Rising Star: Creighton Forward Ethan Wragge

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Ethan Wragge #34 of the Creighton Bluejays (credit: Eric Francis/Getty Images)

Ethan Wragge #34 of the Creighton Bluejays (credit: Eric Francis/Getty Images)

By Andrew Kahn

In the second half of Creighton’s most recent game, there was a scramble for a loose ball near the St. John’s basket. Player of the Year favorite Doug McDermott was already on fire, and yet St. John’s players keyed on Ethan Wragge, who hadn’t scored. They closed out on Wragge even though he didn’t have the ball, leaving McDermott open for a jumper, which he nailed. Wragge finished with just three points on three shots, but No. 12 Creighton got the win to move to 18-3.

Opposing defenses have varied against Creighton’s potent offense. St. John’s chose to take away Wragge and McDermott exploded for 39. Two games prior, Wragge drained 9-14 threes in a blowout victory over Villanova. According to Hoop-Math, 157 of his 163 shots this season have been from beyond the arc (96 percent), the highest percentage in the country among players with at least 100 field goal attempts. He converts half of his attempts, which makes him the best high-usage marksman in college hoops.

The 6’8”, 225-pound Wragge has always been tall for his age, but he didn’t shoot three-pointers in games until 10th grade because he lacked the strength to get the ball to the rim without compromising his mechanics. So how did he become a three-point specialist? “I can do more than just shoot threes, but we have a two-time All American on our team,” Wragge said, speaking of the soon-to-be three-time nominee McDermott. “It’s probably better for him to shoot a contested two versus me trying to force one.”

His attempts are also dictated by Creighton’s offensive spacing. Wragge and his teammates spread out to let McDermott go one-on-one in the post or find passing angles when he’s double-teamed. In an article for College Chalk Talk, Drew Dawson highlighted Creighton’s effective ball reversals that often lead to open jumpers from the weak side.

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Creighton head coach Greg McDermott said Wragge’s size makes him tough to guard. “Most big guys—and I’m a big guy myself—we’re taught after a missed shot (by a teammate) to sprint to the paint and guard the basket. If you’re guarding Ethan, you can’t do that because you’ll lose him in transition and it could cost you three points.” Should teams go with a smaller, more agile defender more accustomed to guarding the perimeter, Wragge uses his high release and deep range to shoot over them.

McDermott called Wragge a great teammate whose “unselfish attitude has spread through the team like wildfire.” Only three teams in the country record assists on a larger percentage of their baskets, and Wragge’s a big reason why Creighton has the top effective field goal percentage in the country.

Named to the Missouri Valley All-Freshman team in 2009-10, he missed most of the next season with plantar fasciitis. He had his meniscus removed after his sophomore year and played the final few games of last season with a broken left (non-shooting) wrist. Now a redshirt senior, he said he’s feeling healthy, and his stats are up across the board.

His threes—which have been called Wragge Bombs—come from all over the court, but he said the easiest come after offensive rebounds and kick-outs. He said he considers the score and situation, but as long as he’s open, his coaches and teammates are fine with him letting it fly.

Andrew Kahn is a contributor to CBS Local Sports who also writes for Newsday and The Wall Street Journal. He writes about college basketball and other sports at AndrewJKahn.com. Email him at andrewjkahn@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter at @AndrewKahn

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