The Creighton Bluejays keep entering uncharted territory.
When the coronavirus pandemic wiped out the NCAA Tournament and brought the 2019-20 season to a premature halt, Creighton was the No. 7 team in the nation, matching its highest ever regular-season ranking.
Entering the 2020-21 campaignthe Bluejays are No. 11, now the highest preseason ranking in program history.
Creighton gets to justify that ranking in the Crossover Classic, a new tournament that tips off on Wednesday in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. The Bluejays open against South Dakota State. The Classic field also includes Memphis, Northern Iowa, Saint Mary's, Utah State, West Virginia and Wichita State.
"There's eight really good teams in this tournament, so it's going to be a great preseason tournament, and an opportunity for us to get three quality games," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.
The Bluejays, who will face the Jackrabbits for the first time in 45 years, lead the all-time series 20-3. South Dakota State made the jump to Division I basketball in 2008.
However, while Creighton and SDSU might not be familiar foes, their respective coaches know each other well. Jackrabbits coach Eric Henderson played for McDermott at Wayne State and was a graduate manager for him at Iowa State.
Henderson, who guided SDSU to a share of the Summit League title last year in an impressive first season, is looking forward to facing his former boss.
"To be able to share a little bit of our program with the rest of the country is unique for a school like ours. So, when an opportunity happens like that, it certainly is something that you hope to be able to take advantage of, and we certainly will be ready," Henderson said, according to dakotanewsnow.com.
South Dakota State returns its top five scorers from a team that finished 22-10 last season. Four of those losses were on the road to major conference opponents -- at USC, Nebraska, Arizona and Indiana.
Summit League Player of the Year Douglas Wilson, who averaged 18.6 points per game last season to lead the Jackrabbits, is back, along with teammates Matt Dentlinger and Noah Freidel, who chipped in 12.2 points apiece.
Ty-Shon Alexander averaged a team-high 16.9 points per game last season for Creighton, which won a share of the Big East title and finished 24-7, but he left early for the NBA. Alexander, who went undrafted, signed a two-way contract with the Phoenix Suns on Thursday.
But the Bluejays do return Marcus Zegarowski (16.1 points, team-leading 5.0 assists per game), Denzel Mahoney (12.0 ppg) and Mitch Ballock (11.9 ppg).
Upperclassmen Damien Jefferson (9.4 ppg) and Christian Bishop (8.6 ppg) also return for the Bluejays, who were initially scheduled to face Utah in the Crossover Classic. The Utes, however, dropped out of the tourney due to COVID-19 concerns. Ohio State, another team slotted for the field, also opted out of the event.
Despite the pandemic and the challenges that have come with it, McDermott is hoping his team can start proving it is one of the best squads in the country.
"It's a nice feather in the cap for our program. It's the highest ranking in our history preseason, and we've had a lot of guys put in a lot of hard work into making that happen. So, I'm just hopeful that things stay normal enough that we can live up to it," he said.
--Field Level Media