Greg McDermott delivered a simple message to his Creighton basketball team at the close of Thursday's practice.
“No more Marquette,'' McDermott told his players. “We'll start thinking about them again at about 6:30 on Sunday night.''
The Bluejays had spent their practices on Christmas night and Thursday getting an early look at the problems Marquette could pose in their Big East opener on New Year's Eve.
Before that, Creighton faces a 4:07 p.m. Sunday game against Chicago State at the CenturyLink Center. The Bluejays will focus on the Cougars in practices Friday and Saturday.
“We have to use this as another opportunity to get better,” guard Jahenns Manigat said.
Chicago State is 5-7, with its best win coming against Creighton's old Missouri Valley foe, Southern Illinois. But the Cougars caught McDermott's eye in several losses.
They lost in overtime to DePaul, one of the teams Creighton will face in the Big East. The Cougars were in tight games against Illinois and Illinois State before those teams pulled away at the end.
“Chicago State is a little better than I'd like them to be,” McDermott said. “They got blown out by Cincinnati (102-62) in their last game, but they've played some people tough.
“They use multiple defenses, and they're changing it up all the time. They have some guys that are very capable shooters. We're going to have to be ready to play.”
Because of the short turnaround between the next two games, McDermott said, he felt it was important to introduce the scouting report on Marquette in the last two practices.
His players agree.
“We got a look at Marquette,” Manigat said, “and then we'll be able to flip the switch back on for them when we get back to practice on Monday.”
guard Grant Gibbs said getting a taste of the game plan for Marquette won't distract the Bluejays from the task at hand in the next couple of days.
“Obviously, everyone is excited about the Marquette game, but we have a very important one before that,” Gibbs said. “I hope we have a mature enough group that this isn't going to be a problem.
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“I think we have enough veterans on this team that have been in situations like this that there is really no game on our schedule that we can overlook.”
That point might have been reinforced earlier this season when Creighton was coming off its first loss of the season against San Diego State in the Wooden Legacy tournament. After a day off, the Bluejays played George Washington in the final game of the tournament.
Whether they overlooked the Colonials or simply were off their game, the Bluejays came out flat and lost 60-53.
Creighton has reeled off four straight wins since the back-to-back losses to improve to 9-2. The victories have come by margins of 17, 15, 37 and 14 points against Long Beach State, Nebraska, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and California.
Those four games came in a span of 19 days after Creighton had played seven times in the first 23 days of the season.
“We've really had a long time between a couple of these last games,” Manigat said. “We need something to get us up to game speed and game action against an opponent other than ourselves. We're looking forward to this Chicago State game.”
McDermott said he would have preferred to play the Cougars either on Friday or Saturday but that it couldn't be worked out. He said he felt it was important that the Bluejays play a game before opening conference action. His players concur.
“We only take two days off, but that practice on Christmas night it feels like you've been off longer than that,” Gibbs said. “You're laying around over the holiday, and travel obviously has something to do with it.
“I think it's good to get one more game before we get into the thick of the conference.”
There is, of course, great excitement about the Bluejays' Big East debut, both inside and outside the program. The 9 p.m. contest will come against the preseason favorite in the new conference. It will be the last of the five league openers televised by Fox Sports 1.
Toss in that the game will be played on New Year's Eve, and the players know the CenturyLink should be rocking that night.
“Any time you have a little bit later start, the fans are going to be a little more rowdy,” Manigat said. “I think the fans will be as loud as they possibly can, and that's a good thing for us.”
Manigat and Gibbs both figure the atmosphere could be similar to the 2012 BracketBusters game against Long Beach State, which also started at 9 p.m.
“Our fans celebrated a national drinking holiday that day,” Gibbs said, smiling. “Hopefully, it will be rocking like that against Marquette. There will be a buzz in the air, no pun intended.”