Creighton Basketball: Still Pressing, But Impressing?
The system is the same. Thankfully, the coach is the same. There was a frightful window in which Dana Altman was gone, but he chose to return.
The roster he returned, too, is hardly the same. The turnover in Omaha was tremendous. No team lost more in the Missouri Valley.
Way back in October, Altman realized the challenges that lay ahead. “We have a long way to go,” he said. “We have some good younger players but I think their lack of experience will take some time to develop…. You know, hopefully as the season progresses we will develop and have a decent year.”
The usually humble coach looked downright downtrodden as he sat on the dais during MVC Media Day. Wonder why.
Creighton recently said see you later to two of the program’s finest players of all time.
Nate Funk resided in Omaha for parts of six calendar years, scored in double figures 89 times, and won 94 basketball games. Clutch as anyone, Funkmaster Flex won three MVC Tournament titles. Funk managed to pick up the role of leading scorer from current NBA player Kyle Korver. Their careers overlapped by one year and they oddly sit back-to-back on the Creighton scoring list. Korver finished fifth with Funk soaring right up behind him to close out a stellar career.
Every game that finished with a close result, every moment that needed a hero, every play that needed a finisher relied on one man. Nate “Fifth-Year” Funk. Finding a replacement in these moments is the hardest thing to do, as almost any player can easily step forward and cover the ten first-half points missing. But when the game is on the line, and one defender is draped all over him as a second rushes towards, can a first year player really succeed? And succeed more often than he fails in such instances?
Anthony Tolliver had nowhere near the numbers Funk featured. What Tolliver did offer was unwavering leadership and that unmistakable predilection towards constantly winning. Winner of the “Most Inspirational Award” in high school, Tolliver helped his teams win 96% of the time. For Creighton, he started 93 games in his three final years. In virtually every players-only huddle, Tolliver vocally guided his unit through the tough times and praised for the good instances.
Does a person who has been on campus for five months step into those shoes?
The Bluejays are learning defense slowly. The full-court press, which is not intended to rattle but merely to impede offensive progress, shows signs of confusion. Altman has to be feeling frustration from this confusion while he sits patiently on the bench. If ever there was a time to capitalize from his years of success and move on, 2007 was it.
Over three-fourths of the games saw the Bluejays led in scoring by a rookie. On a team composed of nine newcomers and five returnees, the odds were in the first-years’ favor. The holdovers don’t boast any frightening talent. Dane Watts is the only returning scorer and his talents are best used in a supplementary fashion.
“We are playing eight new guys,” said Altman. “ It has been inconsistent as you can imagine.”
The most productive newbies have been P’Allen Stinnett, Booker Woodfox, and Cavel Witter. Yes, those are real names. No, they are not from Aesop’s Fables.
Woodfox and Witter have been averaging 8 ppg and 7 ppg respectively. Oddly neither one on average logs minutes that would equate to half the game. The efficiency of these two guys in particular helps Creighton stay competitive in the abnormally weak MVC.
“We have a hard time deciding where we want our shots to come from,” said Altman. The repercussions are obvious. Altman typically places trust in a core of guys whom he eagerly plays big minutes. As the year concludes, the rotation has been “dwindled” to ten. Ten players. Averaging between 13 and 24 minutes per game.
From certain coaches, Bruce Pearl or Rick Pitino to name a few, that statistic would be viewed as typical, understandable. They play more guys fewer minutes. From Dana Altman it means he still does not know who “his guys” are.
“We really haven’t had anybody step up and establish themselves,” Altman explained midway through the season.
When Altman showed that he was willing to leave Creighton, he opened the door to many dirty recruiters poaching on his land. See, in today’s world of recruiting high school athletes the emphasis is barely on what ‘we can do for you’ (the recruit). So much of the focus is on what ‘they cannot do for you.’
Altman no longer has a stranglehold on permanency. There is a chance he could leave. After countless rebuffs prior to this most recent offseason, Altman accrued permanency capital. Recruits had no fears of playing for a second or even third coach during their stay at Creighton. Altman was Creighton.
While he could again quickly regain this ground, right now the hypothesis is that recruiting will dip.
Take a look. In the class of 2008, Altman has signed two 2-star recruits, Josh Jones and Antoine Young. They are both guards. For the first time in three years Altman will fail to bring in at least a 3-star talent.
The present P’Allen Stinnett might very well become a future star in the Valley. His quick shot and bubbly athleticism harkens back to Ryan Sears. Committing defensively within the 2-3 zone goes a long way to determining playing time for Stinnett. There are still lapses, mentally and physically for him. His driving skills will have to improve and it would be nice to see him demand the ball more, but scoring will never be a problem for the 6’3” freshman.
Altman loves to run the 1-2-2 press with the intention of draining the shot clock; not an easy task when college basketball allows an eternity–or 35 seconds–to shoot.
Once the halfcourt portion begins, preferably as the shot clock whittles down to 25 seconds, CU settles into a 2-3 matchup zone. The zone is not overly daunting. Ball pressure allows shooters to flourish. The one aspect of zone defense in which the Bluejays excel is rebounding.
Average to good players following the exceptional guidance of Dana Altman fosters Creighton championships. Whether they are in the MVC Tournament or MVC regular season, the Bluejays plays well in the games that matter.
As Altman begins his “second” stint as Creighton University men’s basketball coach, expect nothing to change.