Published Wednesday, February 19, 2014 AT 12:54 PM / Updated at 3:23 PM
Mad Chatter: McDermott’s NBA future; Huskers underrated on the bubble; Bluejay fans vs. me
Dirk Chatelain Omaha World-Herald

Stop beating a dead horse, Chatelain. Find someone else to write about. Give it up!

I hear these kinds of comments all the time when I praise Doug McDermott. So here’s my promise: I’ll stop promoting the guy … just as soon as people stop doubting/criticizing/comparing him to inferior players.

The latest flashpoint is an SI.com piece questioning McDermott’s NBA future — who’s he gonna guard? — and a mock draft putting him 18th overall. Eighteenth? Behind guys like Marcus Smart, Rodney Hood, Sam Dekker and Mitch McGary.

It’s not just the scouts who still wonder about McDermott. Tuesday I went on a little Twitter rant. Here’s a sampling of replies:

“(What) is a 6’7, 200lbs Dougie gonna do when he gets matched up with 6’8, 275lbs LeBron?  They both play the 3.”

“Scoring on (college players) is not even remotely close to scoring on athletes in the NBA.”

“Uh, how many future NBA players has he REALLY had to match up with for 40 minutes?”

“D-Mac is Adam Morrison with range. Lots of those analysts were burned projecting Morrison to succeed in the Association.”

“McDermott will not be good in the nba! 3 pt specialist at best.”

McDermott’s school, skin color and senior status (the more we see a player, the more we pick him apart) have conspired to make him — in my view — an underrated prospect. Why do I think so?

Because I’ve watched him humiliate some of the biggest, toughest, most athletic defenses in college basketball.

The past two seasons, McDermott has played 11 games against Top-25 defenses, according to Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency ratings. I think we can all agree there’s no shortage of athletic, physical forwards on these rosters:

Wisconsin
Wichita State (three times)
Cincinnati
San Diego State
Arizona State
St. John’s (twice)
Villanova (twice)

Just to be absolutely fair to McDermott critics, let’s throw in Duke (the NCAA tournament loss when he struggled).

His averages in those 12 games? 28.4 points on 54.2-percent shooting.

If you compare Doug McDermott to Kyle Korver, Matt Harpring, Adam Morrison, Steve Novak or your chosen white guy who either flamed out or became a role player in the NBA, then you haven’t watched enough McDermott.

His offensive skill set is so much more advanced than 99 percent of draft prospects. And he’s improved more from age 19 to 22 than almost any player his age, college or pro. There’s no reason to think he’ll stop finding new ways to score.

Don’t believe me? Listen to a guy who’s seen him up close, Villanova coach Jay Wright.

“I think I have a unique perspective in that I watched him, I was with the USA team last summer when he played with the developmental team against the pros. He played very well. Sometimes you watch a guy in college and you try to think about how that’s going to transfer to NBA. But I saw it and everything he does here in college, he did this summer with those guys.

“I think he is as complete a player — and I do not use that term loosely — as complete a player with size as I’ve ever seen. At 6-8, 6-9, there’s nothing he can’t do. He can take you off the dribble, he guards — he’s tough as hell guarding — he defends, he rebounds, he moves without the ball. He’s the best post player that we played against and he’s the best perimeter player and maybe one of the best passers. And he’s 6-8, 6-9. He’s as good a basketball player as I’ve seen.”

On Monday, Wright was on The Herd on ESPN Radio, where he elaborated:

“Whatever you do defensively, every time he’s involved in a screen, if you switch it, he slips it every time. If you try to trail, he curls and beats you every time. That sounds simple, but when you play against other teams, OK, you might switch one time and the guy might forget to slip that time. He’ll slip the second time. But he makes the perfect decision every time. I’ve never seen a player like this, with all his skill level and his size.”

(By the way, Doug Gottlieb wrote a pretty fair assessment of McDermott here.)

Can McDermott defend? Who knows. But if guys like Korver, J.J. Redick, J.R. Smith and Kevin Martin can be NBA starters, why can’t McDermott? Teams drafting in the 8-15 range would be foolish to bypass an elite offensive player because he may be a defensive liability.

I come back to the comparison Grant Gibbs used two whole years ago — Antawn Jamison, who according to this blog, is “an all-time bad defender.” Jamison made two All-Star teams and from 2000-09 averaged 20-plus points per game. Gibbs’ remark sounded ambitious at the time, but as McDermott continues to improve, I think it’s about right.

My guess is McDermott will be the third-best player on a non-playoff team. Or the fourth-best player on a contender. Good enough to make a lot of NBA teams look bad for bypassing him.

* * *

>> Let’s do a little blind comparison of NCAA tournament profiles:

Team 1
Record: 14-10/6-6
RPI: 53
SOS: 11
Best RPI wins: 18, 49, 68
Worst RPI losses: 88, 98, 135

Team 2
Record: 14-10/6-6
RPI: 52
SOS: 23
Best RPI wins: 15, 16, 33
Worst RPI losses: 108, 113, 165

Who ya got? They’re almost exactly the same! Team 1’s losses are a little better. Team 2’s wins are a little better.

Well, Team 1 is Tennessee, which according to Bracket Matrix, is in 57 of 83 NCAA tournament projections.

Team 2, as you might have guessed, is Nebraska, which is in 3 of 83 bracket projections.

How do you explain the difference? Maybe it’s the computers. Tennessee’s ratings according to KenPom/Sagarin/BPI are 19, 39 and 41. Nebraska’s ratings are 58, 62, 71.

OK, let’s add Team 3 to the mix. Its computer numbers are extremely close to NU’s — 54, 55, 70. The rest of its profile:

Team 3
Record: 15-9/6-6
RPI: 58
SOS: 24
Best RPI wins: 15, 22, 35
Worst RPI losses: 74, 140, 223

The wins are similar to Nebraska’s. So are the losses. The RPI and SOS are almost exact. The record is one game better, but the conference strength (not listed) isn’t as good.

Who is it? Georgetown, which like Nebraska, endured a five-game losing streak in January, got a huge win against Michigan State recently and is currently red-hot.

How many bracket projections does Georgetown make? 39 of 83.

Here’s my point: Selecting and prognosticating is a subjective exercise and Nebraska likely isn’t going to get the benefit of the doubt because they’re, well, Nebraska. But the longer NU stays in the mix, the more respect it will get. Even wins against Penn State and Purdue would help because it gives committee members another opportunity to say, “Hey, Nebraska won again.”

>> Remember Steve Spurrier’s accusations that a Big Ten school tried to negatively recruit against the Gamecocks? His quote was featured prominently on ESPN.com and SI.com last week.

Sources at South Carolina now say the Big Ten school was Nebraska. I don’t know why it was a story. Doesn’t it happen all the time in recruiting? You don’t think Gamecock coaches mentioned to McClain that Nebraska is covered in snow and hasn’t gone to a BCS bowl in 13 years?

>> According to this thorough SB Nation analysis, Bo Pelini has work to do on the recruiting trail.

>> Oklahoma released a sport-by-sport list of secondary NCAA violations. And it’s entertaining.

>> Best dunker of all-time? I posed that question on Twitter the other night. Here’s how the results broke down. To me (a die-hard Dominique Wilkins fan growing up), the answer is Vince Carter and it shouldn’t be that close.

>> Russia’s hockey failure, through the eyes of Michael Rosenberg.

>> Good piece here on the man who will play the biggest role in Curt Tomasevicz’s medal hopes this weekend, driver Steve Holcomb, who won bronze in the two-man bobsled.

>> Wichita State on the cover of Sports Illustrated? Wow. As incredible as Creighton’s last 12 months have been, Wichita’s past year has been even better.

>> Chris Jones profiles the guy who won ESPN’s bracket contest last year. Good stuff.

>> Let’s finish with two more Creighton items.

Communication failure is, unfortunately, part of blogging. But it seems to happen more often when I write about Creighton hoops. Monday, in the middle of a 1,600 word post, I wrote two paragraphs about the CU/NU fan split in Omaha:

No disrespect to Creighton basketball, which is first-class all the way, from its coach, to its players to its gameday atmosphere. Honest to goodness, the entertainment value of Sunday’s blowout win at CenturyLink was on par with anything in the country. CU fans are living the dream of every hoops nut (and sportswriters following them are having a blast, too). Their best player, I would argue, is the most impressive scorer in college basketball in the past decade. And their team is absolutely a Final Four candidate.

But…

The red “N” has mystical powers in this state. And if Miles really gets it going in Lincoln, if victory becomes habit, there will be so many Husker basketball fans coming out of the woodwork Billy Bluejay won’t know what hit him. Even in Omaha (where it sometimes seems like Nebraska basketball doesn’t exist), the Huskers will be No. 1 again, not because Creighton’s base will erode, but because NU’s base will explode.

To say Jay fans didn’t like this would be an understatement. I don’t mind them disagreeing with the opinion. But as they too often do, they misrepresented the opinion in order to more easily disagree with it (all the while agreeing with the basic point). Let me present an email from Pat:

Dirk:

I read your column from yesterday, where you suggested (and I’m paraphrasing) that Omaha would be a Husker Hoops haven (and people in Omaha would forget about Creighton basketball) if Nebraska could get it rolling in basketball.  

Putting aside for the moment that you wrote about Nebraska overtaking Creighton for hoops dominance in Omaha on the day after one of CU’s biggest home wins in decades while CU has a top-10 RPI and just a few months after Creighton throttled Nebraska on the court, I think you need look no further than Milwaukee to see that your premise is simply not correct. 

Once Marquette had some success in basketball, its fan base got really energized and Marquette continues to draw 15,000+ to its home games (Marquette averaged 15,138 fans/game last year), despite being in the shadow of mighty Wisconsin, which has been successful for a long time and which plays under a legendary coach (and averaged 17,181 fans/game last year).

Madison and Milwaukee are less than 80 miles apart.  There is no reason that Creighton/Nebraska can’t find themselves in a similar situation as Marquette/Wisconsin, where both teams share the spotlight, and where the Milwaukee sportswriters don’t have such an agenda promoting Wisconsin and downplaying the success of Marquette.

In any event, I’ll stop writing now because I’m sure you have some research to do so that you can get a head start on a full page feature about Nebraska hosting an NIT game, right next to the small blip about Creighton earning a 2 seed in the NCAA tournament.  Good luck with that.

Pat

This was pretty typical of the feedback Monday. We could focus on the “agenda” accusation — I’m quite certain that Bo Pelini, Bill Callahan, Barry Collier and Doc Sadler would disagree. I’ve written more positive words about Creighton basketball the past three years than just about any sportswriter in the country. We could focus on the lead paragraph, which bears no resemblance to what I wrote. But I posted Pat’s email because I think we actually agree!

Wisconsin/Marquette is exactly the comparison I used on Twitter (before reading Pat’s email) to describe NU/Creighton. A friend of mine is a Milwaukee native and Marquette fan. I asked him what the fan split is in Milwaukee. He did a little thinking, a little digging and decided it was 60/40 Wisconsin.

That’s after being overwhelmingly Marquette in the 70s. That’s how I envision Omaha if the Huskers start winning consistently, 60/40 red.

My friend said something else that may apply to CU/NU, though. He said that in Milwaukee, many people root for both teams. I think you’ll see that in Omaha, too, especially with casual basketball fans. Folks here love a winner. Doesn’t matter what color they wear.

>> One of my favorite Creighton critics tweeted me Tuesday and told me I explained my Creighton vs. Nebraska position better on Nick Bahe’s show than I did in the blog. Bahe and I also covered Doug McDermott and Husker hoops. Here’s the podcast (segment 3, 2/18/14).

>> Creighton plays at Marquette tonight for the first time in 16 years! (Same week, coincidentally, that Nebraska last played in the NCAA tournament). I pulled the Rich Kaipust game story from that 1998 NIT game (below).

At the time, Rodney Buford was a junior, Ryan Sears and Ben Walker were freshmen and Creighton hadn’t been to the postseason since ’91. Dana Altman’s program was taking baby steps. (This is about the time in high school I started rooting for Creighton. As a CU fan pointed out, I may have been the original Jaysker.)

One year later, of course, Creighton broke through in the NCAAs, beating Louisville in the first round. The program hasn’t been the same since.

Enjoy:

After 30 minutes of steady control by Creighton Wednesday night, Marquette still found enough time left to reverse things in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.

The Golden Eagles outscored Creighton 32 — 11 over the final 10 minutes to pull out an 80 — 68 victory at the Bradley Center. The NIT loss ended the Bluejays’ season at 18 — 10.

“I thought it was a good ballgame, ” CU Coach Dana Altman said. “Both teams played awfully hard and with a lot of emotion and a lot of spirit. We just didn’t make the plays down the stretch.”

Until midway through the second half, Creighton was scoring consistently on Marquette — the top defensive team in Conference USA this season — and held a 57 — 48 edge. Still ahead 61 — 55 with eight minutes left, the Bluejays then managed just seven free throws the rest of the way.

“I think we played real good when we had to, ” Marquette senior Aaron Hutchins said. “We played great defense down the stretch and that’s something we’ve been looking for all year. They were shooting like 50 percent (at halftime), and that’s uncharacteristic of Marquette basketball.”

Rodney Buford, returning home to Milwaukee, scored a game — high 24 points for Creighton and Doug Swenson added 20. Hutchins led Marquette with 19 points, with former Lincoln East player Mike Bargen adding 12 points, six rebounds and three steals.

Marquette, the NIT runner — up in 1995, advanced to a second — round game with Auburn. Creighton watched its best season since 1990 — 91 end with a fourth straight loss.

“I think we were fortunate, being down seven as late in the game as we were, to make the move that we made, ” Marquette Coach Mike Deane said. “At the same time, I wasn’t overly concerned. I thought we could make a move, I just didn’t know when it would be.”

Marquette trailed 62 — 55 before three straight Creighton fouls on the offensive end led to six points for the Golden Eagles. Joel Templeman and Kevin Mungin were whistled for moving screens, and Buford was called for a push away from the ball.

“We had a couple of those called, they had a couple called,” Deane said. “It was unfortunate that they had them called at that particular time.”

Creighton still was holding a 66 — 63 edge after two free throws by Swenson with 5:08 left. Back — to — back baskets by Hutchins and Richard Shaw then pushed Marquette ahead 67 — 66 — its first lead of the second half.

The Golden Eagles then put some distance between themselves and the Bluejays when Bargen and Jarrod Lovette hit 3 — point shots, opening a 75 — 66 cushion with 2:21 remaining.

“We made some adjustments defensively, ” Deane said. “We put Mike Bargen on Rodney Buford and he did an excellent job, and I think the crowd played a big role in Creighton’s inability to get much going.”

Creighton missed its final six shots from the floor to shoot 44 percent for the game (22 of 50). It was only the 13th time all season that Marquette (19 — 10) allowed an opponent to hit more than 40 percent.

“For the first 18 minutes I thought we really had a pretty good handle on things, ” Altman said. “Aaron Hutchins got away from us right there at the end of the half and that really tightened things up.”

Behind 16 points from Buford and 14 from Swenson, Creighton came from 8 — 2 down to build a 33 — 26 first — half lead. Hutchins, a 5 — foot — 10 guard, then scored the Golden Eagles’ next nine points — capped by a 3 — pointer with six seconds left — to cut the deficit to 36 — 35 at halftime.

“That kind of started our decline defensively, ” Altman said. “Then we give up 45 points in the second half and just don’t get the stops we need.”

Buford, from Vincent High School, and CU freshman guard Ben Walker, from Oak Creek High, both received light ovations in pregame introductions before a crowd of 4,264.

“It felt good because a lot of people haven’t seen me play since high school, ” Buford said. “It’s nice to see people come out and support me. But I was kind of disappointed we couldn’t get a win out of this.”

Two days later, Kaipust wrote this about CU’s preparation for the ’98-99 season:

If Creighton is satisfied with winning 18 basketball games and making postseason play this season, the Bluejays probably could go through the motions in the spring and summer.

If they want more, CU Coach Dana Altman said, it’s not going to be that easy.

“It’s just a process, ” Altman said. “We’ve got to continue to improve our work ethic. We’ve definitely got to improve our self — discipline and the way we think the game, and the toughness we show on the boards and on the defensive end.

“Those are developed through a great offseason and through young men having an investment in the program and just saying, ‘Hey, no way are we going to let this thing slide.’ ”

Creighton wrapped up a surprising 18 — 10 season last week with a first — round loss at Marquette in the National Invitation Tournament. Since then, the Bluejays have had a few days to break down what it has all meant.

“We met in Milwaukee for quite a while with the team and we told them what our expectations were, ” Altman said. “And it was interesting listening to what theirs were. I think they kind of have the same goals that we do and want our program to be in the same spot.”

On paper, Creighton likely will be among the favorites next fall when the Missouri Valley Conference preseason poll comes out. The Bluejays lose just one player and return Rodney Buford (All — MVC), Ryan Sears (MVC freshman of the year) and Doug Swenson (sixth man of the year).

“I told our guys just because we’re going to be a year older doesn’t mean we’re going to be a year better, ” Altman said. “Other coaches have said that … I’m not coming up with anything new there. Just like this year, everybody thought Southwest Missouri (tied for third) and Northern Iowa (ninth) were teams to beat because they had everybody back.”

Creighton likely will add at least one recruit when the spring signing period starts April 8. Mostly, though, Altman will watch over the 14 already on his roster.

“It’s pretty easy to tell, really, who’s down there in the weight room working hard, who’s really making an effort in their individual workouts,” Altman said. “Then you listen to the guys from when they’re playing and they know who’s playing hard and who’s not, who’s working on things they’re weak on and who’s just out there messing around. We’ll know.”

One thing that needs to surface for Creighton is leadership. Although Sears, sophomore Matt West and redshirt freshman Justin Haynes all set good examples with their work, all three are young and quiet.

“We don’t have somebody who says, ‘We’re going to play at 4 o’clock, so be there and let’s get it going, ‘ ” Altman said. “It’s just nobody’s personality on the team. Some individuals have got to develop that on their own so that we get a little better leadership.”

Sears and Ben Walker, CU’s starting guards, should benefit from having their freshman years out of the way. Junior — college transfers Swenson and Corie Brandon also should be better acclimated.

“I think we’re getting a lot closer to having all the pieces of the puzzle,” Altman said. “We just have to have a great offseason and continue to add quality players.”

Epilogue: The next year, Altman signed a kid from Pella, Iowa, named Kyle Korver.

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