Creighton and UNLV could make long runs

November, 2, 2012
The season begins in a week with games at military facilities on both coasts and Germany as well as defending champ Kentucky playing Maryland in Brooklyn.

Every team has questions.

There are favorites, but none seem intimidating or unbeatable nationally or in their conferences.

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Doug McDermott
Chris Keane/Icon SMIDoug McDermott helps make Creighton the favorite in the Missouri Valley Conference.

And yet there are two teams that have me most intrigued outside the power six conferences that could possibly land in Atlanta at the Final Four: No. 16 Creighton and No. 18 UNLV.

Creighton has a consensus All-American in junior forward Doug McDermott. He could be the latest national player of the year outside of a power six conference (two years ago, it was BYU's Jimmer Fredette).

The Bluejays don't have guard Antoine Young anymore to balance McDermott's experience. But senior forward Gregory Echenique is back, and there are rotation players who will have a significant role.

The Bluejays have plenty of make-good games, like Wisconsin in Las Vegas (sans Josh Gasser and possibly Mike Bruesewitz), maybe Arkansas on Night 2 in Las Vegas, Saint Joseph's and at Cal.

The schedule could certainly have been tougher, but it has a few power-rating opportunities.

Creighton coach Greg McDermott said Friday that there are five specific aspects of his team he has learned a week before the season.

They are:

1. "We need to limit turnovers."
2. "We have great offensive potential."
3. "When healthy, our bench is much improved."
4. "Defense is improving."
5. "Defensive rebounding must improve.''

Creighton was the pick to win the Missouri Valley, and outside of a challenge from Illinois State and Northern Iowa, the Bluejays shouldn't have an issue.

UNLV has quite a fight in the Mountain West. The Runnin' Rebels were picked behind San Diego State and will have to fend off New Mexico and Colorado State for the MWC title.

UNLV has a similar nonconference schedule to Creighton's, but the conference slate will push its power rating much higher.

The Runnin' Rebels play Oregon and possibly Cincinnati in Las Vegas on Thanksgiving weekend (Iowa State is the other team), go to Cal, host Northern Iowa and travel to North Carolina in a rematch of last season's upset.

The Runnin' Rebels have one of the best rebounders in the country in Mike Moser, one of the top freshman forwards in Anthony Bennett, one of the top midyear transfer big men in Pitt's Khem Birch and a stable of returning guards, including Anthony Marshall, Justin Hawkins and USC transfer Bryce Jones, who had been injured in the preseason. The addition of freshmen Savon Goodman and Katin Reinhardt beefs up the wings.

What has UNLV coach Dave Rice learned about his team ?

Rice said:

1. "We have terrific leadership in returning players Mike Moser, Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins. They've helped our six new players make the transition to our system."

2. "We still have things to learn, but this is a very competitive group. They have brought a great effort every day in practice."

3. "We have consistently shared the ball. We have an unselfish group."

4. "Our depth is going to allow us to play full-court basketball on both ends of the court."

5. "We are a very good offensive rebounding team and need to become a more consistent defensive rebounding group.''

If I'm forced to pick one now, I'd lean toward UNLV as a possible Atlanta pick over Creighton, with McDermott as a national player of the year.

But it's a tough call, and in one-game elimination, either team could be a good pick in March.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer



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