Thursday, November 25, 2004

Creighton 65, Ohio State 63 (OT)

Let’s get this straight.

Six months ago, Tyler McKinney effectively had one eye. As diehard Jays fans, we all know the story. And instead of having an eye removed, and instead of his college career ending early, he is back on the court, leading the Jays to an undefeated start. And as diehards, we also know to give thanks for Tyler’s health and his tenacity this holiday season. Not only has McKinney’s sight improved, but through five games and a Guardians Classic championship, his game is arguably the best it has been while at Creighton.

It is fitting that Tyler orchestrated such an important comeback against Ohio State, and that Guardians Classic officials named him MVP of the tournament championship after such a tough-played game against the Buckeyes. Ohio State held Nate Funk to eight points, a season-low, and Kellen Miliner and Jimmy Motz both failed to score in double figures as well. Tyler not only scored a season-high 11 points, but he dished out 6 assists and played 40 minutes. I would say his vision is just fine.

Thoughts (on another trophy for Dana Altman):

  • Anthony Tolliver did something the past week that shows he is more mature than he might lead on -- he responded to a challenge. Dana chose to start Anthony for the two games in Kansas City, and Tolliver did not let his coach or teammates down. Anthony shot 50% from the field in the two games and recorded the first double-double of his short Creighton career in the championship game. In fact, he is the only Bluejay to have 10 or more rebounds in a game this season. Most importantly, he finally looked comfortable with the action around him during the last two games. Some people, including myself, wondered how Anthony would make the transition from playing in a high school program that didn’t have much structure and old-fashion basketball strategy to playing for a superior strategist (Dana) in a program that must execute play calls in order to win. Kickapoo (Springfield, MO) high school featured a run-and-gun style of play that Anthony and his teammates flourished in, and Tolliver must play more of a traditional post position now at Creighton. If he can continue to grow in his role and do the things Dana wants him to do, the Jays will be VERY athletic in the paint on both sides of the ball.

  • Speaking of athleticism in the paint, we all know that Jeff Day is extremely quick for a center. Sometimes this last week, though, he was a little too fast, and was called for numerous traveling violations in the game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff and in the Guardians Classic semifinals and championship game. He was benched from his starting spot for both games in Kansas City, and he looked like he was trying to do too much when he eventually saw minutes in those games. He can flat out fly, he is extremely quick, and his extended wingspan changes the game on defense. Once he gets completely comfortable in Dana’s system, watch out. He will be a force in the Valley.

  • Ohio State was thick at almost every position, and still the Jays did not back down. Creighton out rebounded the Buckeyes 37-31, succeeding on one of Dana’s preaching principles. And for being undersized many times during the game, Ohio State only went to the free-throw line seven times. The Buckeyes were content to keep shooting long-range jumpers and three pointers, and when fatigue set in from the constant Bluejay press and pressure those shots stopped falling for Ohio State. The Jays, on the other hand, went to the charity stripe 19 times and shot 60% -- not ideal, but definitely more effective than the Buckeyes not even getting to the line. This was also another spot where Tyler made his presence felt, going 4-5 from the line. Funk also tried to create free throw opportunities for himself, and as the Buckeyes started limiting his outside shot he drove the lane and drew contact. Nate’s added muscle is really starting to pay off.

  • Dane Watts continued his progression in his freshman season, and he is providing a lot of spark off the bench for the Jays. Everyone will look at Tyler’s game-winner as the defining moment of the championship contest, but the most important sequence of the game arguably came at the 1:50 mark of the second half. Anthony Tolliver hit one of two free throws to pull the Jays within one, and Ohio State turned the ball over on the subsequent possession. On the next trip down the floor, Tyler found Dane in the paint and Watts finished with a rousing dunk. He was fouled in the act, completed the three-point play, and the Jays led 54-53. Dane finished with 9 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, and a huge steal on a Buckeye inbounds pass.

Next Game

Creighton will most likely be underdogs going to the Cintas Center in Cincinnati to take on the Xavier Musketeers, but this is a very winnable game for the Jays. Xavier lost the core of last year's Elite Eight squad, and they have suffered season-ending knee injuries to two of their post players. Brandon Cole tore his anterior cruciate ligament last week in Xavier’s loss to Miami (OH), joining Boubacar Coly, a 6’-9” freshman forward who suffered a season-ending knee injury prior to the start of this season. Dana said he will give the Jays a couple days off to enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday and rest a bit after their 5-0 start, and he’ll have this team ready for their first true road game of the season. Jays win in Cincinnati.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Creighton 78, Missouri 54

I knew this team would bring defensive energy and hustle to floor almost every night, but I am left scratching and shaking my head this morning. Did Creighton REALLY hold Missouri to 54 points and 32% shooting from the field? Did the Jays really virtually pull down the same number of rebounds as the Tigers, despite being outsized with nearly every lineup that played for Mizzou?

I’ll put together a review of the entire Guardians Classic following the championship game tonight, but here are some thoughts while I dream of CU going 2-0 against BCS conference-teams in November:

  • Anthony Tolliver and Dane Watts will have a very happy Thanksgiving. Regardless of why Anthony started against Missouri (The World-Herald quoted Dana Altman as saying that regular starter Jeffery Day didn’t take care of some responsibilities and thus did not get the starting nod), to hit a three-pointer for your team’s first bucket of the night against your home state team that didn’t offer you a scholarship has to get a kid pumped up. Anthony missed his first two shots but grabbed a couple of rebounds, which definitely eased him into the game a little more quickly. Foul trouble haunted him though, and he only logged 10 minutes on the court.

    Dane hit three-pointers at the 12- and 5- minute marks, laid a devastating screen on a Tiger, and finished with 12 points and 3 rebounds in 19 minutes of play. Dane is also from Missouri, was not recruited heavily by Quin the Eskimo, and now is making an immediate impact for a traditionally successful mid-major school. Like I said in my season preview, I think Dane will turn out to be one of Dana’s most important recruits in his tenure at CU, and hopefully he will play the rest of the season like he is home in Missouri.

    (Side note: I don’t understand why more top recruits don’t go to mid-majors for instant playing time, instant big-man-on-campus stature, and instant big-fish-in-a-small-pond attention. Kalen Grimes is a great example. I have come to grips with the fact that Dana and his staff only received token interest from Mike’s (big) little brother and that he was the Missouri Gatorade Player of the Year, but I don’t like the fact that he will have to spend a lot of his freshman year sitting on the bench while Kevin Young clogs the lane with his 300-pound frame.

    For me it all goes back to T.J. Pugh, who Roy Williams recruited to play for Kansas. Pugh, a dominating force at Omaha Creighton Prep, would have played immediately with Rodney, and the two would have spent four years completely terrorizing the Missouri Valley Conference. Instead, Pugh went to Kansas and had a solid role-playing career as a defensive stopper off the bench. My dad and I still wonder what would have been, and who would have worn #32 if they had both gone to CU.)

  • Tyler McKinney had 11 assists and no turnovers. Johnny Mathies had 18 points and 1 turnover. Our two point guards combined for 20 points, 13 assists, 5 rebounds, 3 steals, and 1 turnover. These numbers were against the athletic, taller, and longer guards of Mizzou. I would take Tyler over any point guard in the Valley right now, and I am elated that he is able to enjoy his senior season like this. I also really hope Johnny is taking notes from Tyler this season, because he will be poised to be the transition guy next year. Not only can Johnny score, but also he is quick, agile, and plays good defense. It will be up to him as a senior next year to serve as the link between Tyler and Josh Dotzler. I really like Dana’s strategy of getting Tyler and Johnny on the floor at the same time – this team is completely different when two floor generals are playing together.

  • “Umm, Nate, this is Missouri Valley Conference commissioner Doug Elgin calling. I just wanted to congratulate you on your Player of the Year award. Good luck trying to win it again as a senior – it is well-deserved.”

  • The fact that we beat Mizzou by 20+ points even though Jimmy Motz and Kellen Miliner went a combined 3-15 from the field should excite Jays fans even more. Jimmy and Kellen are not going to have too many bad shooting games at the same time, and the fact that the Jays weathered those offensive performances says a lot about the ability of their teammates to pick up the slack. It also speaks volumes about the two kids that they kept their noses in the thick of things, with Jimmy picking up a key charge on the Tigers and Kellen hitting the floor for some loose-ball situations.

  • Have a great Thanksgiving, and don’t forget to read my Guardians Classic wrap-up tomorrow after the championship game. I think the Jays win a close one tonight and head to Cincinnati with some momentum and confidence.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Creighton 83, Arkansas-Pine Bluff 58

It should never have been that close. I hate to sound like a stick in the mud, but the Jays should have won this game by 40 points. All 9,000-plus in attendance at the Q yesterday knew the Jays would win handily, and apparently so did the roughly 2,000 other fans who paid for tickets but decided against going. There must have been a good Husker game on television.

Okay, the crowd wasn’t the best and they were silent most of the game, but can you blame them? It is harder for a crowd to "get up" for a game against an inferior opponent than it is for the Jays. That being said, some of the Jays took some steps yesterday (literally, as there were more than a handful of traveling violations whistled against both teams) in the right direction, which will serve Dana well as we hit a difficult stretch of the season.


First of all, the Missouri Valley Conference officials can just get Nate Funk’s all-conference paperwork ready right now. Eighteen points on 7-8 shooting from the field, with another team-lead in rebounds (8), four assists, and a steal. The most impressive part of Nate’s game, though, was that he only shot one three-pointer (he made it, of course). Twelve of his 18 points came off strong drives to the basket, offensive put-backs, and serene pull-up jumpers that just float through the nets. Only 3 of 5 from the free throw line, though, so there is always room for improvement.

(I think Jimmy Motz just hit another 3.)

Jeff Day sees the floor well for a big man (four assists against the Golden Lions), finishes well in the paint with a deft, short-armed hook shot and a decent drop step, and changes the game defensively with his athleticism and length (in other words, the guy jumps OUT OF THE GYM). I know I’m a stickler for details, but only one rebound in 18 minutes of play? From our 6'9" jumping jack? It is hard to reach consistency in game where you are being subed in and out repeatedly, but Jeff will need to pull down his fair share of boards against Mizzou in the Guardians Classic semifinal. Great job offensively today, and we finally won the opening tip!

In the first half, A-PB shot well (50%) but Creighton shot better (60%). Obviously, Dana was not happy with the defensive intensity shown by the Jays in the first 20 minutes, and the Jays responded by holding A-PB to just under 26% shooting from the field in the second half. However, the Jays also struggled at times offensively in the second 20 minutes, shooting just 38% from the field and connecting on only one of five three-point shots (Motz’s final trifecta). What does all this mean? Not much, other than the Jays started hot AGAIN from behind the arc (7-10 in the first half) and they really clamped down on defense in the second half. But, Dana had some very interesting lineups on the floor in the final 15 minutes of the game, including Anthony Tolliver, Dane Watts, Steve Smith, Dennis Howard, and Johnny Mathies all in at the same time. A-PB had some easy baskets at the end of the game, but overall the Jays played good defense.

Speaking of Tolliver, he had his best 16 minutes in his Bluejay career. 3-7 shooting from the floor, with a couple of free throws, four rebounds, an assist, and a steal. He finally finished some shots, and he showed good instincts a couple times on defense. I REALLY hope he stays healthy and cuts down on his routine of posting up with good position and then fading away with a jumper – he is very talented and just needs to keep gaining experience.

(I think Jimmy just hit another three-point bomb)

On the subject of experience, it was really a breakout day for Pierce Hibma. Many Jays fans have heard about Pierce’s ability to play lock-down defense and create for himself with a slashing-style of play on offense, and we saw glimpses of both those traits against A-PB. Pierce logged 20 quality minutes, going 4-5 from the field and getting a couple boards. He has very good instincts defensively about where plays are going, and he is only going to gain more confidence offensively. He plays with an incredible amount of effort and hustle, which is the best part about watching him – he never slows down.

Another frustrating day for Dennis Howard, Dane Watts, and Steve Smith, although they each had their chances. Dennis was one of the first guys off the pine in the beginning of the game when Dana went to the bench after a couple easy baskets by A-PB, and he immediately picked up a couple of fouls. He just gets himself sped up, and the fouls are byproducts of his aggressive play. He got a couple of rebounds and is getting better looks at the hoop. However, the sweet stroke he displays in warm-ups has yet to find its way on the court during a game. Just keep firing away, Dennis!

Dane went 0-5 from the field, and he couldn’t convert on the backdoor alley-oop in the final couple of minutes. However, he contributed a couple rebounds and a few solid defensive plays in the 14 minutes of action. Steve Smith is still learning his way around, but he has really solid instincts around the basket offensively. Steve made a couple of free-throws, and he has a really nice shooting touch. I think he will have a couple of Joe Dabbert Days, when he goes for 14 or 16 points on nearly-perfect shooting from the floor, but those days may be a month or so away.

Finally, the guy holding the short end of the stick again was Quincy Henderson. He played the lowest amount of minutes of any returning Jay (8), went 0-3 from the field, and missed three of his four free throw attempts. Q plays solid defense, but I wonder if it is enough to play serious minutes in any rotation Dana sets up for the meat of the non-conference schedule and Valley play. I hope Q keeps plugging away and pouring in good effort.

(Motz with another 3...oh my!)

Next Game

The Guardians Classic wraps up, and the smorgasbord of Jays games this week serves as a nice transition into the gorging holiday season. Mizzou lost their non-Guardians home opener this weekend to Davidson, and you can bet Quin (the Eskimo) Snyder will have his guys primed to play in the old Muni in K.C. on Tuesday. I think the Jays win (of course I do, I think the Jays will win every game), but I don’t think you’ll see as many of the new young guys playing significant minutes. We need Nate to keep up his red-hot shooting and rebounding, we need our point guards to play smart (especially Johnny, who will have to play a lot to neutralize some of the speed Mizzou has at the guard position), and we need Jeff Day to have a MONSTER game.

And we need Jimmy to keep hitting those threes.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Creighton 68, Iona 62

Tuesday night’s game served as a reminder to all Creighton fans just how early in the season it is. Monday night’s game, albeit against a completely overmatched opponent, left Jays fans buzzing about the long-range future of this team. Tuesday, some of the buzzing sounded like the clanks coming off the rim from CU free throws.

Creighton defeated Iona 68-62 to win the Guardians Classic Regional Championship, but it did not come easy. The Jays shot just 36.5% from the field and committed 14 turnovers, while the Iona Gaels shot 47% from the field and gave the Jays all they could handle.

But the Jays won the battle of the boards, one of Dana Altman’s preaching points for victory, and they made the plays when they needed to. It didn’t hurt that Creighton shot 50% from beyond the three-point arc, connecting on 12 bombs.

Nate Funk was one rebound away from a double-double, leading all Jays with 18 points and 9 boards. Kellen Miliner and Johnny Mathies added 14 points each, and Jimmy Motz hit some big threes to finish with 12 points. He also led the team in “Korver Condor Arms” with three.

It was another solid game for the backcourt, as Tyler McKinney scored six points and added a team-high six assists, with just one turnover. Tyler hit his first and only bucket – a three – which sparked the Jays trifecta shooting in the first half.


Free throws were horrible. Not more you can say than that. Motz is out there hitting 25-foot threes, but he goes 1-4 from the charity stripe. CU finishes 18-29 from the line, 62%, and could have put the game away numerous times after Iona fouls.

Nate and Kellen carried the load offensively again, but it was nice to see Johnny Mathies hitting some open shots. He has an unorthodox shooting form, but he hit a couple of threes early and the defense had to get out on him and respect his long-range shooting. That allowed him to dribble-drive and create for a couple guys. However, he still gets “DeAnthonied” a bit and doesn’t slow down at all the right times. He had three turnovers, but he offset those with three steals. Dana put Johnny on their best scorer in crunch time, and he did a great job – good ‘D’.

Also, Dana played Johnny and Tyler in the game at the same time, a few times with a third guard (Kellen, Nate) and a few times just as the two-person backcourt. I like the idea of having two solid ball handlers out there, especially at crunch time.

Jeff Day didn’t attempt a field goal, but he was fouled a couple times in the act of shooting and made 2-5 free throws. He played about 20 minutes, and had a couple boards, an assist, and a big block. I love his enthusiasm – every time Dana subs for him, Day gets a big smile on his face and shakes his head. He wants to be in there, and you can tell he wants to play the whole game. I guess sitting out of competitive basketball for a year will increase your hunger for playing time.

Speaking of playing time, Anthony Tolliver saw some but didn’t exactly capitalize on his minutes. 0-3 from the field, including a point-blank lay-up in a crucial spot in the game, and a couple of face-up jumpers. A couple turnovers, but he did add some boards and a block. I know AT didn’t play a lot of true post-up center in high school, but if Dana is going to play him at the 5, he is going to have to incorporate more than a 10-foot fade away jumper in his low-post arsenal.

Among the young guys, Tolliver and Dane Watts played the most, with Dennis Howard and Pierce Hibma each playing a couple of minutes. Steve Smith got in for one possession in the first half, which was long enough for the 8,500 people in attendance to realize he got a hair cut. He went from Funk-esq shag to Dabbert-style crop, and by the time Steve’s one minute of playing time was done, I don’t think half the people in the Q knew who had just played.

Speaking of Q, Quincy didn’t see the floor tonight. Nick Porter also didn’t play, as he continues to recover from knee surgery. Iona played a lot of zone once the Jays broke their press, and Quincy isn’t going to flourish a lot against the zone. Altman played a lot of his shooters, and Pierce and Quincy just wont get the minutes right now against a good zone defense.

Jays struggled at times last night, and were trailing by one at the half, but if they hit a couple of their missed free throws, this is a double-digit win and fans like me are not complaining. There are definitely some things to work on, but the defensive effort will get this team through the early parts of the season when the new guys are learning the offense on the run. Including the exhibition game, the Jays have shown solid defense – especially on the perimeter – and have dove for the loose balls.

CU will need a great effort next Tuesday, as they will face off against Missouri in the semifinal of the Guardians Classic. The Jays have a tune-up game on Saturday, however, with Arkansas-Pine Bluff, and that will give Dana a much-needed opportunity to get some of the younger guys more familiar with game situations.

Mizzou will be tough next week, but CU should be able to put together a good effort against Arkansas-Pine Bluff and continue taking baby steps with some of the new guys. Funk and Kellen look lights out, though, and this team looks full of talent. They can win a good number of games this year, and they will win on Saturday. Just as long as we stop clanking the free throws around. Geez.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Season Preview

Where are we?
There is nothing I look forward to more than the start of the Creighton basketball season. I have seen so many Jays games, yet I still can’t wait to show up early for Opening Night and watch warm-ups. Each season, I usually have some idea of what to expect for the upcoming season -- which players to watch, which opponents to look forward to seeing, what the race for the Missouri Valley Conference championship will look like. Each season except this one.

I thought I knew what to expect last year. It didn’t really surprise me when the Jays won their first dozen games last year -- the non-conference schedule was fairly manageable, with San Diego and Nebraska at home. Last season, everyone in Omaha knew that the frontcourt would be the focus of the offense, and Dana Altman made sure that Michael Grimes, Brody Deren, and Joe Dabbert got their touches. Except that is not really what Creighton basketball is.

Creighton hoops, and for that matter Valley basketball, has primarily been guard-dominated. So, I guess I should have been prepared for the slower brand of ball played last year. I should have seen the incessant pounding of the ball into the paint coming, but I refused to believe that Altman would change his entire offensive strategy just because he had a few big men down low.

I should have seen the confusion and congestion in the lane coming -- the lack of solid perimeter passing after Tyler McKinney bowed out of the season due to his eye injury. But I remained blinded by my love of Jays hoops and my endearment to Altman’s coaching style.

But to say last season didn’t go as expected is an understatement. With two minutes to go in the NIT home game against Nebraska last March, I had started filling out my ticket requests for the supposed second-round home game the Jays were almost assured of hosting. Without naming names, a few of the Jays forgot about running out the clock and not fouling when your team is winning late, and the Jays lost on a tip-in to the hated Huskers.

Between the 12-0 start and the season-ending loss to the ‘Skers, Creighton was about as consistent as Omaha weather. But now, the sunshine is back, and Jays hoops is upon us. And this time, no one can honestly make “expert picks” for this team.

The Young and the Restless

There are really never any “old” college basketball players -- except, of course, Cookie Belcher -- but this year’s team doesn’t exactly ooze Division IA experience. However, there are veterans at the leadership positions, and that means if the increasingly talented Jays can learn the ropes of D-I hoops early enough, this season has a chance to be special. A look at the 2004-2005 Creighton Bluejays, by position:


The point guard position is where last season’s collapse started, but it is also where this year’s hopes spring from. When then-junior McKinney first experienced trouble with his right eye, Creighton’s experience at the point guard position went from slim to none. Junior college transfer Johnny Mathies tried to pick up from where McKinney left off, but his clear lack of familiarity with Altman’s offense hurt the Jays in Valley play. And as it was feared that Tyler might have played his final game as a Jay, Creighton fans began wondering if Altman would be able to find help for Mathies for the 2004-2005 season. Things changed for the better last summer.

McKinney’s eye healed quicker than expected, and he was cleared to play a few weeks before fall conditioning started. Mathies is quicker on defense and has the ability to create shots for himself, but everyone knows this is Tyler’s team. He is an unassuming leader, and while his point totals are not flashy, he is an anomaly for this Jays team -- consistent in almost every facet of his play. With Tyler back at the point, Johnny becomes a wonderful player in the backup role. Not only can Johnny play lock-down defense on the other guards in the Valley, but he also showed the ability to score in bunches last year -- hitting double figures nine times -- and has a full year of experience in Altman’s system.

If the point guards on this team serve as the steady and reliable leaders of the offense (Tyler) and the defense (Johnny), then the shooting guards add the flare (and more importantly, the scoring threat). Junior Nate Funk, senior Kellen Miliner, and newcomers Nick Porter and Pierce Hibma each bring the ability to score and create for teammates on the offensive end. However, their biggest contribution as a whole may be on the defensive end of the court.

Funk and Miliner are the obvious scorers on this team, with Funk set for the type of breakthrough season seen from recent Jays stars Kyle Korver (’03) and Rodney Buford (’99). While that is talented and successful company to be included with, Funk looks like he wouldn’t want it any other way. After putting on about 15 lbs. of muscle during the off-season, Nate is finally big enough to play the type of slashing offensive game he has shown hints of in the past. Everyone in the Valley knows about Nate’s three-point shooting and ability to hit the open jumper, but now teams must defend against a player that will not be satisfied to just sit outside the three-point arc and throw up bombs.

Kellen led the Jays with 50 three-point field goals last year, and finished with a 9.8 ppg scoring average. Most importantly, the Valley selected Kellen for the all-MVC Bench team, which highlighted the kind of spark he proved to be off the pine for the Jays last year. Kellen brings athleticism, great leaping ability, and good court awareness to the shooting guard spot, and he will be able to display these traits in a starting role in the Jays’ three-guard starting lineup this season.

Rounding out the shooting guard spot are redshirt freshman Pierce Hibma and junior college transfer Nick Porter. Both Pierce and Nick have yet to play in a Division I game, but both have done some outstanding things offensively in the past. Pierce was a two-time All State choice in Iowa during high school, while Nick gained All State honors in Nevada in high school and earned all-tournament honors after averaging 18 ppg in last year’s California Junior College championship tournament. Both will see limited minutes, as Pierce continues to adjust early to the speed of the college game and Porter works himself into shape following knee surgery in August.


Speaking of new guys, do you recognize any of these names? Jeffery Day? Dennis Howard? Dane Watts? Steve Smith? For all accounts and purposes, this could be the lineup for a Journey tribute band. But in fact, this is the future Jays frontcourt. There will be no #21, #22, #34, or #43 on the floor for the Jays this year. You may not recognize these names, but these four post players have significance for the short- and long-term future of Creighton basketball.

Jeff Day and Dennis Howard are juniors arriving to Creighton through completely different circumstances. Day has played at the highest level of D-I, as he started his career at the University of Washington in the Pac-10. He played as a freshman and sophomore, but left the Huskies program after being declared academically ineligible. Day took last year off from college hoops, focusing his time on bringing up his grades. He did just that, and he immediately steps into the starting center spot for the Jays.

Howard came to Creighton from a junior college in Colorado, after scoring more than 30 points a game his senior year of high school in Ft. Worth, Texas. At 6’7”, 200 lbs., Howard gives the Jays a potential scoring threat and athletic presence at the wing, something Korver and Buford gave Altman’s most successful teams. Dennis will have to work quickly, though, because he only has two seasons under Altman whereas Korver and Buford spent four years at CU.

Dane Watts and Steve Smith are true freshmen from Missouri and South Dakota, respectively. Smith has been bothered by a foot injury and did not suit up for the Jays’ exhibition game against EA Sports. Watts features a strong body, a sweet shooting touch, and a tenacity that reminds me of a young Bob Harstad.
It has yet to be seen how Altman will use these four newcomers in conjunction with Jimmy Motz, Quincy Henderson, and Anthony Tolliver -- post players that have already seen minutes in their careers.

Motz started at the lone forward spot in the exhibition game, and looks to be an important role player for the Jays this season. Motz’s three-point shooting is deft, especially for a 6’7” forward, and if he can stay healthy he should put up career-best numbers. He was pulled out of a redshirt season during his freshman year but then missed his second season at Creighton due to ankle surgery. He played sparingly last year, but looks for increased minutes and responsibilities this season.

Quincy also used a redshirt, and last season saw time as a second-year freshman. Q is very athletic and plays great defense, but did not see many opportunities to show his offensive skills.

Anthony Tolliver was a recruiting score for the Jays, as his high school team won the state tournament at the highest level in Missouri as a senior. Anthony is listed at 6’8” and has put a few pounds on his frame, but injuries have slowed his progress in Altman’s system -- he broke his hand last year during preseason conditioning and is just getting back from a broken foot sustained in practice.

Prognosis -- Growth

Now that we are all caught up on the current look of the Jays, what can we expect? First of all, expect the Jays to flourish defensively. This team is quicker than any of Dana’s past teams, and while not exceptionally big, they feature guys with long arms and good hops. Guys like Day and Howard will allow Dana to press repeatedly, while solid on-the-ball defenders like Funk, Miliner, and Mathies provide shutdown defense from the perimeter.

Offensively, the Jays will encorporate an inside-out attack featuring the long-range shooting and dribble penetration of Funk and Miliner. This is where Day needs to provide experience, and where guys like Howard, Motz, and Watts need to capitalize on defenses crashing down on the Jays’ shooters.

The talent is in place, and Tyler’s invaluable leadership brings Altman’s presence to the floor. If this team can learn the ropes during the Guardian Classic and a non-conference schedule lacking marquee opponents, the Jays have the chance to finish in the top half of the Valley. Funk will make his case for first-team all-MVC honors, and something tells me that Day will make a strong run for Valley newcomer of the year.

No matter what the final record, it will be fun to watch this team mature. Obviously, there will be growing pains, but maybe that is the only thing Jays fans should come to expect this season.
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