Creighton stepped off the plane into a completely different world on Saturday.
Disconnect from the harsh, chilling winds that brutalized the citizens of Omaha. Free from his new world of crazy weekday fan sections and Playstation 5s. Distancing itself from the list of buy games where the team sits comfortably.
It’s entering the sunshine and perhaps the most important week of its regular season. In Hawaii.
After diving into the Maui experience, work begins for the Bluejays at No. 19. It begins with his matchup Monday against Texas Tech.
The No. 23 Red Raiders are still a fixture in the polls under second-year coach Mark Adams. Tech’s top 10 defense and the basketball’s overall physical brand are still intact.
Adams brings back his second-best scorer from a season ago in senior Kevin Obanor. He adds a dynamic guard in Oregon transfer De’Vion Harmon and has enjoyed a second jump from center Daniel Batcho.
And he’s got his share of wings to wreak havoc on Jaylon Tyson, Kerwin Walton and newcomer Elijah Fisher.
“Ball control is really important,” said CU coach Greg McDermott. “They rely so much on turning their defense into an offense. We must resist the urge to risk anything against them. Just make simple games and move the basketball.
“You can’t spend it against Texas Tech. This is a recipe for disaster.”
Tech’s defense has looked almost mid-season for the fortnight. The Red Raiders were pests at the attacking spot, choking down opponents at half-court and holding buy-game opponents to off-shooting nights.
The Jays are still putting this side of the ball together despite just coming off a good outing. The Red Raiders are also still figuring out their offense.
They coughed up the ball at a higher rate than they forced turnovers.
What better litmus test of Adam’s defense than facing one of the nation’s most offensively complete starting lineups on day one of the Maui Invitational? What better chance to see how far Creighton’s offense has come?
There was much applause for CU’s offense before the summer, right down to Baylor Scheierman’s transfer from the state of South Dakota. It is measured in four games just as it should be at this point.
With the exception of the season opener, the Jays have shown improved touch from distance.
The North Dakota and Holy Cross games helped them imagine what it was like to keep their foot on the pedal. UC Riverside’s win showed they could build strong defensive stretches, and just like the St. Thomas game, they showed an understanding of how to respond to shots.
“Good teams will make runs,” McDermott said after Thursday’s win. “How do you react when that happens? I think if we went up 20 and stayed 20 up in the St. Thomas game and this game, I don’t know if we would have known how we were going to react to that.
Hawaii will be a boxing ring disguised as an island.
Many of their potential Maui opponents won’t just swing for a round or two, as the Jays have pointed out. Creighton has entered the heavyweight division. It will attempt to stay off the ropes for a full game, likely being forced to react to very different in-game situations than it has previously.
That’s part of being a top 10 team. What comes of being hunted.
Creighton has top 10 talent. Each of the five starters could participate in a different Top 30 program and make an impactful contribution. Whether it turns out to be a top 10 team may depend on the path it takes in Maui.
In the event that the Red Raiders shorten the Jays’ path to the championship game on Maui, the team’s goals on the island will shift. If the team just wants to do better than when they landed, the paths are endless. Toppling Texas Tech is mandatory if it wants to retain its top 10 finish.
Not just because it would be CU’s first win against a ranked squad this season. Additionally, losing on Day 1 almost guarantees a meeting with Louisville the next day. The Cardinals go into the week with the worst record by miles on the field: a 3-0 start in buy-game losses, all from a single possession.
The Jays wouldn’t take it to win a ton if they beat Louisville. But it would lose a lot if it gave the Cardinals their first win of the Kenny Payne era.
If CU gets past Texas Tech to take on Arkansas, they could face their toughest test of the tournament. The Razorbacks field one of the best defenses in the nation. They’ve seen a lot of turnover this season and are relying on a young core, but there’s no shortage of talent.
The Arkansas backcourt consists of veterans Ricky Council IV and Vomte Davis. It’s unclear if there will be star newcomer Nick Smith, who starts the tournament daily with a knee injury. Freshmen and potential NBA first-round draft picks Jordan Walsh and Anthony Black should do well.
It doesn’t hurt that Missouri transfer Trevon Brazile will fit in the middle — a 6-foot-10 athletic specimen who holds the title for college basketball’s dunk of the year and is 44.4% from deep on encouraging volume shoots. He’s a matchup problem that Junior Ryan Kalkbrenner hasn’t seen and likely won’t see for some time.
Creighton, like any other team, is having a tough time fighting for the title on Maui on Wednesday.
A 2-0 start would prove more than this side can hope for. A 3-0 result would mean the team is further than many thought. Especially with one from Arizona, Ohio State, San Diego State and Cincinnati possibly waiting.
A title in perhaps college basketball’s most famous midseason tournament would mean everything for the Jays. Not only for the status of their current team, but also for their national brand.
When where: Maui, Hawaii, Lahaina Civic Center, 1:30 p.m
TV: ESPN2 | Radio: 1620, 101.9
Texas Tech (3-0)
G – Pop Isaacs 6-2 Fr. 7.3
G – De’Vion Harmon 6-2 Sr. 11.3
G – Jaylon Tyson 6-7, so. 9.3
F – Kevin Obanor, 6-8 Sr. 12.3
F – Daniel Batcho, 6-11 Sun. 3/9
G – Ryan Nembhard, 6-0 So. 7
G – Trey Alexander, 6-4 Sun. 3/11
G – Baylor Scheierman, 6-7 Sr. 10.5
F – Arthur Kaluma, 6-7 Sun. 13.5
F – Ryan Kalkbrenner, 7-1 Jr. 5/16
Photos: Creighton men’s basketball hosts UC Riverside