In his six years as head coach at Creighton University, Greg McDermott certainly has had some talented teams in his short tenure. In his first four years he coached a team that was led by his son – a kid named Doug – and throughout those four years Greg was able to assemble a squad that could compliment everything his son could do, going 107-38 and winning a Missouri Valley Tournament championship while taking his teams to back-to-back-to-back NCAA tournament berths.
What he brought to Omaha in those first four years was nothing short of electric, giving Bluejay fans a completely different look on the offensive end. Accustomed to the stationary pass-pass-pass-find-a-shooter-in-the-corner offense that Dana Altman put forth, Bluejay fans watched as McDermott shook that up and put an emphasis on a lightning quick offense centered around scoring in transition.
Though the 2014-15 season was a strange amalgamation of inexperience mixed with the severe offensive output lost due to graduation, it offered a basketball product that showed its growing pains and looked optimistically towards the future. The next to last place finish in conference and sub-.500 finish overall may look bad on paper, and fans still might have some lingering heartburn from the nine sub-four point losses, but success for the future was being built behind the scenes.
A lot of folks questioned McDermott’s recruiting acumen when he arrived on campus. What he had in his first four years was something incredibly special with the Missouri Valley footprint he inherited. Though these players weren’t necessarily cracking the top-100 of ESPN’s top recruits, they were pieces that fit the Bluejay puzzle and made basketball incredibly exciting to watch.
Since joining the BIG EAST, McDermott’s recruiting ability has been universally lauded, with signings of then-unknown and eventual 4-star center Justin Patton, 3/4-star and highly touted Kobe Paras, the international signing of Martin Krampelj, and according to 247sports, Creighton currently boasts the no. 17 recruiting class for 2017.
McDermott’s offense combines fast break and transition situations with in motion play calls. By the time the PG sets up in the half court, the rest of his players - ideally - have already set off ball screens and have begun to move. This allows an element of confusion on defense if it’s set in man-to-man, leaving them scrambling to not only get in proper position but also defend and slip by the screens.
This also allows Creighton to find an open man early on in the set to take a shot early on in the shot clock. When facing a team that plays a zone defense, the Bluejays run into a bit of trouble since their motion offense becomes stymied by the constantly moving set defense.
This offense was utilized to get a player like Doug McDermott open trail shots in transition. It allows a player like Maurice Watson to blow by the defense before they’re even set.
Consider this play against Georgetown:
Let’s break that down a little bit. What you see at the beginning is two high screens by Toby Hegner (#32) and Zach Hanson (#40) with Isaiah Zierden (#21) moving off the screens.
James Milliken (#23) sets an off-ball screen for Maurice Watson Jr. (#10) to get Watson free on the top of the key for a potential drive & score. Meanwhile, Milliken is opening himself up for a potential drive or mid-range jumper.
Hegner will pop out to the 3-point line while Hanson rolls to the basket. Zierden himself can take a 3-pointer. Quite the dangerous offense, with shooters sprawled across the court, but Zierden goes with a surefire, high percentage option:
Govan bites on Zierden, leaving Hanson wide open for a high percentage score. All of this happens in the blink of an eye, early in the shot clock, with the offense already moving before the defense can set up.
With the depth of talent McDermott has on the bench, he can afford to run a high tempo offense without the risk of wearing down his players. From top to bottom, there’s a good deal of talent that can score in multiple ways, with Watson and Mintz at point, Foster, Thomas, and Zierden at the 2-guard, Harrell & Paras at 3, Huff, Krampelj, and Hegner at 4, and Hanson (out until conference play) and Patton at 5.
On the defensive side, it’s a man-to-man set. If Greg McDermott has any glaring holes in a particular gameplan, it’s his defense, which he constantly strives to get better. In fact, someone on this site wrote a few articles on this subject last year!
I’d imagine it’s relatively difficult to coach the complexity of McDermott’s offense and couple it with a dynamite defense. In a perfect world, these scales are balanced and Creighton score 100+ points a game and allows 50. In our world, well... not so much.
Creighton’s future looks bright and prosperous with McDermott at the helm. If he can continue to recruit and sign talented classes at the clip he is now, then he’s going to be in Omaha for a long, long time.