaylor's focus in its rematch with Kansas -- stopping Thomas Robinson, who had 27 points and 14 rebounds in their game in January.

Thomas Robinson, 6-9, Jr., F, Kansas
Stat line: 17.8 ppg, 12.3 rpg

Chances: High. Robinson is the POY favorite at this juncture. He should be a consensus first-team All-American. He has had to take on immense responsibility with the departure of the Morris twins and has responded without a hitch. He carries the weight of the incredible burden of losing his mother during last season. And yet he is as focused as ever in 2011-12. Robinson dominated in the rout over Baylor on Monday night with 27 points and 14 rebounds.

Mike Scott, 6-8, Sr., F, Virginia
Stat line: 16.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg

Chances: He has no shot for national POY, but Scott is one of the favorites for ACC Player of the Year. He has been the most consistent big man in the league. Take Scott off the Cavs, and they don't come close to the top of the league standings. But Virginia did lose at Duke and also fell to TCU. Scott will have to keep the Cavs in the ACC's top three to have a chance at the league's POY.

Jared Sullinger, 6-9, So., F, Ohio State
Stat line: 17.3 ppg, 9.3 rpg

Chances: Still strong. Sullinger has been battling injuries (back, foot) and missed the road game at Kansas in December. That's part of the reason he is not the favorite right now. Sullinger still has plenty of time to be a first-team All-American and the Big Ten Player of the Year. But it would help if he had some dominating performances down the stretch.

Cody Zeller, 6-11, Fr., C, Indiana
Stat line: 14.8 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 1.4 bpg

Chances: No shot. But Zeller is in the chase for Big Ten Player of the Year. At the very least, he'll be the Big Ten Rookie of the Year. It's amazing that he's on this list and his older brother Tyler (a senior at North Carolina) is not. Cody has helped transform Indiana into a national player, but the Hoosiers' recent two-game skid does take his chances for Big Ten POY down a peg.

My midseason All-America team choices:
First team: Robinson, McDermott, Davis, Moultrie, Machado
Second team: Kidd-Gilchrist, Sullinger, Green, K. Jones, C. Zeller

The elite powers have resurfaced at the top of the Top 25 and across the high-major conferences.

A few schools, like Xavier, Gonzaga and Memphis, as well as newcomers Baylor, Marquette and Vanderbilt are expected to challenge with deep NCAA tournament runs and possible Final Four berths.

But what about the programs that missed the NCAA tournament a season ago? The ones that appear destined to rise this season?

A run to New Orleans might not be prudent to predict. But then again, no one had VCU headed to Houston last April. But even the Rams didn't have a consistent regular season. VCU squeaked into the field and then enjoyed a magnificent postseason run. Connecticut, another team that had been nearly as erratic, albeit against superior competition, won the national title.

Below are 10 programs headed for breakout seasons. If they fall flat, they may have no one to blame but themselves. The talent is in place. The landscape is open. And the opportunity exists for any team in this group to make the bracket its own for a weekend or two in March.

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Travis Ford
AP Photo/Sue OgrockiThe addition of freshman LeBryan Nash makes Travis Ford's Cowboys a team to watch in the Big 12.

Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the Big 12 -- and with good reason. Baylor, Texas A&M, Kansas and Missouri should all be deemed favorites. Texas arguably could finish higher than the Cowboys. But Oklahoma State has one of the top freshmen in the country who few discuss outside of the region in LeBryan Nash. He could be a star by midseason. Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford has assembled a cast that is more apt to run this season and cause havoc the way he's envisioned. The Cowboys have a loaded schedule after picking up a challenging game versus Pitt at Madison Square Garden on Dec. 10. Oklahoma State may still finish as low as fifth or sixth in the Big 12. But if they get into the NCAA field, consider the Cowboys a potential breakthrough team with an ability to cause problems in March.

Marshall: Memphis is the clear favorite in Conference USA. But the Thundering Herd have two guards -- DeAndre Kane and Damier Pitts -- who can match up with any of the players on the Tigers. Marshall has plenty to prove to be worthy of a team that should be taken seriously. There are a number of nonconference games -- Belmont, Iona, West Virginia and Cincinnati -- that will show if Marshall is worthy of significant hype. And of course the Herd must make Huntington a tough place to play and be consistent to nudge at Memphis throughout the winter. If Marshall does that, you'll take the Herd seriously in March.

Harvard: The Crimson are the pick to win the Ivy. They technically won a share of the regular-season title with Princeton last season. But Harvard lost the playoff game against the Tigers on a buzzer-beater and then got blasted at Oklahoma State in the NIT. Harvard is finally ready to be the Ivy leader from the season's start to its finish. Coach Tommy Amaker has the core of his team returning, and Harvard can compete with most teams in the country. Keith Wright is a legit All-America candidate. Kyle Casey, Brandyn Curry, Christian Webster and Oliver McNally are all experienced. The Crimson can make a name for themselves with a win at Connecticut on Dec. 8, easily the most recognizable game on the schedule. But if not, don't fade on Harvard during the winter. This team will be relevant in March and a trendy first-weekend upset pick.

Detroit: Slaying Butler in the Horizon League has been like the search for the Holy Grail for conference opponents. Milwaukee thought it had the Bulldogs beaten when it hosted the conference tournament title game, only to lose. Detroit has the personnel to dethrone Butler, even with Eli Holman's status in doubt. The majority of coaches in the league tab the Titans as the team to beat and the most talented with Ray McCallum Jr., Chase Simon, Nick Minnerath and Doug Anderson. Members of the Valparaiso staff said last week that the Titans look like a formidable Big Ten team when they step on the court. Detroit has the opportunity to make the NCAAs with a solid schedule. Get there, and the Titans will be a hard out.

Creighton: Greg McDermott was no fool when he left Iowa State on his own terms and seized the Bluejays' job once Dana Altman went to Oregon last year. McDermott had been in the Missouri Valley at Northern Iowa and seen the success and potential of arguably the top job in the conference. The Bluejays have a number of hidden gems who are flying under the national radar in Doug McDermott, Greg Echenique and Antoine Young. The problem for Creighton is that the schedule could have been stronger. It may need to have a significant run during the Valley tournament, which won't be easy at all due to the strength of Wichita State and Indiana State, to ensure a bid. But once they're in, the Bluejays have the personnel in the right positions to be a serious pest.

New Mexico: Coach Steve Alford is going through a bit of a renaissance in Albuquerque. The Lobos had a big-time run two seasons ago but then took a dip last season. The ability to bounce back quickly will be on display in 2011-12. Alford has found the right mix of four-year transfers (Drew Gordon and Demetrius Walker), hidden gems out of high school (Kendall Williams and A.J. Hardeman) and an international sharp shooter (Australia's Hugh Greenwood) to put together a conference champ. The Lobos will have to manage the nonconference well and get past UNLV, but this team has the ability to be a second-weekend squad in the tournament.

Saint Louis: Rick Majerus had a horrendous personal year with the death of his mother and multiple injuries and illnesses. He's also had to deal with the suspensions of his two best players. But he seems energized this fall and has a team that is committed to making serious strides in the A-10. Kwamain Mitchell is back after a suspension. He joins Mike McCall and Kyle Cassity as the core of this team. Majerus put together a challenging slate of nonconference games, giving the Billikens ample tests to see if they're worthy of the praise. Xavier and Temple are the standards in the A-10. St. Bonaventure is a legitimate upstart with perhaps the best all-around player in the league in Andrew Nicholson. But Saint Louis should a formidable team, poised to get Majerus back to the NCAA tournament.

Virginia: The plan at Washington State was to get players out of high schools and take chances, in hopes they develop and reach their potential. The Cougars did, and Tony Bennett got them to the NCAA tournament. Wazzu's program isn't close to Virginia's. The Cavs have more resources, finances and access to players. Still, Bennett hasn't deviated from his plan. And now that Mike Scott is healthy inside, Bennett has a team that gets him, his style and his commitment to defense. The Cavs should be able to score and close games, rather than sit on the doorstep, unable to get significant wins. The timing is perfect for Virginia, too. The ACC is in a rebuilding mode outside of North Carolina, Duke and to some extent Florida State. The rest of the league is in flux, giving Virginia ample chances for wins and to establish itself as a top-four team en route to the NCAAs.

Oregon: The Ducks have the Nike resources, the state-of-the-art everything and have been consistently recruiting talented players to the Northwest from urban centers in the Midwest -- regardless of the coach. Dana Altman also fully understood the need to infuse a few transfers, one is a risk in Wake Forest's Tony Woods, and another is a lock for success in Louisiana Tech graduate Olu Ashaolu. The infusion of newcomer Jabari Brown, who was a hit on a summer trip to Italy, is a game-changer for the Ducks. Altman said Brown still needs to be consistent, but who doesn't at this stage in the season? Oregon has a challenging schedule, which includes opening at Vanderbilt, so be patient with the Ducks. In a Pac-12 where there is no clear favorite (not Cal, UCLA, Washington or Arizona), the opportunity is there for Oregon to surprise. The Ducks won the CBI tournament over Altman's old team, Creighton. The natural next step will be the NCAAs.

Long Beach State: Dan Monson has had a long road back to the point where he feels comfortable in the game. He left Gonzaga to try to rebuild Minnesota after NCAA violations. He wasn't able to turn that program around on a consistent basis. Now he's done that at Long Beach State. The 49ers were atop the Big West last season but didn't win the conference tournament. Long Beach will have to fend off Orlando Johnson and UC Santa Barbara again, but with Casper Ware and Larry Anderson, the 49ers should prevail. Long Beach has a monster nonconference schedule that could set up an at-large berth if it falls short in the Big West tourney. Long Beach will have the talent to win a game in March.

At this time last year, Ben Hansbrough's name didn't appear on the Wooden Award preseason watch list.

Five months later, he edged out Connecticut's Kemba Walker for Big East Player of the Year.

Using that as a backdrop, let's remember that the list of 50 Wooden nominees is flawed, much like any of the award lists. The Wooden Award does not allow its voters to nominate any freshmen or transfers (either four-year or junior college) on their ballots.

And with college basketball as loaded with talent as any year since 2007-08, narrowing it down to 50 is not easy. So below I've attempted to come up with the names that didn't make it, either as "just missed the cut" omissions or just because they're freshmen or transfers. These guys aren't on the list (which can be found here), but might show up when it's updated during the season.

This group is by no means definitive, either. There's no telling who else might emerge nationally as the games get under way.

Let's take a look …

The omissions (in alphabetical order):

Julian Boyd, Long Island: The Blackbirds are the favorite again in the Northeast Conference and the main reason is because Boyd is back and ready to dominate the stat sheet.

D.J. Cooper, Ohio: The diminutive point guard does a little bit of everything; he averaged 15.8 ppg, 7.5 apg and 5.0 rpg for the Bobcats last season.

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Duke's Seth Curry
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesSeth Curry hasn't done enough to warrant a mention on a preseason watch list, but he might end up being a Wooden addition.

Jared Cunningham, Oregon State: Cunningham has some of the best hops in the sport and a chance to be a Pac-12 star, allowing the Beavers to finally move up in the standings this season.

Seth Curry, Duke: Curry was a standout shooter for the Blue Devils on their trip to China and could be one of the top scorers on the team.

Brandon Davies, BYU: Davies was recently reinstated to the Cougars, and the offense is expected to flow through him inside and out as BYU mounts a campaign to win the WCC in its first year in the league.

Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary's: SMC coach Randy Bennett envisions this as one of the best teams he's ever had, but a lot of that will have to do with whether Dellavedova can shoot like Mickey McConnell did last season.

Greg Echenique, Creighton: Echenique was a rebounding force for Venezuela this summer and should do even more for the Bluejays with a full season to work with.

TyShwan Edmondson, Austin Peay: The Governors should be the favorite in the Ohio Valley with a legit scorer like Edmondson, who has a strong man, Will Triggs, to take pressure off him.

Kyle Fogg, Arizona: Fogg is next in line to assume a leadership position for the Wildcats, who are in a position to compete for Pac-12 titles for years to come.

Kevin Foster, Santa Clara: As a sophomore, Foster sort of came out of nowhere to average 20.2 ppg and become one of the nation's top 3-point shooters.

Chris Gaston, Fordham: The Rams aren't any good, but the nation's leading returning rebounder (11.3 rpg) at least deserves a shout-out in this space.

Yancy Gates, Cincinnati: UC coach Mick Cronin said he'd be surprised if Gates wasn't one of the 10 names on the Big East preseason first team.

Malcolm Grant, Miami (Fla.): The Hurricanes have to play most of the season without big man Reggie Johnson, so Grant will have more opportunities to shine.

Rob Jones, Saint Mary's: Jones could be a double-double regular for the Gaels, and for Saint Mary's to win the WCC, Jones will have to be a star.

Doron Lamb, Kentucky: John Calipari says Lamb will be the Wildcats' best player. Just Coach Cal mind games, or the truth?

Meyers Leonard, Illinois: Leonard didn't contribute a whole lot as a freshman, but he was a hidden gem on the U.S. U-19 team in Latvia this summer. The Illini are expecting big things out of him.

C.J. McCollum, Lehigh: McCollum is the nation's leading returning scorer (21.8 ppg) and is in the top five in steals (2.5 spg). Oh, and he did that as a freshman. What more do you need to know?

Cameron Moore, UAB: The Blazers have been consistently good under Mike Davis and have had unheralded C-USA stars. Moore is the latest.

Toure' Murry, Wichita State: If the Shockers win the Missouri Valley over Creighton, a lot of the credit will end up going to the veteran Murry.

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Ryan Pearson
Rafael Suanes/US PresswireRyan Pearson looks to lead Mason to another run to the NCAAs.

Brandon Paul, Illinois: Illini coach Bruce Weber was a bit surprised Paul didn't crack the top 50 on the Wooden list, given his overall importance to this team.

Ryan Pearson, George Mason: The Patriots are a trendy pick for the Top 25 and a lot of that has to do with the versatility of Pearson.

Damier Pitts, Marshall: The Thundering Herd are a real sleeper to gain an NCAA tourney berth out of Conference USA in large part because of Pitts.

Herb Pope, Seton Hall: Pope has come back from multiple life-threatening situations and has a real shot as a senior to put it all together and finally shine.

Terrence Ross, Washington: The Huskies can't be dismissed as a major player for the Pac-12 title, and if they win it, Ross will be a significant reason why.

Robert Sacre, Gonzaga: Sacre has matured into a solid post player, and that progress shows no signs of stopping as the Zags once again compete for the West Coast title.

Mike Scott, Virginia: If the sleeper Cavs mount a run to the NCAA tournament, the oft-injured Scott will be the reason why.

Renardo Sidney, Mississippi State: If Sidney is in shape and plays up to his potential, he has SEC Player of the Year potential and could be the difference between the Bulldogs making the NCAAs or NIT.

Andrew Smith, Butler: The Bulldogs will have fewer stars this season, but Smith has a chance to outshine Khyle Marshall and newcomer Roosevelt Jones with his scoring prowess in the post.

Chace Stanback, UNLV: Stanback's suspension to start the season is only one game, so that won't diminish his ability to lead the Rebels in their hunt for a Mountain West title.

Raymond Taylor, Florida Atlantic: FAU quietly won the Sun Belt East Division last season and Mike Jarvis' diminutive point guard was the catalyst behind the regular-season championship.

Hollis Thompson, Georgetown: If the Hoyas are to make the NCAA tournament again and be a pest in the upper half of the Big East, then Thompson needs a breakout season.

Kyle Weems, Missouri State: Doug McDermott is the one everyone is talking about in the Valley, but let's not forget that Weems is the reigning MVC Player of the Year. Too bad for the Bears he's their only returning starter.

Kendall Williams, New Mexico: The sophomore guard was the leading scorer in four postseason NIT games for the Lobos and should only get better with the addition of Australian Hugh Greenwood.

The transfers

Dewayne Dedmon, USC: Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill firmly believes this JC transfer is an NBA talent who could dominate the post and average a double-double for SC.

Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State: The former UTEP big man is ready to have a bust-out season for a team that has serious bounce-back potential after a disappointing 2010-11 campaign.

Mike Rosario, Florida: The former Rutgers scoring guard finally has plenty of support around him and will put up numbers for a winner.

Rakim Sanders, Fairfield: The Boston College transfer should flourish after dropping down a level, and he should get coach Sydney Johnson another trip to the NCAA tourney. Johnson is beginning his first year at Fairfield after leading Princeton to the 2011 tourney.

Royce White, Iowa State: White is finally ready to be a star on the college scene after multiple transgressions at Minnesota.

Brandon Wood, Michigan State: The Spartans picked up a rare senior transfer (taking advantage of the graduate transfer rule) from Valparaiso who could be one of the best shooters in the Big Ten.

Tony Woods, Oregon: The embattled Woods arrived from Wake Forest after legal issues and has a chance to really shine as a double-double player for the first time in his career.

The freshmen

Bradley Beal, Florida: Beal has a chance to be a productive player in a frontcourt that has a vacuum after multiple seniors departed.

Gary Bell Jr., Gonzaga: Coach Mark Few has been anticipating Bell's arrival for over a year now. He's expected to step in and deliver right away.

Wayne Blackshear, Louisville: The Cardinals fancy themselves a Big East title contender, and that's partly because they consider Blackshear a star in the making.

Jabari Brown, Oregon: Brown was the star of the Ducks' trip to Italy with his scoring prowess, and expect that to continue in the Pac-12.

Jahii Carson, Arizona State: There is some question right now as to Carson's eligibility, but if he's good to go, the Sun Devils might become relevant in the Pac-12 again.

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Anthony Davis
Brendan NolanThere seems to be little doubt that freshman Anthony Davis will have a major impact for UK.

Erik Copes, George Mason: Copes was bound for George Washington before Karl Hobbs was fired; now he'll be a headline performer for the Patriots and first-year coach Paul Hewitt.

Anthony Davis, Kentucky: Davis has a chance to be the SEC Player of the Year and the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, so expect him to be on the midseason list when freshmen are allowed.

Andre Drummond, Connecticut: He will be an immediate star and help lift the Huskies into the national title chase again. He's more than likely a future top-five pick in the NBA.

Myck Kabongo, Texas: Coach Rick Barnes has had quite a bit of success with big-time freshmen guards, and Kabongo is next in line.

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky: Gilchrist will be another star on what will be a headline team throughout the season.

Johnny O'Bryant, LSU: Coach Trent Johnson needs the Tigers to start trending upward again, and he has a shot with the arrival of the big man from Mississippi.

LeBryan Nash, Oklahoma State: OSU is a bit of a mystery team in the Big 12, but the All-American from Dallas could push the Cowboys into contention.

Austin Rivers, Duke: Rivers will have the ball in his hands quite a bit and appears to be the next Duke star in a lengthy list of recognizable names.

Josiah Turner, Arizona: The Wildcats will win the Pac-12 regular-season title if Turner is as good as advertised.

Cody Zeller, Indiana: If coach Tom Crean is going to turn the Hoosiers into a relevant team this season, it will be because of Zeller and his impact in the Big Ten.

All Greg McDermott needed to hear came right after the end of the FIBA U-19 World Championships in Latvia, when the gold-medal-winning coach from Lithuania explained that his team had a great four years together.

"We've been together since June 20th," McDermott said of the Americans, who lost to Russia in the quarterfinals and finished in fifth place after Sunday's two-point win over Australia.

"There's no question that the timing and execution of the teams playing together is obvious," said McDermott, who took a break from recruiting as head coach of Creighton to watch his son Doug play for Team USA. "Our coaches have a short time frame to put together everything and have to keep it relatively simple due to the prep time."

Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, an assistant on the U.S. national team and the chair of the junior national team committee, said the U-19 has consistently been the hardest championship for the Americans to win. The tournament was held every four years from 1979 to 2007 (it's now every two), with the U.S. winning gold in 1979, '83 and '91. The Americans went four straight tournaments without winning gold before a team coached by Pitt's Jamie Dixon ended the drought two years ago in New Zealand.

This squad, which was snubbed by a number of high-profile underclassmen who were eligible but chose either summer school or working out at their respective schools, was coached by new George Mason coach Paul Hewitt.

Team USA lost an exhibition to Lithuania by 33 points, but then in the second round -- behind 35 points from UConn's Jeremy Lamb -- beat the eventual gold-medal Lithuanians by two in overtime 107-105. But the U.S. then lost the ensuing game against Croatia before the medal round and was upset by Russia before beating Poland and Australia in the consolation round.

"The 19 is the toughest for us to win,'' Boeheim said. "The other teams have been together for three to four years. They are there for the 16, 17, 18, 19. It makes it tougher for us to win. Lithuania was by far the best team and I was happy that we were able to beat them in a game. That was a huge, huge upset, but against Russia we couldn't make a 3-point shot. We had all new guys."

Dixon said he could tell while coaching the Americans two years ago that this tournament was the one the younger teams were hyped to win.

"They all build for it," Dixon said. "After that tournament, they usually go to the professional teams. We have a new team every year. The way the system is set up, the 19s is the culmination for the rest of the countries. We don't get all of our best players."

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Team USA
Hannah Johnston/Getty ImagesPlenty of players from the 2009 championship team enjoyed success upon their return to the States. Will the same happen this time?

Regardless of this year's so-so performance, you can expect a number of the leaders on this team to have standout seasons when they return to campus, just as players like Ashton Gibbs, Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack did after their experience in New Zealand.

"It validated everything for Gordon," Butler's Brad Stevens said. "He was someone who averaged 12 points and five rebounds in high school. He didn't know how good he was. That experience validated it for him. It showed that he's pretty darn good. Shelvin was already feeling he could play with anybody and it showed he was right."

Stevens is hoping the experience will have a similar effect for Khyle Marshall, who was a role player for the Bulldogs' national runner-up team this spring. His main responsibility was to rebound off the bench, but he'll be asked to do much more this season. In Latvia, Marshall averaged 5.7 points and three boards in 13 minutes a game.

"It was such a great experience for him, to represent the U.S., to travel abroad and to see how much it matters to other countries," said Stevens, who will assist Purdue's Matt Painter on the World University Games team that heads to China in August. "You can't put a price tag on that. Khyle is a guy who can find the basket in a number of different ways. The rest of the summer he'll hone his skills and get in the gym and make it a priority. He wasn't the first or second guy on a scouting report so that's a big step for him and he'll have to take the appropriate steps on how to handle it."

The tournament will be a difference-maker for a number of players.

Lamb (16.2 ppg, team-high 18 steals) will be the go-to scorer for Connecticut with Kemba Walker no longer around. Michigan's Tim Hardaway Jr., (9.4 ppg) will be counted on even more after Darius Morris stayed in the draft and was selected by the Lakers. Florida's Patric Young (9.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg), who was a beast around the basket (28 offensive rebounds), will be the focal point inside for the Gators with the departures of Vernon Macklin and Alex Tyus. Michigan State will lean heavily on Keith Appling (11 assists, seven turnovers) in Kalin Lucas' absence, while Illinois can certainly expect increased playing time and production out of big man Meyers Leonard (6.9 ppg, 5.2 rpg).

Florida coach Billy Donovan was in Colorado Springs as a court coach prior to the team leaving for Latvia. Donovan had to instruct Young to stop being a perimeter player and told him to run the floor, duck in and grab rebounds and finish.

Last season, Young didn't have to be an everyday player with Macklin, Tyus and Chandler Parsons around. That won't be the case this season.

"My hope for him is that he can become a consistent guy every day," Donovan said. "He has to be a guy who is consistent with effort, attitude all the way through. The simpler the better for him. He has to understand what our team needs. He has to do what he does and then work on everything else. He has to focus on how he can impact the game."

Two players in particular from this team really stood out in terms of a take-away experience: the aforementioned McDermott and Joe Jackson of Memphis.

The hometown hero Jackson competed with Antonio Barton at the point last season and will do so again. In Latvia, Jackson was solid from the free throw line (21-of-27) and averaged 11.6 ppg, but his assist (37) to turnover (30) ratio wasn't exactly ideal.

Nevertheless, Boeheim said Jackson showed him an ability to play the point. And he said the intensity of the games will only help him on a Tigers team with big expectations for next season.

That's exactly what Memphis coach Josh Pastner wanted him to experience.

"He had to continue to learn the game," Pastner said. "He had to continue to play against high-level teams in a structured environment -- not pickup games, real games, more game experience. There's no spot that's handed to him. We've got good players and good competition. Everyone will have to earn spots. But this gave Joe a lot of confidence."

McDermott didn't need any more confidence in his overall ability. While playing for his father in Omaha, he led the Bluejays in scoring (14.9) and rebounding (7.2) and was named to the USBWA freshman All-American team.

At the World Championship, he was third on the U.S. team in scoring (11.3 ppg) and made a team-high 13 3s.

"This was such a fabulous experience for my son to put on this jersey," McDermott said by phone from Riga, Latvia. "Doug's confidence is at an all-time high. As soon as he got the invitation he was doing the extra work in April, May and June. You can't put a price tag on this. It's one of the more special things for me as a father. My oldest son Nick was here with us and to share this experience with them, I can't ask for anything anymore as a dad."

In 2011-12, the Bluejays are expected to compete with Wichita State for the Missouri Valley Conference title. In addition to McDermott, Creighton also returns guard Antoine Young and a full season from big-man transfer Greg Echenique.

"We've got good pieces back," Greg McDermott said.

Creighton actually begins a five-day practice session on Saturday before heading off to the Bahamas on Aug. 11.

"I told Doug he can have Tuesday off," McDermott said. "We'll go easy on him. He came over here and played with guys who will be going to the NBA. That will end up being an incredibly valuable experience."

In the end, the Americans didn't medal. You can pick apart the roster selection or the coaching. The experience the opposing teams have over the Americans when they are together for several years can't be denied, but everything is fair game when there is a defeat.

But playing in these intense games -- at a high level, on the road, overseas -- will almost certainly benefit these players next season more than any pickup game or local tournament would have.

Some news and notes on this Wednesday afternoon:

• Team USA's two exhibition losses to Lithuania have caused some concern stateside, but the Lithuanians are considered the favorites heading into the U-19 World Championship tournament in Latvia this week.

The Americans lost 101-72 to the U-20 Lithuanian team and then 108-75 to the U-19 team, which got 23 points out of the Toronto Raptors' No. 5 draft pick Jonas Valanciunas.

The Americans start pool play Thursday against Egypt and play Serbia and China before the second round begins. Medal round games begin on July 9.

"Lithuania is the best team and we didn't play well,'' said Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim, who is the chair of the junior national team and helped select the squad in Colorado Springs earlier this month. "We're not as strong as we'd like. But we're better than we've played so far.''

Boeheim said UConn's Jeremy Lamb, expected to be a star on this squad, hasn't played as well as expected yet. In the two exhibition games, Lamb is shooting 22.2 percent on 3s and 35 percent overall. He's averaging 9.5 points a game. Butler's Kyhle Marshall is even worse, shooting 23.1 percent overall.

Boeheim also singled out Tony Mitchell, the former Missouri recruit who is headed to North Texas. Mitchell has taken only four shots, making one.

"They've gotten off to a slow start,'' Boeheim said. "They've struggled more than we thought they would.''

The surprise has been the play of Creighton's Doug McDermott, son of Bluejays coach Greg McDermott. The rising sophomore has been the most consistent player so far, averaging a team-high 13.5 points a game. He is shooting 61.1 percent from the field. Memphis' Joe Jackson is at 12.5 ppg on 40.9 percent shooting and Michigan's Tim Hardaway Jr. is averaging 11.5 points a game but is shooting a woeful 26.9 percent (taking a team-high 26 shots) and 16.7 percent on 3s (2-of-12).

It's perhaps worth noting that the foul calls on the road were noticeably different, with the two Lithuanian teams taking a combined 88 free throws to the Americans' 54.

"We knew this would be a tough tournament,'' Boeheim said. "We [also] don't have some guys who chose to go to summer school. That happens.''

Duke guard Austin Rivers or Ohio State freshman forward Jared Sullinger both chose to stay home rather than play. Clearly, Sullinger would have had a major impact on this team had he decided to play. The U.S. team got outrebounded by an average of 12 boards in the two games.

This is the same tournament in which the Americans won gold in New Zealand in 2009, the first time the U.S. had won the gold medal since 1991. Pitt's Jamie Dixon coached that team, assisted by Purdue's Matt Painter (who will coach the University Games team heading to China in August) and Southern Illinois' Chris Lowery. New George Mason coach Paul Hewitt is coaching this squad in Latvia, assisted by Saint Mary's Randy Bennett and Jacksonville's Cliff Warren, who was an assistant under Hewitt at Georgia Tech.

• The Washington Times reported on Shaka Smart's new deal with Virginia Commonwealth. The eight-year contract is worth $1.2 million annually. VCU got creative by bumping up his salary from $325,000 to $450,000 and adding in a supplemental income of $700,000 that is paid quarterly. Smart could have gone to a power-six job -- possibly NC State -- but stayed put with the Rams. The Final Four run pushed his package over $1 million, a significant bump for a school like VCU but also a necessity in order to stay competitive at an elite level. That's what Gonzaga and Butler have had to do to keep their respective coaches content.

• A number of college coaches are gearing up for 20 days on the road next month by finalizing their nonconference schedules now. One school that needs a quality nonconference slate is Marshall. Thundering Herd coach Tom Herrion fancies his team to be an NCAA tournament squad and a real challenger to Memphis in Conference USA. The Herd return Damier Pitts (16.2 ppg, 4.7 apg) at the point, whom Herrion said should be considered the top point guard in C-USA, along with last season's freshman of the year in the league in DeAndre Kane (15.1 ppg, 5.6 rpg). MU has four starters returning and brings in a recruiting class that has two highly rated JC transfers in power forwards Robert Goff and Dennis Tinnon. Shooting guard Justin Coleman, a one-time Louisville commit, is also eligible after sitting out the year. He was never able to get eligible for the Cardinals.

So what did Herrion do for his schedule? He is playing at Cincinnati in a multiple-team event that has three home games against low-level teams in Alabama State, Jacksonville State and Northwestern State. He will play the annual game in Charleston against West Virginia. That gives him two Big East opponents, one road and one neutral. The Bearcats will be a top-25 team in the preseason, and West Virginia will always be in play for a bid under Bob Huggins.

Herrion also did a home-and-home with perennial Atlantic Sun favorite Belmont, bought a home game against MAAC favorite Iona, has home games against MAC favorites Ohio and Akron and will play at UNC Wilmington out of the Colonial. Herrion is trying to grab a successful team from the A-10, Missouri Valley or CAA -- someone like an Old Dominion or Creighton. He'll need at least one more of those games.

Scheduling is an art form for these coaches. And if a school like Marshall can't get elite home-and-home games out of region, then it has to be creative by plucking some of the best mid-major schools for home-and-home series. That can be a plus for power-rating points. The C-USA schedule helps Marshall too, since the Herd will play perennial contenders Memphis and UAB twice as well as UCF, Southern Miss and upstart East Carolina in the unbalanced schedule.

"Now we've got to go out and win games,'' said Herrion, whose team was 22-12 (9-7 C-USA) in his first season as head coach in Huntington. "We've got to get another projected NCAA team. But we've got to go out and win those games. I do think we can be an NCAA tournament team. But we can't come out of Conference USA with six or seven or eight losses and expect to be.''

• Texas fans are probably down about losing three underclassmen to the NBA, but having a trio of three first-round players (Tristan Thompson, Jordan Hamilton and Cory Joseph) can come in handy. The Longhorns now have the most first-round NBA draft picks (eight) of any school over the past six years. Kansas and Kentucky are tied for second with seven. If you push it back to 2000, Texas is third with 10 but just one behind North Carolina and Kansas for the lead. Connecticut, Duke and Kentucky have had nine in that span. The Longhorns have also had six lottery picks since 2000, which is tied for fifth with Arizona. Kansas tops that list with nine, followed by UConn and Duke with eight and North Carolina with seven.

• St. John's is quietly putting together one of the top nonconference schedules in the country. The Red Storm will play at Duke, at Kentucky in the SEC-Big East Challenge, host UCLA, play in the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer with Arizona, Texas A&M and Mississippi State, and open up Dick Vitale Court against Horizon upstart Detroit. That's all with a team dominated by freshmen. Kudos to coach Steve Lavin, who isn't afraid to challenge his team.

Greg McDermott went from one of the worst jobs in the Big 12 to arguably the best in the Missouri Valley Conference.

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Greg McDermott
AP Photo/Dave WeaverGreg McDermott inherits a strong program at Creighton.

And he couldn't be happier.

In his four seasons at Iowa State, McDermott failed to get to the NCAA tournament; injuries, defections and a lack of overall talent all played a part. He said he had five seasons left on his contract because of an agreement he had with the school that any APR or NCAA issues attributed to the previous staff would add years to his deal. Still, Iowa State easily could have bought him out after year five if it had so desired.

McDermott got this rare lifeline for a remarkably fresh start only because former Creighton coach Dana Altman was plucked by Oregon to finally fill the Ducks' opening after the school had exhausted itself trying to land a Final Four coach.

If there was a comparable move in the last decade, it would be Steve Alford's decision to leave Iowa, one of the toughest jobs in the Big Ten, to go to New Mexico, one of the best in the Mountain West.

What is hard to comprehend if you're not in Omaha or Albuquerque is just how passionate the fans are about their home team, regardless of conference affiliation. The salary can push $1 million per year for the head coach. Both teams fill their 17,000-plus venues regularly.

Leaving Iowa for UNM was a great move for Alford as he has turned around the Lobos and made them regular NCAA tournament participants. Getting out of Ames and not taking the risk of being run out was an astute decision by McDermott, too.

If he can win at Creighton, where there will still be plenty of pressure since it is the city's version of a pro team, McDermott can have a highly rewarding and productive coaching life. Altman chose to stay multiple times at Creighton, actually taking the Arkansas job at one point and returning. He knew how good a gig Creighton was in college basketball.

"We have over 13,000 season-ticket holders and there are BCS schools that would die to have that kind of support,'' said McDermott. "We play in an arena that is as good as any. This has been one of the better jobs of this kind in the country and Coach Altman deserves [credit]. He left it in great shape and we hope to build upon what he started.''

Creighton has missed the NCAA tournament the last three years but still participated in the postseason. Altman led the Bluejays to the NCAA tournament seven times, including two second-round appearances.

McDermott said he can't say whether or not he would have been fired at Iowa State had he stayed and not made the postseason again.

"But I'm smart enough to understand that we're paid to win,'' McDermott said. "That will be one of my regrets at Iowa State, that I didn't achieve on the floor what we could. We were able to make a lot of progress and got the APR problem fixed, because when I took the job that was a problem.''

Iowa State's most significant loss was not being able to hold onto Wesley Johnson, who transferred to Syracuse and became a star for the Orange and a lottery pick. Had Johnson played at his peak with Craig Brackins, the Cyclones may have had a different outcome in the Big 12.

"I feel blessed because I landed at a great spot,'' McDermott said. "I loved my time at Iowa State and have great friends there. They're committed to winning. They've got a practice facility that will have a huge impact and give [new coach] Fred [Hoiberg] another resource. But recruiting is different at the mid-major level and I'm a better fit for this level than I was at the BCS level. I'm very comfortable with that.''

McDermott coached against Creighton at Northern Iowa in the Valley, going to the NCAA tournament three times in five seasons.

"At that point, Creighton was the benchmark for everybody in the league,'' McDermott said. "They were winning and winning consistently. That's what everybody aspires to do. Creighton has the resources and the facilities. There's no excuse not to be successful.''

Creighton, Wichita State and Southern Illinois have all upgraded coaching salaries and made it hard for coaches to leave -- as Altman, Gregg Marshall and Chris Lowery have proved the past three seasons. All three schools enjoy strong fan support. Expect Northern Iowa to join that group after upsetting Kansas in the second round of the NCAA tournament last March. UNI coach Ben Jacobson showed no desire to cash in on his success and leave the Panthers last season. He coached under McDermott and the two are close friends, so much so that Jacobson is the godfather of McDermott's daughter, Sydney, and McDermott's middle child, Doug, was granted a release from UNI to go play for his father at Creighton.

McDermott couldn't coach Doug at Iowa State. Doug wasn't talented enough to play in the Big 12 and McDermott didn't want to put his son in a precarious situation. Now, for the first time in Doug's life, he'll be coached by his father.

"It's the first shot at coaching one of my kids,'' McDermott said. "We're always gone in the spring and summer as a coach. You can't coach them and be gone one week or the next. Someone else has always done it. That's the case for most college coaches. ''

McDermott said he might redshirt Doug but will see how he develops. The Bluejays will be a factor in the MVC race behind favorite Wichita State with the return of Kenny Lawson Jr., who withdrew from the NBA draft as expected. Adding Rutgers big man Gregory Echenique is a huge plus. He was a medical redshirt due to an eye injury. He'll wear goggles but will be eligible to play in mid-December. Echenique won't be eligible for the first three marquee games -- against Iowa State in Des Moines (a game McDermott set up when he was in Ames) on Nov. 21, at Northwestern (Nov. 28) and hosting BYU (Dec. 1) in the MWC-MVC Challenge. But McDermott said he purposely scheduled three games from Dec. 18-22 (Idaho State, Western Illinois and Samford) at home to allow Echenique to play three games before the Valley season starts at Illinois State on Dec. 29.

McDermott, who made an astute hire in adding former Evansville and Hampton coach Steve Merfeld to the Creighton staff, said he hasn't signed his contract at Creighton but expects to soon.

"Had I been in my fifth year at Iowa State and not gotten the job done, then there would have been a certain level of stress, because your family is impacted,'' McDermott said. "You can lose your job and your family is impacted. But there are also expectations at a mid-major school that has BCS facilities and BCS expectations. There's still plenty of pressure to succeed. There's an excitement within me to have a fresh start and be at a place that is all about basketball. We have all the resources available to us to be successful.''