Creighton handling Greg McDermott’s suspension all wrong

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The first mistake was not immediately suspending Greg McDermott. The second is currently being made: Leaving the suspension without clarity.

Creighton owes it to its players to get this right. I’m not saying McDermott should be fired. But he should not coach again this year after his racially insensitive remark to his team following a loss at Xavier.

McDermott, a fine coach and bright offensive mind, told his players, “I need everybody to stay on the plantation. I can’t have anybody leave the plantation.” I can’t imagine why he made such a callous comment that carries racist overtones of slavery. That’s besides the point.

But the school has handled this extremely poorly. It let him coach at Villanova, and predictably his team was a mess, falling behind by as many as 22 points in a 12-point loss. Smartly, Creighton suspended him after that game, although that had a lot to do with the negative backlash it received.

Now, it is uncertain how long the suspension will last. The Creighton players have handled this with class and maturity beyond their ages. They have expressed their feelings intelligently. They sure seemed relieved on Saturday not to have this issue hanging over their heads in a 20-point home win over Butler.

McDermott has said he offered to resign, but his players wanted him to coach. That may be true. It doesn’t make it the right decision.

The Bluejays shouldn’t have to keep answering questions about McDermott. They should, for the time being at least, be able to focus on making a big March run. Distractions, and yes the coach is one, have to be avoided at a time like this, for their mental well-being more than anything. This is a team, ranked 14th in the country, capable of reaching the Final Four, gifted offensively and deep in two-way difference-makers.

Bringing McDermott back this year would be a big mistake. Not stating the length of the suspension would be even worse.

Just take a look at what LSU did with Will Wade, and yes, usually following LSU’s lead in situations like this is a major mistake. But in March of 2019, LSU suspended Wade for the rest of the season after an FBI wiretap was released in which he reportedly appeared to be making an unspecified offer during the recruitment of a player.

Led by interim coach Tony Benford, the Tigers reached the Sweet 16. By suspending Wade, it enabled LSU to focus on basketball instead of the scandal involving its coach.

Creighton could do the same thing. Its players shouldn’t have to answer for their suspended coach. He acted inappropriately, not them. It’s up to the school’s administration to make life easier for their student-athletes instead of harder.

Scarlet fever

Steve Pikiell could never have another winning season. He could lose a lot more than he wins. It doesn’t matter. Pikiell will be a folk hero in Piscataway, for the rest of his days. He will be forever remembered as the man who did what most thought was impossible: Led Rutgers to the NCAA Tournament.

Saturday’s overtime win at Minnesota all but assured the Scarlet Knights of their first trip to the Dance since 1991, capping a second consecutive season in which they won double-digit league games. The last time that happened was 1989-91.

After 13 straight losing seasons, Pikiell has led Rutgers to consecutive winning campaigns, and, most important, Rutgers fans will see their team’s name called on Selection Sunday. They deserve it.

In fact, the Scarlet Knights may have to carry the local flag. Wagner, the top seed in the NEC, lost in the conference semifinals. St. John’s and Seton Hall need strong weeks in the Big East Tournament to get selected. While Rutgers hasn’t played very well of late — it has lost three of its last five games — it will enter the tournament without any pressure having already accomplished its goal. Maybe the team that started so strong — ranked as high as 11th — returns.

Game of the Week

Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden, March 10-13

It will be a Big East Tournament unlike any other. Only 1,000 fans will be in attendance each day due to COVID-19 regulations. The No. 1 seed, Villanova, is reeling after losing star point guard Collin Gillespie to a season-ending injury and fellow starter Justin Moore could miss the tournament with a sprained ankle. Second-seeded Creighton may be without its coach, Greg McDermott, after his racially insensitive remarks led to his suspension. Streaking UConn, the third seed, may be the favorite. No. 4 St. John’s, which closed the year by winning nine of 12 games, could become a popular dark-horse pick.

Seeding

1: Gonzaga, Baylor, Michigan, Illinois

2: Alabama, Iowa, Ohio State, Houston

3: West Virginia, Kansas, Arkansas, Oklahoma State

4: Villanova, Oklahoma, Purdue, Texas Tech

Stock Watch

Up — Arkansas

No team is hotter than the Razorbacks. They enter the SEC Tournament having won 11 straight conference games as the second seed. That includes victories over SEC regular-season champion Alabama and tournament teams Missouri, Florida and LSU. Coach Eric Musselman has created an intriguing mix that includes a stud freshman (Moses Moody), key transfers (Justin Smith, JD Notae and Jalen Tate) and even a holdover from the Mike Anderson era (Desi Sills). Arkansas is ranked 12th in the nation, its highest since 1998, in just Musselman’s second season.

UP — Iowa

You can’t make fun of Iowa’s defense any more. It’s never going to be at a Virginia level, but it has made major strides, keying this late-season run that has seen the Hawkeyes win seven of their last eight games. That includes two victories over Wisconsin, one at Ohio State and one at Michigan State. Their defense is now ranked 61st in the country in efficiency, which is more than good enough to not only complement their second-ranked offense, but get to a Final Four.

Iowa
Iowa center Luka Garza drives to the basket.
AP

Down — Villanova

Between losing star point guard Collin Gillespie to a torn MCL and his backup, fellow starter Justin Moore, suffering what coach Jay Wright termed a “pretty severe” ankle injury, it was a trying week for the Big East’s top team. It seems unlikely Moore will play in the Big East Tournament, leaving an already thin roster bereft of any depth. Sophomore Bryan Antoine, the McDonald’s All-American who has hardly seen the court due to injuries the last two years, will need to play big minutes. The Wildcats will enter the tournament at the Garden as the No. 1 seed in name only. They could be the underdog against the Marquette/Georgetown winner in the quarterfinals on Thursday.

Down — Duke

The Blue Devils have lost three straight games. They finished in 10th place in the ACC. They are an even 11-11 on the season. And, yet, somehow you still see them in the mix for an at-large bid with certain Bracketologists. Duke has as many Quad 1 as Quad 3 losses — two apiece — and a 6-9 record in Quad 1 and 2 games. The résumé is barely deserving of the NIT. The only reason this team belongs in the NCAA Tournament is by winning the ACC Tournament. I get the Duke brand carries a lot of weight — ESPN went into overdrive trying to hype up Saturday night’s game at North Carolina, with analyst Seth Greenberg erroneously suggesting it was the biggest game in the storied rivalry since 1969 — but at some point, logic has to take over.

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