Published Wednesday, February 20, 2013 AT 1:22 PM / Updated at 3:45 PM
Mad Chatter, Feb. 20
Dirk Chatelain Omaha World-Herald

Thirty minutes in the locker room. That’s how long Greg McDermott met with his team following Creighton’s easy but ugly win over Southern Illinois.

The Jays haven’t looked like themselves in about three weeks, and Tuesday night was another illustration of the new reality. 59 points? Against Southern Illinois? What is that?

I expected McDermott to issue a routine post-game report to the media. Talk about how tough Southern was. How any win is a good win this time of year. Yada, yada, yada.

Instead, he delivered the speech I’ve been waiting for. A message of purpose and urgency. He went right to the heart of the matter.

“Our message in the locker room is we’ve got to find a way to capture the enthusiasm and the enjoyment with which these guys have played with each other in the past.”

Part of it was pressure, McDermott said, the burden of expectations. Part of it is the bumps and bruises of a long season.

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“But we’ve got to find a way to find it.

“As I told these guys, it’s an unbelievable group to coach. Yet if they have a fault, their fault is that they’re too good of guys. And they probably don’t demand as much of each other as they should demand of each other at times.

“Those attributes are going to get them a long ways in life. They’re going to be really successful because of that. They’re going to be great husbands, they’re going to be great fathers. But it takes a little bit more to be a teammate sometimes. That’s what we’re trying to capture. I think we can get there, I really do.”

Wow. Few coaches tell you what they actually think of their team. And even fewer articulate it in a way that enlightens you.

I wasn’t there in person, but I was riveted by the video. Especially when McDermott subtly called out Grant Gibbs, who’s one of the best leaders he’s ever been around. “But he’s also a really nice guy.”

At times this season, I’ve thought McDermott didn’t have a high enough standard. He seemed content with a certain level of performance.

He scheduled non-conference games in order to boost Creighton’s RPI, not prepare it for the NCAA tournament. Before matchups with vastly inferior teams, he went out of his way to talk up the opponent, as if to persuade the public of CU’s degree of difficulty. He has occasionally been too complimentary of his players.

Face it, Creighton is too soft too often. Not physical enough at the guard spots, on either end of the floor. And too reliant on the 3-point shot. McDermott seemed resigned to those flaws. Satisfied to win 30 games and bow out of the NCAA tournament before things got serious.

The past three weeks have changed everything. Now Creighton isn’t fighting for a Sweet 16 bid, it’s fighting for legacies and reputations. Of Gibbs and Echenique, even Doug McDermott.

The Jays’ physical deficiencies aren’t going to change. But Tuesday night, Greg McDermott made it clear he wouldn’t sit back and watch a dream season slip away. He wasn’t too nice of a guy.

Deliver that speech after a loss and it comes across as panic. But do so after an easy win — with three games left — and it carries weight, both in public and inside the locker room. It’s almost as if he rehearsed it.

“I love my guys, I really do. And I want so much for them to achieve all their goals,” McDermott said. “But they’re going to have to step out of their comfort zone a little bit if we’re going to get there. That’s what we’re going to try to accomplish the next few days.”

The coach put himself out there. Now we find out if Feb. 20 is too late to inspire change.

* * *

>> Monday on Twitter, I wrote that if the Husker athletic department put together the top 5 games from the Devaney Center (1991-94), I’d buy it in a heartbeat. So of course Sam McKewon, seasoned reporter that he is, asked which ones I’d pick.

Here’s my starting five:

– Michigan State ’90-91 (Beau Reid beats Steve Smith and the No. 5 Spartans)

– Oklahoma State ’91-92  (Huskers blow out Byron Houston and the 20-0 ‘Pokes)

– Kansas ’91-92 (Jamar Johnson’s buzzer-beating 3 from the corner beats No. 3 KU)

– Missouri ’92-93 (Freshman Erick Strickland scores 28 and NU win in OT, 88-87)

– Oklahoma State ‘93-94 (On Senior Day, Eric Piatkowski outduels Big Country)

My bench:

– USC ‘91-92 (Harold Miner scores 43, but Nebraska wins going away)

– Kansas ’92-93 (A second-half rally over No. 3 KU with Dickie V courtside)

– Kansas ‘93-94 (NU jumps out to a 58-34 lead at half, then holds on to win 96-87)

What am I forgetting, Husker fans?

>> Indiana showed its mettle finishing off Michigan State last night. I love the Hoosiers’ balance and poise. They can defend, too. Miami may be the hottest team in the country, but Indiana is the best.

Don’t count out Michigan in the Big Ten. The Wolverines are two games back, but they host IU the final day of the season. Which means Indiana would need to lose that one — and another game. The best chance is at Minnesota next week.

>> Here’s my top 5 seeds in each NCAA tournament region:

Midwest:
1– Indiana, No. 1 overall seed
2– Arizona
3– Syracuse
4– Kansas State
5– Marquette

South:
1– Miami
2– Florida
3– Georgetown
4– Butler
5– Ohio State

East:
1– Duke
2– Michigan
3– Kansas
4– Oregon
5– Wisconsin

West:
1– Michigan State
2– Gonzaga
3– Louisville
4– New Mexico
5– Oklahoma State

The toughest decisions were choosing the fourth No. 1 — I gave the edge to Michigan State, though Michigan has a great chance to seize it down the stretch; and the fourth No. 3 seed — I chose Georgetown.

>> Wichita State’s win over Indiana State did two things: It ruined any Sycamore hopes of an NCAA at-large bid. And it assured that Creighton will need to win both Valley games next week to get even a share of the conference title.

>> North Carolina to Big Ten? It’s just a rumor. But it makes more sense than Maryland or Rutgers. Carolina has the academic reputation (the latest scandal notwithstanding), flagship program (basketball) and demographics (it’s a booming state) any conference commish would covet. And remember, Jim Delany is a Carolina alumnus.

I wrote last fall that Georgia Tech and UNC had the highest odds of ending up in the Big Ten. Trouble is, nobody wants to be the one that breaks up the ACC. Carolina’s departure, especially, would immediately ruin the league.

>> You’d think small-budget schools would be opposed to recruiting deregulation, which allows the Alabamas of college football to spend gobs and gobs of money on Fatheads and recruiting brochures. You’d be wrong.

>> A fascinating column on paranoia in South Africa and why Oscar Pistorius may be the next O.J. Simpson.

>> Five Florida high school teams have forfeited to avoid playing an 11-year-old point guard.

>> Husker basketball assistant Craig Smith tweeted that he broke his nose at practice after Shavon Shields “got the best of me.” Shields was whistled for a Flagrant 1. Iowa will get two free throws to open Saturday’s game.

>> In case you missed it, the World-Herald received a big honor last week from the Associated Press Sports Editors. We’re one of only five sports departments in the country with circulation over 75,000 to be awarded a “Grand Slam.” The others: the New York Times, Washington Post, Kansas City Star and Buffalo News. But we take one game at a time around here. So if you have tips on how we can improve, let us know.

>> Finally, new LSU offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will make $600,000 this year. His salary will jump to $1.3 million in 2014 and $1.5 million in ’15. Two thoughts: Somewhere in Baton Rouge, the LSU tennis coach just said, “Well, there goes my raise.” And for that much cash, Cameron better take over Les Miles’ clock management at the end of games.

About Dirk Chatelain

Dirk Chatelain is a staff writer for The Omaha World-Herald and covers Nebraska football and general assignments. You can follow Dirk on Twitter (@dirkchatelain) or email him at dchatelain@owh.com