The Creighton Bluejays will open the 2012-13 season with a surprising 15th ranking in the USA Today Coaches’ Poll. And lucky for skeptics and believers alike, the Bluejays will have ample opportunity to prove their true quality early in 2012.
A year ago, Creighton fans knew that they had a special team, despite a 33rd preseason ranking in the same coaches’ poll. But their non-conference schedule kept their ability a secret later into the season.
For better or worse, mid-major teams are largely weighed by their success against major conference opponents. And Creighton’s three major conference opponents in 2011 were Northwestern, Iowa and Nebraska, who all finished below .500 in Big Ten play.
In 2012, Creighton’s non-conference schedule once again features three major conference teams. While this obviously includes their annual matchup with Nebraska; Northwestern and Iowa have been replaced with Wisconsin and California. Wisconsin finished one game out of first place in the Big Ten a year ago and California finished one game out of the Pac-12 lead.
Following impressive, although expected, victories over Northwestern and Iowa last year, Creighton clearly demonstrated that it was a contender. But the overall performances of the Wildcats and Hawkeyes last year showed that Creighton had perhaps not proved as much as previously thought.
But that will all change in 2012. Wins against Wisconsin and California do not just prove competence, they prove excellence. Opening 2012 with victories of this caliber will place Creighton among the elite of college basketball, not just among tournament contenders, as their wins over Northwestern and Iowa did last year.
And the best (and most obvious) part for the Bluejay faithful: Creighton returns enough talent to win these games.
Creighton returns a staggering nine out of their top 10 scorers from the 2011-12 season. In fact, Antoine Young is the only player who averaged more than one point per game a year ago not returning for the 2012-13 season. Adding the star power of Player of the Year hopeful Doug McDermott, the Bluejays have the firepower to achieve great things this season.
But the path to demanding respect on the national stage begins with defending a 15th national ranking, which is the highest of any mid-major in the country. Returning all but one offensive contributor from last year and facing a non-conference schedule ripe with opportunities for statement wins, the Bluejays will not have to wait to validate its lofty preseason ranking.