Editor's note: Over the next five weeks, we will reveal the top 50 coaches in college basketball as decided by our ESPN Forecast panel. Today we unveil No. 23: Creighton's Greg McDermott. On Thursday, we release No. 22.
During the past three seasons, Doug McDermott put up “NBA Jam” numbers for Creighton. His college career ended in March with his third consecutive first-team Associated Press All-American honor. It was the first time a player had achieved that feat since Wayman Tisdale and Patrick Ewing did it during the 1980s.
The Bluejays never finished below eighth in adjusted offensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy’s ratings, in that three-year run. They were an offensive powerhouse so robust that they ultimately led Creighton to a new league. This group erased any remnant of the “mid-major” tag that the program had worked under.
But the Bluejays are losing four seniors -- including one mega star -- who elevated the program to unprecedented highs. The departures of McDermott and Co. (Grant Gibbs, Ethan Wragge and Jahenns Manigat) mean coach Greg McDermott and Creighton enter a new period in the program’s history.
That also means the big task of rebuilding a team that has been to three consecutive NCAA tournaments.
“It’s going to be a lot different,” Gibbs told ESPN.com. “A lot of points to make up for. Losing four seniors that played a lot of minutes over the last however many years is obviously going to be a big change.”
According to Gibbs, Creighton fans might have to temper their expectations, at least until another star player emerges.
“[Fans] were spoiled in having a guy like Doug lying in their lap and having the career he did,” Gibbs said.
A collection of rising youngsters, however, could help the Bluejays compete for the Big East title.
It all begins with a sharpshooter from Colorado. Ronnie Harrell Jr. is ranked 71st in the 2014 ESPN 100. The four-star small forward’s RecruitingNation scouting report calls him a “willowy wing-type with a prolific shooting stroke.” It also compares the 6-foot-7 recruit to former Creighton star and NBA veteran Kyle Korver. McDermott thought about redshirting his son prior to the 2010-11 season, but he blossomed early and ultimately surged into a starring role in his first season. So Greg McDermott is not afraid to lean on a freshman again.
Harrell could eventually evolve into a go-to player for a program that needs one. Leon Gilmore, another incoming freshman, also could develop into a key contributor. The 6-7 talent rejected offers from Oklahoma State, Baylor and Kansas State to attend Creighton.
Cal transfer Ricky Kreklow, who recently announced that he’ll walk on to the team, is a veteran who should be eligible to help in 2014-15.
They will join a group "that have waited their turn, haven’t had the opportunity yet,” Gibbs said.
Austin Chatman is the only returning starter, but he’s an important element in Creighton’s plans. The point guard averaged 8.1 points and 4.4 assists a game last season while hitting 39 percent of his 3-pointers. Now without one of the game’s most prolific players in the rotation, his facilitating role will be even more important next season. The young players in the program will look to Chatman to make Greg McDermott’s scheme work.
Devin Brooks, a 6-2 guard who averaged 6.5 PPG last season, is back. Among players with a usage rate of 28 percent or more, he was third in the Big East with a 104.3 offensive rating, per Ken Pomeroy.
Greg McDermott guided veterans last season. They understood his schemes and methods. He’ll have to teach more next season with the young players who follow.
But this group -- along with transfers Cole Huff (Nevada) and Maurice Watson Jr. (Boston University), both of whom will have to sit next season -- will anchor Creighton’s rebuilding project.
The Bluejays have a new practice facility. That, coupled with a strong fan base, will help McDermott attract more elite talent to Omaha.
The first year will be tough, though. There are many unknowns with a new rotation that will feature multiple underclassmen. But the program has been here before. McDermott had inherited a Creighton team that had lost some of its best players when he was hired in 2010. He had a son whom he wanted to sit his freshman season and some young talent around him. That Creighton squad won 23 games and reached the NCAA tournament the following three years.
The new Bluejays could exceed expectations, too -- assuming they are reasonable for a program that just lost one of the greatest college basketball players of all time.
“This program and players have all the faith in Coach McDermott,” Gibbs said. “He’s going to figure out the best way for this group of guys to be successful.”