The population has grown to nearly 1 million in the Greater Omaha area, dynamic things have happened economically and on the sports scene, and yet the city is back to being a punch line.
A couple of weeks ago, the football world started picking up on Peyton Manning’s constant bark of “Omaha” to put a twist on plays or snap counts for the Denver Broncos, and now it might as well be Topeka or Biloxi, for all the Omaha jokes flying around.
What’s not a joke is Omaha building a new ballpark to remain as the home to the College World Series, or Nebraska Omaha’s place as a prized member of the eight-team National Collegiate Hockey Conference, or the large success of last summer’s U.S. Senior Open at the Omaha Country Club.
And, particularly, what’s not a joke is Creighton’s 6-1 record and first-place standing in the Bluejays’ new basketball conference, the Big East.
On Saturday night, Creighton will have a capacity crowd of 18,650 to greet the Georgetown Hoyas. There have been more full houses than not in Century Link Center in recent years, but this is different.
This is Georgetown — not what it was, but still a brand name, coming to Omaha to play the hometown Bluejays.
“We’ve had Wichita State here in big games in the [Missouri] Valley,” Creighton’s Ethan Wragge said. “We’ve had Nebraska, Northwestern … but never a Georgetown. People are pretty excited.
“Plus, it’s our annual Breast Cancer Awareness game, so it’s going to be a pinkout. It will be a great night.”
Wragge had one of those Monday night with a shooting performance that got Ethan more attention than his All-America teammate, Doug McDermott, for a few minutes.
Wragge is a 6-7 senior from Eden Prairie. He had spent the previous two seasons as Creighton sixth man: a player to come off the bench and get ready to shoot threes.
“Doug McDermott and I played the same position,” Wragge said. “Doug’s going to leave Creighton as a three-time, first-team All-America. So, I didn’t start. A few games into this season, they put me in the lineup.
“That’s not a problem with Doug on our team. He’s 6-foot-7½ and can play anywhere on the court. That’s what makes him so good.”
Wragge doesn’t have that all-around game. What he has is range and a quick trigger — a classic case of the catch-and-shoot guys who have found success in the three-point era.
Last Saturday, Creighton took its first Big East loss — 81-68 at Providence. Wragge was 2-for-8 on three-pointers and among the Bluejays’ liabilities in the loss.
Creighton went to Philadelphia for a Monday night game vs. No. 4. Villanova. On Sunday, coach Greg McDermott — yeah, Doug’s dad — took the Bluejays to the Palestra for a practice. Wragge found his range again in that historic arena.
Wragge came out the next night at Villanova and made seven threes in the first seven minutes. He finished 9-for-14 on threes and with a career-high 27 points in Creighton’s 96-68 blowout victory.
A hoops-head friend of mine reported that Wragge took one dribble total before making those threes.
“I think you’re giving Ethan one dribble too many,” said David Flom, the Eden Prairie coach. “He’s taken 150 shots this season. He might not have taken five dribbles before those shots.”
The official number for Wragge is 154 shots — and 148 are threes. He’s made 74 of those, for an astounding 50 percent from behind the line.
Wragge had no Division I offers of significance in the summer of 2009, before his senior year. “Later in July, he was playing in an AAU tournament and put on a shooting exhibition,” Flom said. “My phone lit up that night and stayed that way for two weeks.
“My cellphone bill for the month was $830. There were schools offering him scholarships that hadn’t seen Ethan play.”
Dana Altman was the coach who signed Wragge. He left Creighton for Oregon after Ethan’s freshman season in 2010. Greg McDermott escaped the heat he was getting at Iowa State and brought Doug with him. Two NCAA tournaments, and now the Big East, have followed.
“There are a few diehards around who miss the Valley, but most people are really into the Big East,” Wragge said. “I’m sure it helps that we’re off to a good start.”
First place, 6-1 and a three-game homestand of Georgetown, St. John’s and DePaul, starting with a “pinkout?” If I was a sports fan there, that would beat the Hades out of Peyton Manning shouting “Omaha” a few dozen times in the Super Bowl.
Patrick Reusse can be heard 3-6 p.m. weekdays on AM-1500. firstname.lastname@example.org