Former Wichita State player Ben Smith remembers all the ways Creighton’s Doug McDermott scores. Three-pointers. With either hand around the basket, free throws and putbacks.
How about by beating his defender down court on fast breaks?
“I forgot that one,” Smith said. “Our coaches really emphasized that.”
It is hard to keep track of McDermott’s skills. The lengthy list is the prime reason he is regarded as one of the nation’s best college basketball players and ESPN’s Dick Vitale selected him as the mid-season player of the year.
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“He is really talented,” Smith said. “I tried to make him as uncomfortable as possible.”
Wichita State is the rare team with the assets to keep McDermott out of his comfort zones on the block or at the top of the key for threes. The Shockers face No. 12 Creighton on Saturday at Koch Arena with a history and a plan proven to reduce McDermott to mortal scoring numbers.
In four games against WSU, he averages 10.8 points and 6.5 rebounds. His high is 13 points, last season, on 5-of-14 shooting. WSU guarded him with experienced, physical defenders such as Smith, Aaron Ellis, Gabe Blair, Carl Hall and Touré Murry the past two seasons. Now McDermott is a junior, his game is growing, and the Shockers will guard him with less-experienced players such as junior Cleanthony Early and sophomore Tekele Cotton, in addition to Hall.
“They haven’t given me a lot of easy looks,” McDermott said. “They haven’t necessarily face-guarded me, but they’re always around. It’s frustrating, but it does open different looks for my teammates. I just have to fight through that.”
Smith landed a spot on the Missouri Valley Conference’s All-Defensive Team largely on the strength of his defense against McDermott last season. He credited the scouting report and his teammates, neglecting to mention that at 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, he presented the near-perfect mix of size and agility needed to stick with the 6-8 McDermott.
“I tried to be physical with him,” Smith said. “Scoot him out of the lane. He’s really good in the post, left hand, right hand, off the glass. I tried to limit his touches.”
The Shockers (16-2, 5-1 MVC) will try the same tactics Saturday. They know McDermott will score, probably more than 13. He is another year older and improved his dribbling and driving. The goal is to make him work, both on offense and defense.
“He can score in so many ways,” Hall said. “He’s smart. He brings a lot of energy. He’s the type of guy who doesn’t give up.”
The Bluejays (17-1, 6-0) lead the nation in shooting percentage (52.4), three-point accuracy (45.4) and three-pointers (9.7). Stopping them means more than stopping McDermott, who averages 24 points and makes 50.7 percent of his threes.
“They’re as good as I’ve seen in my (five-plus) years in the Valley,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “They’re hard to guard. They’re very, very, very, very, very good.”
One item to consider for each of Marshall’s “verys.”
• The Bluejays like to sub Ethan Wragge for center Gregory Echenique. Wragge is an excellent shooter who will stop at the arc while the defending post player runs to the lane, as he is normally taught. That is a problem, because Wragge makes 45.9 percent of his threes.
• The Shockers want to chase the Bluejays off the three-point line as much as possible and make them drive. Creighton wants to spread the floor and pass the ball. It doesn’t want to create shots with dribbling. Sophomore point guard Austin Chatman is quick and a willing passer who takes care of the ball.
• Some teams try to zone Creighton as a way to help on McDermott. Senior guard Grant Gibbs is a pass-first player sometimes given open shots by opponents more worried about other players. Gibbs, however, is shooting 51.6 percent.
• Limiting McDermott’s touches is indeed the most important thing WSU can do. He won’t take bad shots. If the Shockers make him catch it in places he doesn’t favor, he will pass instead of forcing a shot. In four meetings, the Shockers held him to nine or fewer shots three times.
• While McDermott isn’t blazing fast, his determination to run the court provides easy baskets. The Shockers must keep track of him after shooting, because he will race to the lane and get position for an easy basket.
“They execute everything they do and they get out in transition,” Cotton said. “You’ve got to be disciplined, because they’re great shooters and they’re great at passing.”