The Creighton men’s basketball team has played its last game of the 2011-12 season. The Jays’ loss to the University of North Carolina in the third round of the NCAA Tournament this past Sunday signaled the end of one of the most successful campaigns in recent memory.
The Bluejays finished the year with a 29-6 record overall, the most wins for Creighton since the 2002-03 season. The team finished second in the Missouri Valley with a 14-4 conference regular season record and captured the MVC Tournament title in St. Louis.
Creighton emerged victorious against a couple tough non-conference foes in San Diego State University and Long Beach State University, and knocked off regular season MVC champion Wichita State University in Wichita. All three teams made the Big Dance.
The Jays were rewarded for winning Arch Madness with an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, the first since 2007. The Jays were dubbed a No. 8 seed by the NCAA Tournament selection committee and were sent to Greensboro, N.C., to meet the No. 9 seed University of Alabama.
The Jays knocked off the Crimson Tide in a nail-biter to earn their first tournament win since 2002, before their tournament run came to an end against the No. 1 seed Tar Heels.
The team’s success resulted in plenty of national attention, both at the team and individual level. Creighton spent 15 out of the 19 weeks of the season ranked in one or both of the top 25 polls, and climbed as high as No. 12 in the USA Today/ESPN Coaches’ poll.
Sophomore forward Doug McDermott finished the season as the nation’s third leading scorer at 23.2 points per game. He was named a first or second team All-American by several media outlets and has also been named one of four finalists for the Naismith Award, which recognizes the top player at the Division I level.
Not only did the Jays put forth a winning product, they did so while playing an entertaining style of basketball that fans showed up in droves to watch.
Creighton finished in the top 10 of most offensive statistics including first in field goal percentage, second in team assists per game and seventh in points per game. The fans responded to the high-scoring style of play – and of course the winning – as Creighton finished seventh in the country in attendance at 16,664 fans per game.
Creighton cleaned up in conference awards as well. Doug McDermott became the first sophomore ever to win the Larry Bird player of the year award, while junior center Gregory Echenique became the first bluejay to win defensive player of the year honors. McDermott was named to the All-MVC first team, senior guard Antoine Young was named to the second team, junior guard Grant Gibbs was selected for the all-newcomer team, Echenique was tabbed to the all-defensive team and sophomore forward Ethan Wragge made the all-bench team.
It was an outstanding year for the men’s basketball program, but its conclusion signals the end for four seniors on the team. Young along with senior walk-ons forward Matthew Dorwart, guard/forward Derek Sebastian and guard Ross Ferrarini have reached the end of their careers in the blue and white.
But the future is bright. Young is the only senior on scholarship, meaning the team returns four of five starters and nine of ten rotation players. Next season redshirt freshmen center Geoff Groselle and guard/forward Nevin Johnson will move into the rotation and could be joined by a few new recruits.
Depth should be a real strength for the Jays in 2012. Young is a tough loss and several players will have to step up to fill the void left by the three-year starter at point guard. But freshman point guard Austin Chatman had a strong finish to the season and looks ready to step into the limelight.
Although fans might be saddened after the loss to North Carolina, one needs only to look to what the team has accomplished this season and what is coming back next year to know this program is heading in the right direction. 2011-12 was a tremendous year, but 2012-13 could very well turn out to be even greater.