The Creighton men’s basketball team is 7-0. The Jays are currently ranked No. 3 in the country in the Rate Percentage Index (RPI). They have five victories over Power 5 conference teams. Creighton is ranked No. 10 in the Associated Press poll this week, its second-highest ranking in program history.
Which all begs the question — is the hype warranted? Are the Bluejays a legitimate top-10 team in the nation?
The short answer: it’s too early to tell.
However, their small sample size to date has been encouraging. The Bluejays passed their biggest test of the nonconference season with flying colors, downing then-No. 9 Wisconsin 79-67. They then picked up three quality wins over Washington State, North Carolina State and Ole Miss en route to winning the Paradise Jam Tournament.
Senior guard Maurice Watson Jr. is second in the nation in assists, averaging 8.5 a game. His running mate junior guard Marcus Foster — who was named Big East player of the week this week — has lived up to his high expectations thus far, leading the Jays with 17.7 points per game on 50.6 percent shooting.
But perhaps the most encouraging sign from the Bluejays thus far has been the play from a pair of underclassmen and Omaha-natives, sophomore guard Khyri Thomas and freshman center Justin Patton.
Thomas has been one of the most efficient and impactful players in the country this season and currently ranks 10th in the nation in plus/minus rating, with 15.2. He is averaging 13.5 points per game on 64.4 percent shooting and has consistently filled the stat sheet in rebounds, assists and steals.
Patton — this week’s Big East freshman of the week — has stepped up as the star big man the Jays have so desperately missed the past two seasons. He is averaging 11.7 points per game on a staggering 77.5 percent from the field, which is eight in the nation. In addition, Patton is and grabbing 5.8 rebounds and blocking 0.7 shots per game.
Patton and Thomas have been major contributors to a Creighton offense that most expected to be dominated by Watson and Foster. Continued production from Patton and Thomas will give the Jays a balanced scoring that has proved to be virtually unguardable thus far.
Creighton’s hot start doesn’t come without a major red flag though — and that’s that the Jays are shooting at an out-of-this world rate.
Creighton is first in the country in 3-point percentage, shooting a staggering 48.6 percent. The Bluejays rank second in the nation in field-goal percentage at 54.6 percent and true shooting percentage with 64.6 percent.
To put it in simple terms, Creighton has been absurdly good offensively thus far.
Then, when you take a look at the Jays’ defensive performances in their first seven games, it doesn’t exactly look pretty.
Creighton is 137th in the country in opponent field-goal percentage with 43.9 percent. Creighton’s defense rating is 100.4, good enough for 164th in the country.
Greg McDermott’s past teams have never been known as defensive juggernauts, but those teams rarely had top-10 expectations on their backs.
Yes, the Jays have been shooting spectacularly thus far, which has helped cover up their defense blemishes. But this is a small sample size, and it would be absurd to assume that the Bluejays can continue to make shots at such a high clip for the rest of the season. A legitimate top-10 team doesn't have a defense ranked in the mid-hundreds.
The Bluejays face two more road contests in the final five games of their nonconference schedule. Creighton plays at Nebraska on Dec. 7 and at Arizona State on Dec. 20, but it’s realistic to look ahead and assume the Jays will be 12-0 heading into Big East play.
However, if Creighton hopes to prove its worth as a legitimate top-10 team in the nation, it will have to make drastic improvements defensively. Otherwise the likes of Villanova and Xavier will have a field day against the Jays in the Big East.