Thursday, March 03, 2005

Creighton 64, Illinois St. 59

I didn’t always make the best decisions during my freshman year of college: I skipped one too many classes, went out one too many nights, and watched way too much basketball in my dorm room and at the Civic. But I did make one great decision – traveling to St. Louis for my first Missouri Valley Conference Arch Madness Tournament – and it paid off in 1999 and almost every year since.

This will be my seventh straight trip to the Gateway city for the tournament, and I never imagine myself not making the trip each year. I’ve seen the Jays win the tournament four of the past six years, each time rushing the court like it could be the last. I’ve drank beer underage in half of the bars in downtown St. Louis. I’ve taken the Anheuser-Busch brewery tour so many times that I can tell you the names of all the Clydesdales and how many gallons are in the brewing tanks. And most importantly, I’ve seen Jays fans invade eastern Missouri in flocks, painting the town blue and using the city as a backdrop for the largest alumni and fan gathering of the year.

I’m driving down this year, as it is one of my superstitions. The only two years I flew to St. Louis for the tournament were 2001 and 2004 – the last two times Creighton failed to cut down the nets at the Savvis Center. So, being the slightly paranoid Jays fan that I am, I will be making the trek in my Bluejay-blue four-door, passing through Kansas City and Columbia toward the Mississippi River. And that brings up the first problem of the weekend – I’ve never driven home from St. Louis early.

Each year, I spend the majority of the car ride prognosticating how the Jays will do, who they will beat, and who will shine as the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. And on the drive back to Omaha, I excitedly flood the car with Bracket banter, projecting what seed Creighton will garner in the upcoming tournament and how I can get to Worchester, Massachusetts for under $200 dollars. But this year is different: I have to be at work on Monday, which means if Creighton can get past a pesky Illinois State squad Saturday night and win the semifinal match up against one of three possible opponents, I’ll have to drive six hours wondering if the Jays can complete the trifecta of wins.

That entire scenario is moot if Dana Altman and his team don’t protect their seed on Saturday evening. The drinking and camaraderie and good times wont cease to exist this weekend if Creighton loses, but as I found last year it just isn’t quite as fun when they lose. So I’ll toast my first Bud Light to college friends, the white and the blue, and the Jays performing well this weekend. Oh, and some losses to “bubble” teams so we might be able to sneak into the Big Dance.

My Arch Madness Bracket

First Round – Friday Night

#8 Bradley vs. #9 Indiana State

I’m not going to spend a lot of time analyzing the Friday night games, because any four of these teams can advance to Sunday play with a couple of breaks here and there. I have to go with Marcellus Sommerville and the Braves in this game, based on his sheer talent and drive. It doesn’t hurt that they put Patrick O’Bryant on the floor to chew up the middle of the paint.

#7 Drake vs. #10 Evansville

I really like Dr. Tom Davis’ Bulldogs in this one, considering they are getting minutes from everyone on their bench and Evansville, well, doesn’t really HAVE a bench. The Purple Aces are short-handed and don’t respond very well to full-court defensive pressure, which is something that the young Bulldogs can do very well.

Quarterfinals – Saturday

Bradley vs. #1 Southern Illinois

The Salukis swept Bradley in the regular season, and Darren Brooks and crew should post the victory over the Braves (or the Sycamores, if that is the case). Look for Sommerville to put the Braves on his back, but the lack of experience for (and the toll of the long season on) the Bradley freshmen will do them in this weekend.

#4 Northern Iowa vs. #5 Southwest Missouri State

This is a rematch of last year’s Valley championship game, and anyone could make the case that if these two teams were in different sides of this year’s bracket, they could square off for the title once again. But, I like SMS in this one, partly because it is difficult to beat the same team three times in one season. Or at least that is what I keep telling myself until Creighton goes up against Wichita State or the Panthers. Ben Jacobsen will try to will his team to the win, but I don’t think this is UNI’s year. Bears win.

Drake vs. #2 Wichita State

This is a tough game to choose, especially given the Shockers’ collapse during the final two weeks of the regular season. Either Jamar Howard and Randy Burns come out and dictate the game from start to finish, or Drake pushes the game into overdrive and puts the Shockers’ backs against the wall. I think WSU pulls it out, but I could see this being the first upset of the tournament.

#3 Creighton vs. #6 Illinois State

Um, let’s see … who do I have in this one. Obviously I like the Jays in this one, but if the first two games between these teams are any indication of what to expect Saturday, everyone closing out the Savvis Center for the night should be in for a treat. Jays win.

Semifinals – Sunday

Southern Illinois vs. Southwest Missouri State

This is the Battle of Burgundy and a match up of two of the physically toughest teams in the Valley. At this point, I think SMS isn’t consistent enough to choose them as the team to upset SIU, but I really think the Bears can take SIU to the wire. However, Brooks won’t let this team NOT get to Monday night, so the Salukis win.

Wichita State vs. Creighton

I don’t think we’ll shoot 60-plus percent against the Shox again. But I also don’t think Altman will let this team lose if they can get past Saturday night. Jays win a close one, and Funk takes the game over again.

Finals – Monday

Southern Illinois vs. Creighton

You cant beat a good team three times in a season, can you? Jays win.

Wow, you’d think I’ve already had a couple free samples from the Budweiser Brewery tour.

Have a great time in St. Louis everyone, and be safe.

Go Jays!
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