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OMAHA, Neb. – Creighton is starting over after winning 107 games and going to three NCAA tournaments the past four seasons.
The Bluejays lost national player of the year Doug McDermott and three other seniors who combined to account for two-thirds of the scoring. Big East coaches are counting on a drop off, picking Creighton ninth in the 10-team conference.
"It's different," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. "We don't have a first-team All-American on our team. I think any time you have a returning All-American, everybody wants to give you their best shot. But we still won 14 games in the Big East last year, so there's probably plenty of teams that want a piece of us when we come to town."
Austin Chatman is entering his third season as the starting point guard, and there are four other seniors who played significant minutes for the team that went 27-8, finished second in the Big East and won a game in the NCAA tournament.
Chatman is coming off two surgeries, one in July to repair a torn ligament in his right thumb and another in early October to clean out bone fragments around his right knee. As a result, McDermott said, Chatman was not in top shape when preseason practice started. He should be by the time the Bluejays open Nov. 14 at home against Central Arkansas.
Chatman will be asked to contribute more as a scorer after averaging a career-best 8.8 points last season.
"I've been known as a capable scorer," he said. "It'll just kind of go game by game, whatever is needed in that game and who has the hot hand."
Some other familiar faces will have increased roles.
Avery Dingman, who started seven games, probably will be a regular in the backcourt with Chatman. Devin Brooks, who provided a spark off the bench, and Isaiah Zierden are in line for more minutes at both guard spots.
The 6-foot-11 Will Artino will take over in the middle and probably share time with 7-footer Geoffrey Groselle. At forward, Zach Hanson looked promising in limited minutes, and Toby Hegner will be coming off a redshirt year.
Led by Doug McDermott and Ethan Wragge, the Bluejays were the best 3-point shooting team in the country.
"We'll throw it (inside) a little bit more than we did a year ago," Greg McDermott said. "Obviously, our guard court is going to have to be relied on to score a little bit more than they did last season. In terms of transition and shooting a lot of 3s, that's not going to change."
Some things to know about Creighton:
IMPROVED DEFENSE: The Bluejays ranked no higher than 115th nationally in any defensive category. Chatman expects that to improve. "We'll be able to pressure a little more and get in passing lanes," he said. "Not knocking Doug or Wragge, but they weren't pressuring anybody. We'll be able to get in people's shorts a little more than we have been."
GRADUATE TRANSFER: Creighton brought in guard Rick Kreklow, who graduated from California last spring. He averaged 5.5 points and 2.6 rebounds in 24 games for the Bears as a junior. Creighton beat Cal in Omaha last year, but Kreklow didn't play because of injury.
LOW EXPECTATIONS: Chatman isn't happy about the Bluejays being picked ninth in the Big East. "It's a little disrespectful," he said, adding that he and his teammates would use the poll as motivation. Creighton hasn't finished lower than fourth in its conference since ending up sixth in the Missouri Valley in 1996-97.
POSTSEASON PLAY: Creighton is among eight schools that have played in a postseason tournament each of the last 17 years and among four that have won at least one postseason game each of the last seven years.
HOME SWEET HOME: The Bluejays' average attendance of 17,896 at CenturyLink Center ranked fifth nationally. Their 18-game home win streak is eighth-longest in the country.