Mar 8, 2014; Omaha, NE, USA; Creighton Bluejays head coach Greg McDermott hugs his son Doug McDermott (3) after their NCAA basketball game against the Providence Friars at the CenturyLink Center. Mandatory Credit: Dave Weaver-USA TODAY Sports

Friends with Benefits: The Creighton Bluejays and the 3-ball


The Creighton Bluejays are affixed to the 3-pointer. Occasionally that has consequences, but don’t look for Doug McDermott to change his stance anytime soon. 

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Seven years after Magic Johnson and Larry Bird stepped foot on an NBA court for the first time, the NCAA adopted the 3-point field goal. It was Butler guard Darrin Fitzgerald’s senior season.

While many teams saw the field goal as a taboo and laughable concept, Fitzgerald took full advantage of the new opportunity, and connected 158 times on a 5.64 per game clip. He was Jason Statham in every Jason Statham film; coldblooded and a tad overzealous. His NCAA record still stands today. Despite teams groveling like cavemen in its inception, Fitzgerald hit more 3-pointers than 270 of the 290 Division I teams. Teams and players persistently attempted to refute its legitimacy for years. Fitzgerald was one of the first to own it.

Numerous teams have since developed proficiencies for the shot. And in the years following 1986, the common adage: Live and die with the 3-pointer, was formed. Although the saying has been beaten dead, set aflame, and buried thirty feet beneath the deepest grave ever laid, before being resurrected by broadcasters and media outlets alike–few have actually legitimized the notion. Here’s some who did:

 

1) Rio Grand Valley Vipers (2013-current) – If this doesn’t sound like an NCAA squad, it’s because they’re not. But their story is too amazing not to mention. If you search for Nevada Smith in any browser, it will most likely bring up the abysmal 1966 Western staring Steve McQueen (not the guy who directed 12 Years a Slave). However, if you scroll a little farther down you’ll find the coach of the Houston Rockets D-League affiliate. Smith gained media interest after his Vipers began the season shooting 46 3-pointers per game. Zach Lowe of Grantland wrote a phenomenal piece about it.

2) University of Kentucky (2009-10) – John Calipari’s first year as head coach was cut short in the Elite Eight, when his Wildcats went 4-32 from beyond the arc. A team that included four 1st round draft picks was unable to defeat an opponent without any, in very large part to the 84 missed points from downtown.

3) Duke University (2000-01) – The Blue Devils ripped nets en route to the all-time record for most 3s attempted and made in the 2001 NCAA Tournament. Shane Battier, Mike Dunleavy, and Jay Williams made it rain, and post-millennium, they made it pour.

4) Virginia Military Institute (2006-2012) – More recently, Virginia Military hoisted a combined 6,544 3-pointers in a 6-year frame, handedly leading the country in attempts. When your school slogan is: Don’t Do Ordinary, apparently it translates to “chuck it up from anywhere!!!!!!!!!”

 

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This year, one team stands alone atop the 3-point field goal percentage board–obviously a more valuable metric relative attempts (see: Monta Ellis). Few, however, would expect that they hail from Omaha.

The Creighton Bluejays have been one of the most exciting teams in college basketball this season. Greg McDermott’s squad won’t be considered a dark horse for this year’s NCAA Tournament fairytale narrative, because they’ve been nationally competitive for quite a while.

2013-14 has been shocking, though–Creighton sits no. 13 in the nation and second in one of the top four conferences. The Bluejays dismantled the Missouri Valley Conference (the same conference that holds this year’s best team, Wichita State University) and were jettisoned to the Big East in 2013. Since the transition they’ve lost just 6 games and won 23, and will assuredly be a middle seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament.

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Averaging 17.9 assists per game, Creighton is the second best team in the country regarding facilitation. Doug McDermott, the coach’s son has been their catalyst. McDermott averages 25.6 points per game (leads the NCAA), on 51.4 percent shooting, and he’s about to become the eighth player in the history of his sport to eclipse 3,000 career points. There’s nothing he can’t do and he’s reliable. McDermott is arguably the most unanimous soon-to-be player of the year award winner since Blake Griffin.

It’s not just McDermott that can ball, though. Currently, the Bluejays have four players shooting above 40% from 3-point land. Only Duke University can Creighton can boast those numbers. Regarding players having attempted more than 145 3-pointers this season, Senior Ethan Wragge leads the nation in percentage (48.2%). Wragge looks like Josh McRoberts and Ryan Anderson’s inbred son and has attempted seven two-point field goals this season and 197 three-pointers. In five years of play (medical redshirted his sophomore season) he’s taken 26 jumpers inside of the arc. Who is this guy? The dude becomes a clairvoyant anti-fundamentalist inside 20-feet and people love him for it.

As a team, Creighton shoots the second highest total field goal percentage and leads the country in 3-point field goal percentage. Twelve times this year the Bluejays have shot more than 25 3-pointers. Four times they’ve hoisted more than 30.

In late January, the Bluejays faced off against no. 4 Villanova on the road. They set the conference record for most 3s made in a single game (21) and beat the Wildcats by 30 points. It was the first time they had beaten a top-five opponent in more than four decades.

Villanova and Creighton met again just short of a month after their first encounter. The Bluejays beat them by 21 points, completing a season sweep of the best team in the conference. Jay Wright’s Wildcats have lost three games all season. Creighton has turned them into a junior varsity squad, twice.

While other teams are fostering balanced attacks, Creighton shoots on average a 3-pointer every minute and a half. Despite this, they’re the most efficient offensive team in the country. That logic sounds faulty, but it isn’t.

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According to Ken Pomeroy’s metrics, Creighton’s adjusted offensive efficiency is 124.9. This means the Bluejays score around 124 points per 100 possessions. As Deadspin’s Tom Ley points out, “this is a staggering number…the last team that was this efficient on offense was the 2005 Wake Forest team, which had an adjusted offensive rating of 124—and Chris Paul.”

Like many who’ve adopted the bomb-the-hell-out-of-the-3-ball mentality, the Bluejays have been crippled when the rims turn to ice. In four of their five losses this season, they have averaged lower than 30% from beyond the arc. They’ve clanked more fast-break pull-up 3s than Josh Smith. The Bluejays shoot 43 percent, on average, but have been crippled by their own forte enough times this year to make a bracketologist nervous.

 

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Creighton knocking down 3s isn’t a new concept. Two of the 10 best shooters from beyond the arc in the NBA this season hail from the school (Kyle Korver, Anthony Tolliver). Wednesday night, Korver’s league record of 127 consecutive games with a made 3-point field goal was broken. Korver’s biggest threat to the record is Stephen Curry who has hit in just 50 straight, per CBS Sports.

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From former coach Dana Altman (now at the University of Oregon) to Greg McDermott, the 3-point field goal has remained a staple of the Bluejays. While far too many teams claim to live by way of the 3-ball, Creighton is one of few that have felt the sting dying by it.

 

 

Tags: Anthony Tolliver Blake Griffin Creighton Bluejays Dana Altman Doug McDermott Duke Ethan Wragge Greg McDermott John Calipari Josh McRoberts Josh Planos Josh Smith Kyle Korver Monta Ellis Ryan Anderson University Of Kentucky Villanova Wildcats