News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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February 6, 2013

League of extraordinary gentlemen

Odum, McDermott lead Sycamores, No. 16 Bluejays into Hulman Center matchup

TERRE HAUTE — Indiana State and 16th-ranked Creighton are more than just the sum of their best players — Jake Odum and All-American Doug McDermott.

The Bluejays (20-3, 9-2) wouldn’t be leading the Missouri Valley Conference and the Sycamores (14-8, 7-4) wouldn’t be the surprise team of the MVC if that were the case.

Their team-wide strength is what makes tonight’s 7 p.m. Missouri Valley Conference showdown at Hulman Center so eagerly anticipated.

But when you boil it down, Odum and McDermott are the players that have to be stopped first if their opponent wants to be successful. They’re both among the MVC’s elite class of players. They both have a Mensa-level of basketball IQ, and that combined with their physical skills, helps both of them change the geometry of the game.

Odum does so thanks to his 6-foot-4 frame, his ability to contort himself into advantageous positions with the ball in the lane, and his excellent court vision.

McDermott does so thanks to his intelligence with and without the ball, his versatility as a threat inside the paint and out, but perhaps most of all, because he is uncanny when it comes to putting himself in a good catching and finishing position in the paint. He converts at a robotic rate.

Both players command the respect of the other team. As well they should.

“I think Jake Odum is as good as its gets. I’ve always been a huge fan and still am,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.

“He makes other guys better, he can score himself and he has a way of controlling a game, especially in tight games and the late stages of games,” McDermott continued. “He has a way of making plays for his team or for himself.”

ISU’s Doug McDermott mission is a difficult one. If McDermott was only a threat as a post player, he’d be difficult enough. But McDermott also converts 51 percent of his 3-point attempts.

No one player will guard McDermott. As they have in the past, ISU will come at him in waves to try and take him out of his considerable comfort zone. ISU will have to help the helper away from McDermott.

“He’s really good at ducking in the right time. He’s always two passes ahead waiting for the ball to swing,” ISU forward Justin Gant said. “We have to work the whole possession. We have to take him off his cuts and keep him away from the basket where he can do so much damage.”

The list of teams that have solved the McDermott riddle is extremely short.

“The tough thing with him is you can’t rest for a second. He’s smart and he’s a relentless worker. He posts and he never stops and he can shoot the three. He’s probably the most efficient player on the most efficient offensive team in the country,” ISU coach Greg Lansing said.

Creighton — the best 3-point shooting team in the nation at 44.9 percent — has had uncommon stability in its starting lineup. McDermott, center Gregory Echenique, and guards Austin Chatman, Jahenns Manigat and Grant Gibbs have started all 23 games for the Bluejays.

Creighton is 13th in the coaches poll and 16th in the Associated Press poll. If the coaches poll is used, Creighton is the highest-ranked team to play at Hulman Center since Tulsa in 1985. (Butler was ranked 14th in the AP poll in a 2006 visit.)

It is conceivable, but by no means a sure thing, that it could be Creighton’s last visit to Hulman Center. The Bluejays have been rumored to be a candidate to join the Big East breakaway conference of Catholic schools. Creighton — a Catholic Jesuit university — is the lone full-member of the MVC with a religious affiliation.

ISU is champing at the bit to prove that its overtime loss to Drake last Saturday was a temporary blip. The team and Lansing have downplayed the game’s role on the Sycamores’ possible NCAA Tournament at-large chances — preferring the one-game-at-a-time approach — though a win over the Bluejays would provide a big boost.

With one of the largest crowds in recent Hulman Center history expected — ISU has promoted a Black Out for the game and upper level seats are also being sold for $5 — the Sycamores expect to be energized.

“It’s fun to come home and play a big game like this. It’s even more fun when the crowd gets into it if we see a couple extra thousand in the seats. I don’t know if the community realizes how much that helps us. We want to show these fans we’re a good team and we’re going to compete for the conference championship,” Odum said.

Greg McDermott doesn’t have to be convinced that the Sycamores will be ready. Odum in particular.

“When you take care of the basketball the way that they do and when you have a point guard who has a calmness about the way he runs his team, you’re always going to be in a position to win. This is a very good basketball team with terrific leadership and that starts with Jake Odum,” McDermott said.

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