Published Saturday, May 12, 2012 AT 11:43 PM / Updated at 11:43 PM
How does Creighton take the next step?
World-Herald Sports Omaha World-Herald

While still enjoying a solid basketball reputation and top-10 attendance, the Creighton men’s basketball team’s stature has slipped below the top echelon of non-BCS schools over the past decade. To find out what it takes to once again breath such rarefied air, The World-Herald explored this topic by reaching out to officials from Xavier, Gonzaga and Butler — three schools that have separated themselves — and writers across the country, to see what Creighton has to do to reach the next level.

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We asked journalists from a local, Missouri Valley and national level to provide a short perspective on what Creighton needs to do reach the next level.

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Jay Bilas, ESPN
Reaching the “next level,” whether BCS or non-BCS team, requires an institutional commitment.  It is not just up to the coach or the athletic department, it requires the commitment of the institution from the top down.  That, in my judgment, is the difference between having good teams and having a program.

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Mike DeCourcy, Sporting News
I would say that I believe Creighton is nationally known. It has been consistently good for a considerable period of time.

If you’re talking about “taking the next step” to the level of Xavier, Gonzaga and Butler, though, it really isn’t all that complicated. And yet it is.

WORD CLOUD
Click the image above to see a word cloud of the key items that stand out from the comments about Creighton taking the next step.

It’s not complicated in the sense that what all those schools have done that Creighton has not is win big. Creighton didn’t even win its league last season. How can it consider the idea of being in the class of Xavier or Gonzaga or Butler when those schools have a combined 15 league titles in the past half-dozen years and Creighton has one?

It is complicated in the sense that each of the others is the product of specific circumstances that are profoundly different from Creighton’s. Each of those programs has a university-wide commitment to basketball success. That’s something Creighton probably already has. But Gonzaga has benefited from its geography. Xavier was recruiting at a high-major level two decades ago and has continued that to this day. Butler is in the middle of one of the richest basketball states in America — Indiana — and accelerated when IU basketball hit its roughest patch.

I think what Creighton is doing is great. I’m not a believer it has to be the next anything. If it happens to put together a run of Sweet 16 or Elite Eight or Final Four teams, it will be talked about the way people speak of those other teams. If it does not, it still will be a great program.

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Kevin White, Omaha World-Herald
Many want Creighton to commit to becoming a great defensive team. But the Jays aren’t built that way. There are two things, however, they could use to take that next step. One is an athletic, defensive-minded 6-foot-5 to 6-7 wing player who can block an occasional shot. (Not easy to find outside the power conferences, by the way.) And two is some luck in March. Creighton was underseeded last year, but its second-round matchup with North Carolina was even more unfortunate because of the way it matched up with the Tar Heels. And as any college basketball follower knows, you can’t become a national program without reaching the second weekend of the tournament on at least a semi-consistent basis.

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Sam McKewon, Omaha World-Herald
First, land the commitment of Omaha Central star Akoy Agau, who plays one minute from Creighton’s campus. After that, CU should play the tough games, of course, but the Bluejays should also schedule to get more visibility in basketball markets like Chicago, Indianapolis, Kansas City and New York. Next, leverage Greg McDermott’s strong relationship with Nike into special uniforms and looks. Creighton should be willing guinea pigs for Nike to do whatever it pleases. Finally, partner with Nebraska for an annual, rotating tournament on Thanksgiving weekend — CU, NU, a Big 12 team and a mid-major — that culminates with Jays vs. Huskers on Sunday night. Doc Sadler never would have approved, but Tim Miles — always with an eye on marketing — just might.

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Ryan Holmgren, Omaha World-Herald
Aside from the X’s and O’s, Creighton needs a more intimidating home atmosphere; an environment that can fluster opposing teams. Blowouts at home like last season against Wichita St. simply cannot happen if the Jays want to be a national program.

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Mark Emmert, Des Moines Register
Interesting question. I actually think Creighton is close to being in that conversation already. It could solidify its position nationally by getting to a Sweet 16 or two, of course, in addition to producing some more NBA-level talent. But really all the Bluejays need to do is keep winning 20-plus games per season, as they have been.

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Kirk Wessler, Peoria Journal-Star
Be aggressive with non-conference scheduling. Continue to recruit student-athletes who fit the Creighton program profile and don’t yield to the temptation to cut corners.

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Carson Tigges, Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier
Well, why are programs like Xavier, Gonzaga and Butler on a different level? They’re consistent year in and year out and go to NCAA Tournaments on a regular basis. If Creighton expects to be thought of in the same light as those schools, it has to be just as consistent.

Doing that is, obviously, easier said than done. But I tend to believe it often comes down to talent and how that talent compares to the other schools in your conference. It was hard to argue Doug McDermott wasn’t the absolute best player in the league last year and he was an All-American. Having that caliber of player helps with the aforementioned goals of being a good team every year. Of course, that type of player doesn’t come around often, but Creighton needs to continue to go out and find the best players they possibly can. I say that because I feel like the MVC will continue to trend upwards and playing in a good league is part of the battle. Have a good non-conference schedule and do everything you can to make the numbers (RPI, SOS) look good when people look at your name on a sheet of paper.

So, in short, Creighton needs to continue to have the talent that keeps them in the top three of the MVC, schedule a good non-conference, fight tooth and nail in league play and go to the NCAA Tournament. Winning a few games when you’re there certainly won’t hurt (see: Xavier, Butler, Gonzaga).

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