The team with the highest preseason ranking outside of the typical power conferences tips off the new season at CenturyLink Center Omaha tonight, as the 16th-ranked Creighton Bluejays welcome the North Texas Mean Green to town.
Creighton head coach Greg McDermott is entering his third season with the Jays and already owns an impressive 52-22 mark in two years with a team that has been one of the best in the Missouri Valley Conference for a number of years now. Outside of a three-game slide in early February that took some of the wind out of their sails, the Jays had a very impressive 2011-12 as they put up a record of 29-6 overall and 14-4 in league play.
The Bluejays have not only won 17 straight home openers dating back to 1994, the squad has also claimed 38 consecutive home wins in the month of November as well, last losing in this month in their own building back in 1989 when they fell to Coppin State.
As for the Mean Green, they've posted wins in 11 consecutive season openers, the longest run in school history. Expected to win the Sun Belt Conference West Division, North Texas advanced to the SBC Tournament finals for the third straight year in 2011-12, making it just the third team to accomplish the feat and the first since Western Kentucky managed to pull it off just under a decade ago.
North Texas came up two wins shy of a sixth straight 20-win campaign as it finished 18-14 overall and 9-7 in league play.
With respect to the all-time series between these two schools on the hardwood, the teams are knotted at 4-4 but haven't met in more than three decades. The most recent contest took place back in 1977 with the Mean Green squeezing out a 108-105 victory in overtime.
Assuming much of the attention for the Mean Green heading into this year, sophomore forward Tony Mitchell was the SBC Freshman of the Year and has been chosen as the preseason SBC Player of the Year this time around as well. Mitchell made a total of 22 starts last year as he led the league with 15.9 ppg and 11.8 rpg, as well as 3.1 blocks per game. Making him a tough matchup for many defenses, Mitchell also knocked down 47.1 percent of his three- pointers. Also just a sophomore this year, guard Chris Jones is another budding star for the Mean Green after he handed out 4.26 assists per game which was the highest average by a freshman in team history. Add to that his 14.1 ppg and it is difficult to figure out where he is heading with the ball every time down the floor.
As good as Mitchell might be for the Mean Green, the top player in this matchup is Creighton's Doug McDermott, the only returning consensus First Team All-American in the nation. McDermott's trophy case is already filled with awards resulting from his being named the MVC Freshman of the Year, MVC Newcomer of the Year, MVC Player of the Year and MVC Tournament MVP, and that's just in his first two years in Omaha. The leading scorer and rebounder for the Jays in both the last two campaigns, McDermott was again a dynamo for the squad in 2011-12 as he posted 22.9 ppg and 8.2 rpg as he also made good on 48.6 percent of his three-point tries. Hiding in McDermott's shadow are senior center Gregory Echenique (9.7 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.6 bpg) and senior guard Grant Gibbs (7.0 ppg, 5.0 apg, 4.5 rpg) so even when the star isn't on top of his game, there is still plenty of fire power to be found in the Creighton lineup.