Well, it's safe to say no team has disappointed in the second half of the season like Creighton . This Bluejays were 17-1 on Jan. 15 and streaking toward -- I dared to believe it, way back then -- a No. 3 seed or so.
Since? A 5-6 record with losses against Drake, Illinois State and Northern Iowa, in addition to the drops to Wichita State and Saint Mary's, the latter of which came Saturday night in Moraga, Calif., a 74-66 verdict.
Hey, Creighton is going to more than likely be in the NCAAs. It doesn't boast a proud resume at this point, but the floor would have to vaporize beneath them to find a portal to the NIT. But whereas this was a team that had corrected a lot of its defensive issues for the first half of its season, since then, it's looking more like the team last season that was good for the 8/9 game and lacked dimension to beat myriad types of teams.
It's that kind of diversity and attack -- on both ends -- that comprise our thoughts/beliefs in which teams can be "Sweet 16 teams" or "Final Four teams." It's not just talent; it's styles and proof of longevity for winning. Can you beat this team this way and that team another way? Creighton has just dipped in general, and I've circled back to believing it's one-dimensional when the going gets tough. It remains one of the best offensive teams in the country, but when it was beating Wisconsin, Akron Cal and Arizona State -- it was the best.
Now it's not the best. Now it's just really good instead of great. And that's fine -- if the defense is reliable, which it isn't. Whereas Creighton was in the 60s in adjusted defensive rank in KenPom in early January, the team is now 87 overall (entering Saturday) and slipping further from the pack. It's not strong on the boards and still doesn't turn teams over as much as it should.
Another way I could frame it: I know the game was on the road, but against the Gaels, one team looked like the clear NCAA tournament-worthy group. It wasn't the Jays. Maybe there's a lot of mental to this. Winning on the road is tough, plus Saint Mary's needed the win more -- SMC still has work to do to ensure a bid. This isn't ultra-critical here, but I figured it was high time we pointed it out. The big boys often get some of our finger wags, and so why not a mid who looked like a major back when the season was young? Creighton, again, is a fun team. It can beat two opponents -- specific opponents; the right opponents -- by shooting its way to the second weekend. But I've watched a lot of Creighton amid this stretch, and it's barely resembling the group from the first half of the year.
That's evidenced in the play of its best, too. Doug McDermott, who sat atop our very own Player of the Year race for a couple of weeks, is averaging 16.6 points in his last six games. It's brought his average down from the mid-20s to 22.5. Again: good, not great. He's probably no longer a First Team All-America candidate. One hand feeds the other.
I'd once thought this club was capable of more than reliability on hot shooting in order to succeed against really good teams. But unfortunately it's looking more and more like McDermott will have to carry a big load, because the supporting cast isn't helping him enough. Gregory Echenique is a nice player -- but maybe too nice. He had a quiet 18 on Saturday. I love Grant Gibbs' game, but he can be embarrassingly overmatched on defense.
Ahead: at Bradley and then home to probably tournament-bound Wichita State, then it's the MVC tourney, and we know how wild that can get. Creighton is now looking like another plucky mid-major instead of the legitimate threat it was building to being through the first half of the year. It's a problem the Bluejays can't merely shoot themselves out of.
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