Sunday, November 27, 2005

Creighton 91, Dayton 90 (2 OT)

Last night was a special evening at Qwest Center OMAHA. It was a high-five-with-your-neighbors kind of night, a special atmosphere where more than 14,800 Creighton fans traded in composure and maturity for hoarse voices, hands warmed from clapping, and boisterous behavior.

On a Saturday night at the tail end of a holiday weekend, the Jays were the talk of the town in terms of the entertainment dollar. Fans filled the Q to the brim, with the south upper bowl the only section of the arena with many empty seats.

Not like people needed their seats, though. A majority of the final 3 minutes of regulation and the two overtime periods found Jays fans young and old on two legs, cheering an 11-point comeback by the home team and the dynamic duo of Nate Funk and Johnny Mathies.

The senior tandem combined for 62 of Creighton’s 91 points; 15 of Johnny’s 24 points came in the first half, while 31 of Nate’s 38 points came in the second half and two extra frames. It was just another chapter in what is becoming a story of tenacity and strength from both players, each of which repeatedly drove the basketball to the paint and picked up foul calls from the officiating crew.

But with so many forces working against the Jays – sub-par rebounding effort, huge scoring games from two of Dayton’s starters, and inconsistent whistles from the officials – it was the crowd that pulled this Jays team to 3-0. Don’t believe me? Believe coach Dana Altman.

In his post game radio interview, Altman credited the crazed crowd repeatedly, thanking the fans driving home from downtown for their stanch support throughout the evening’s contest. He reflected back to the days of the Old Barn – the Civic Auditorium – when trying to describe the atmosphere amongst the crowd, crediting last night’s fans with being the loudest ever at the new building.

The lines where long, the kegs at the Bud Bar were flowing, and the people were loud. This wasn’t a combined effort like the Creighton/Nebraska games two years ago; this was nearly 15,000 people together, giving a collective voice to the Bluejay Fever and helping propel this team to victory. The Jays could have folded to a solid Dayton team when they trailed by nearly a dozen in the second half, but the crowd wouldn’t go away. In turn, the Jays also refused to lose.

Don’t expect the next crowd to dwindle, either, as Nebraska comes to Omaha for a showdown two weeks from today – the game should easily sell out before tip-off. But before fans can focus on where to park in the Old Market on a busy Sunday afternoon, the Jays will play two big road games without their vociferous followers.

And while there will be a sprinkling of Jays supporters in Chicago and Chattanooga, I’d much rather leave those two games up to Nate and Johnny. The crowd only has so much energy, and it looks like those two never run out of gas.

Behind the Box Score

  • If Nate Funk and Johnny Mathies led the Jays to a win against George Mason, what do you call their performances against Dayton? Gritty comes to mind. In a game where Dayton matched up extremely well at all positions with the Jays, the difference was the penetrating abilities of the Funk and Mathies. Nate made as many free throws (15) as Dayton had attempts from the charity stripe (15). He shot from the line 18 times, and only two of those free throw attempts came in the first half. Simply put, he forced his way into the paint and converted when the Jays needed points.

    While Dayton tried to take Funk completely out of the game in the first half, Johnny carried the load offensively and went to the locker room with 15 points on 6-8 shooting from the field (a perfect 3-3 from behind the arc). He even played his usual steady defense, picking a few pockets with 3 steals. Overall, Johnny finished with a career-high 24 points, and more importantly picked up offensively where he had left off last season.

  • Through three games, the verdict is nearly perfect for freshman Josh Dotzler: This isn’t your typical first-year point guard. Josh logged 41 minutes of action against Dayton (third-highest behind Funk and Mathies), scoring 6 points, dishing 7 assists, grabbing 3 steals, and only turning over the basketball once. Once. In a game decided by 1 point in 2 overtimes, that is one of the most telling stats of the night. Creighton beat Dayton 23-13 on points off of turnovers, and the fact that the frosh guard limited his mistakes is one of the main reasons Creighton pulled out the difficult victory.

  • Anthony Tolliver experienced mixed results last night. He got a lot of good looks at the basket, with 11 shot attempts, but was slow in his moves to the hoop. That allowed Dayton defenders to collapse and help, which made for some contested shots for Anthony – only 4 of which went down for the A-Train (36% from the field). He finished with 10 points and 6 rebounds in 28 minutes of play, and he recorded 3 blocked shots in what amounted to some pretty strong defensive stands. All in all, though, Tolliver showed that when matched up against stronger post players, he has a ways to go on the offensive end. His best shots came when he employed a quick, decisive offensive move, not allowing the defenders to double-up on him in the low blocks.

  • Jeff Day completely disappeared against Dayton, and Altman let him hear about it a few times coming off the floor. Day struggled to get position on the offensive end and gave up too many rebounds on the defensive glass, leading to no defensive rebounds in 15 minutes of action. Creighton ended up minus-19 on the boards, which is unacceptable to Altman and his staff. With Steve Smith still catching up to his teammates in reps, and with the NCAA taking its sweet time in the Manourou Gakou case, Altman knows he needs at least two solid post players to be successful. Day needs to step up immediately and assert his talents on the court.

  • Another troubled spot for Creighton was the guard help for Funk, Mathies, and Dotzler. Nick Porter was ineffective in his 14 minutes of action, turning over the ball 4 times, only taking one shot from the field, and grabbing just 1 rebound (he had 10 boards against George Mason). The usually reliable defensive stopper Pierce Hibma struggled when guarding Dayton’s big scorers, giving up some easy baskets and some good looks from the field. He only played 11 minutes. For the Jays’ rotation to be advantageous and wear down the opponent’s bench, Porter and Hibma must make the most out of their minutes on the court.

  • Speaking of the depth of Creighton’s bench, we didn’t see much of it against Dayton. Brice Nengsu, Steve Smith, and Dominic Bishop didn’t see the court, and Porter and Hibma played sparingly. Through 40 minutes of regulation and 10 minutes of extra time, five Jays logged 20 minutes or more of action. With two tough road games on the horizon, the newcomers need to step up and be ready to play quality minutes.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Creighton 72, George Mason 52

History lesson: Why is George Mason important to our country?

Mason is known by many as the “Father of the Bill of Rights,” and was one of George Washington’s closer friends. However, he fell out of favor with Washington and others of his time because he wouldn’t sign the Declaration of Independence, saying that among other things the Declaration did not include a declaration of rights. He eventually got his way, though, as the Bill of Rights that was ratified in 1791 was based on Mason’s original Virginia Declaration of Rights. Still, because he ticked off Washington (the Founding Father) and others during the process, he is relatively unknown among the rest of the Founding Fathers.

Current lesson: Why was Creighton’s game against George Mason so important?

While not as important as one of the great Americans in history, Creighton’s road game in Fairfax against a solid Patriots squad served as a measuring stick for Dana Altman, his coaching staff, and their players. Lose this early in the season to a senior-laden team projected to do well this season, and Altman could chalk it up as a lesson of how important defense and rebounding are to a successful basketball team. Win, and Bluejay Fever swells another degree, with a quality road win an early addition to what could become an NCAA tournament resume.

Well, they won. They won big. And they won with defense.

Creighton learned a couple of lessons against GMU: First, they grasped first-hand just how important rebounding is, especially if a team is a bit off their offensive game. Creighton shot 46% for the game, which is not a bad percentage. However, George Mason played suffocating defense at times, which kept Creighton from getting comfortable in many half-court sets during the course of the game.

However, while GMU’s Jai Lewis pulled down (almost) his weight in rebounds (275 lbs., 17 boards), the Jays finished the night deadlocked with the Patriots at 40 caroms a piece.

Second lesson: Even if an offense is struggling, a team can produce good looks in transition by playing suffocating defense. Why were there so many rebounds to be had? Because GMU only shot 29% for the game (26% in the second half).

Regardless of what Jays players learn from this victory, it should be evident to the newer faces on the CU bench that you can’t let up effort on one end of the court if things aren’t going your way on the other end. Road games are only going to get tougher as the season progresses, and it will take solid exertion in every aspect of the game to overcome lengthy travel, layovers, hostile crowds, and home cookin’ officials.

So, I hope the Jays enjoyed their lesson on the team’s trip to our nation’s capitol. Oh, and I hope you learned a little bit about George Mason (the American leader).

(Oh, and Happy Thanksgiving to all!)

Behind the Box Score
  • Glancing at the box score, it would appear that Nate Funk didn’t have his best game as a Jay. After missing just a few shots total in the two exhibition games and the season-opener against Arkansas-Pine Bluff, the senior came back to earth a bit with a 12 point performance (6-14 from the field, 0-2 from 3pt. land).

    However, just because he isn’t scoring doesn’t mean he isn’t the leader of this team on the court. Funk played a team-high 29 minutes, played solid defense, grabbed 6 rebounds, and played through some tough contact to his oft-sore left shoulder. He absolutely brings it every night, regardless if his shot is falling or not.

  • Neither part of Jeffony Tolliday played exceptionally well on the offensive end of the floor, and GMU’s Lewis more than quadrupled the rebounding total of Jeff Day and Anthony Tolliver. However, Day and Tolliver didn’t force anything that the Patriots weren’t giving the duo – only 1 turnover in a combined 36 minutes of play, along with only 6 shot attempts between the two of them. This fast-paced, up and down action was geared more for both teams’ guards, and that’s exactly what happened.

  • Speaking of guard play, two of the newcomers at that position helped make all the difference in the final outcome. Youngster Josh Dotzler played the second-most of anyone on the team (27 minutes), was 3-4 from the field (including 2 big three-pointers), and added 5 assists, 4 rebounds, and 3 steals. A true freshman. In his first road game. Against a team with veteran guards and an attacking defense. I wasn’t lying when I said I would take Dotzler over any point guard in the Missouri Valley Conference right now.

    Combo guard Nick Porter also did some good things against GMU. He used his big body to drive to the low blocks, create contact, score in the paint, and go to the free-throw line (a team-high 6 free-throw attempts). We heard fans, players, and coaches raving about the possibilities of this kid last year while he sat out an injury; let’s hope he continues to get better with each game he plays.

  • Since we’ve named all of the other leading scorers, we can’t forget Mr. Energy, Johnny Mathies (Funk, Mathies, and Porter all recorded 12 points). He was perfect from the free-throw line, led the team in rebounds (7 boards), collected 4 steals, and dished 3 assists. Sure, he takes a few ill-advised shots here and there, but you’ve got to bet that Altman feels comfortable with Mathies firing away. A solid effort by the senior on the road.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Creighton 87, Arkansas-Pine Bluff 55

Jimmy Motz probably wishes Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Creighton squared off every year during his CU career. Just last season, in the third game of the year, Creighton drilled Pine Bluff, with Jimmy pouring in 12 points on 4-5 shooting (all from behind the three-point arc). He picked up Saturday exactly where he’d left off last November, pacing all Creighton scorers with 17 points (6-7 shooting from the field, 5-6 from long distance), as Creighton rolled over an overmatched Lions squad.

The best part about Jimmy’s production: he scored those 17 points in 16 minutes. He is just one piece of an intricate puzzle this season, one that is comprised of more than a dozen young men with the same objective: winning basketball games, no matter what it takes.

Oh, and on some level they’ll be trying to prove all of the prognosticators and newspaper publishers correct, as Bluejay Fever continues to swell earlier in the season than any other year during Dana Altman’s tenure as Dean of the Missouri Valley Conference.

Jimmy Motz is an example of exactly what this year’s team needs. Sportswriters and casual fans (of which I’m among) don’t hesitate to point out the flaws in Jimmy’s game. What they seem to miss, however, are his absolute strengths. He is all energy, all of the time. There are photos and highlight clips of him waving his arms, pointing at teammates, and grinning from cheek to cheek, the result of solid plays or hustle or momentum-turning three-pointers.

When Kyle Korver roamed the Civic Auditorium, he was known by the Bluejay faithful as much for his on-court character as for his accomplishments. He flapped his lengthy wingspan to get the crowd pumped up and into the contest, something that only Jimmy has carried on after Korver’s jump to the NBA.

People wonder why Jimmy doesn’t start. He’s a senior, they say. Reward him for his hard work, others moan. But what they don’t realize is that every successful team needs someone like Jimmy to come off the bench. Altman needs Motz’s energy coming off the bench, providing instant offense and a spark to a sometimes-quiet Qwest Center.

And that brings us to the greater point: Dana knows what he is doing. He is a great enough coach to know that the key to success on a basketball court is playing to a team’s strengths, starting at the individual level. Jimmy has never been great at rebounding, and if he hasn’t developed that after playing competitive hoops for 10-plus years, that part of the game isn’t going to instantly come to him. But he can shoot the rock, and he is above-average in that aspect, so Altman can position Jimmy’s minutes in a way that provides the best opportunity for Jimmy – and the team – to succeed.

The reason for the hype surrounding the early part of this Bluejay season is that it doesn’t take two MVC Coach-of-the-Year awards to realize the kinds of role players comprising this year’s team. It is up to Altman, the rest of his staff, and the kids on the roster to position the pieces of the puzzle just right, and through three games the neatly-carved image is already starting to come into focus.

Behind the Box Score

  • Through three games, Creighton has shown the ability to score any way imaginable. With so many scoring options, crisp and timely passing becomes of vital importance; you have to be willing to give up a good shot for a great shot, and Creighton’s performance against Pine Bluff served as a great example of that style of unselfishness.

    The team combined to dish out 18 assists, with seven players recording at least two assists. Leading the way was Anthony Tolliver (4 assists), who continues to look vastly improved from this time last season. In an offense that stresses solid passing from the high post position, coupled with the fact that there are a Bluejay or two who can shoot the basketball, should make for healthy inside-out execution this year.

  • Altman, along with any other basketball coach you can pry away from the hardwood long enough to chat, will be the first to tell you that rebounding is one of the keys to winning any basketball game. The Jays must have practiced (or Altman must have preached) a lot of caroming this past week, because they looked solid on the boards (53 rebounds, to 29 for Pine Bluff).

    Tolliver was involved again, pulling down 9 boards, and Nate Funk chipped in his usual 5 rebounds, but it was Dane Watts (7) and Nick Porter (10) who dominated the offensive and defensive boards, respectively. Much has been made of Porter’s size at the off-guard position, and his crafty offensive skills. His role on this team, right now, is to penetrate on the offensive end and add a solid rebounding force from the perimeter. Watts has capability to become a fierce force on the boards, but needs to bring that determination every minute he is on the floor – he hasn’t even broken the surface of his rebounding ability.

  • Brice Nengsu (6 points, 4 rebounds in 14 minutes) is going to be very good. He doesn’t seem to know the offense very well right now, and he’s spending a lot of time shooting just to get comfortable when he’s on the court. But he just oozes talent and athleticism, and his jump shot is perfectly formed. Once he gets familiar with the system, and as he parlays his defensive ability into extended minutes on the court, he could be a difference-maker this season.

  • Knowing what we know about the MVC point guards who graduated last year, and the projected players at the position this year, I would take Josh Dotzler over any other Valley point guard right now. Hands down. Johnny Mathies struggled to score versus Pine Bluff, as he was busy running the point from the start of the game and only played 17 minutes during the course of the contest. Hopefully Dotzler can snatch that starting point guard spot from Johnny so that our electric scorer can shift back to the off-guard spot from the get-go and pour in double figures every game from here on out.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Creighton 116, Nebraska-Kearney 82

Just pretend.

First, pretend that Creighton played good defense against Nebraska-Kearney; they didn’t, but that’s not what the focus of this Bluejay Basketball entry is about. Pretend the Jays locked the Lopers down, just for fun’s sake.

Now, imagine what 116 points looks like on a basketball court. Not in the NBA, where uber-athletes, 24-second shot clocks, and 48-minute games combine to wreak havoc on scoreboard light bulbs and statisticians’ wrists. Nope, close your eyes and picture what 116 points looks like in a college basketball game.

More than 11,000 Creighton fans didn’t need to transcend deep into meditation Sunday night, but Dana Altman’s Jays did such an effective job “shooting the lights out” that the Qwest Center could’ve gone dark and those in attendance could have dreamt of the offensive explosion Creighton displayed in defeating Nebraska-Kearney.

For those of you familiar with the long-standing tradition of Creighton ticket holders earning free Godfathers Pizza if the Jays score 70 points in a game, all you need to know is that the Jays scored 63 in the first half. All you have to envision is perfect release after perfect release from the right hand of Nate Funk, who missed just one shot from the field in scoring 18 points and dishing 9 assists (in only 20 minutes, I might add).

Make believe that Anthony Tolliver, who at times the past two years looked a little too anxious in the offensive paint, busted out an entire repertoire of aggressive and deft moves – solid pivots, sealing post moves, two one-handed slams, and a number of baby hooks from various spots on the floor – all leading to 17 points on 7-8 shooting from the field (in only 18 minutes, I might add).

Visualize, for a moment, crisp passes, finding the open man, passing up good looks for great shots, and baseline alley-oops to Brice Nengsu, a South African that absolutely SKIES above the rim. Suppose there is a near-20-year-old freshman point guard who weighs nearly 200 pounds and has at least three sets of eyes, always looking (and seemingly finding) the open man in set offense and transition. Oh, wait, you don’t have to; Josh Dotzler is knocking at the door of becoming Creighton’s next four-year starter at point guard.

Remember our good friend Jeffony Tolliday? He showed up last night, too, with the help of Tolliver’s 17 points and 2 rebounds and Jeff Day’s 15 points and 6 rebounds. That’s right, in a combined 41 minutes Jeffony Tolliday posted 32 points and 8 rebounds. And even though one half of the hybrid center is on his way up, and one half looks to be stuck in neutral, those are solid numbers for any two-center combo in the Missouri Valley Conference.

Sound like all the makings of a 116-point effort, right? Wait … it gets better.

The Jays didn’t play a complete game last night. Do you think Altman will let his fellas pretend that they played defense last night? Sure, there were some good spurts, especially when the full court press was at its best, but overall there are some gaping holes in the Jays’ point prevention. But that is where the glass-half-full mentality (that I’m going to try and sustain for the entire season, I promise) comes into play; these guys didn’t have the best effort and they ignited on offense.

They won’t shoot 61% every night this season, that’s a fact (at 54%, the 1984-85 Jays had the highest field goal shooting percentage for a season). But the fact that with so many new faces (5 of the 12 Jays that hit the court didn’t play one minute of Division 1 basketball last year, and two big men sat on the bench with injuries), they were able to be successful in almost every facet of the offensive game is remarkable.

Obviously, it is just an exhibition; I’m not trying to completely ignore what I wrote after the EA Sports game. I just got dizzy after seeing wave after wave of fresh-legged Bluejays flying off the bench and into the game to contribute.

Maybe that dizziness is what’s causing my imagination and subsequent excitement about what this team might do this year, but I don’t care. This is a very talented, athletic, and coach-able group of players, and you don’t have to delve deep in thought to consider this team has a chance or two to be very good, too.

And don’t pretend that they won’t focus on defense all week on the Hilltop, either. Altman will make sure his fellas sleep soundly each night this week, dreaming about moving their feet and communicating on defense.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Creighton 74, EA Sports All Stars 67 -- Anthony Tolliver

With Chicken Little entertaining children and emptying parents’ pocketbooks across the country this week, it only seems appropriate that the college basketball exhibition commenced this weekend. So many Creighton fans – not to mention die-hard hoops hounds all over the U.S. – treat the team’s two exhibition games as much more than the money-making scrimmages that they are. I, of course, have always been one such fan, overreacting to great plays during these games and screaming “the sky is falling” after lackluster efforts.

I’m not going to do that this year. Sure, there were plenty of highlights for the Jays against former Bluejay Larry House and his traveling squad of former collegiate players, but I thought I’d walk into the Qwest Center (or, the “Q” as we defined it last season) with a different attitude, a different filter for what would unfold before me and the rest of the 11,000-plus blue-clad boosters.

I tried to find our go-to guys, Nate Funk and Johnny Mathies, just to make sure they were causing defenders nightmares (check). I peeked around for Dane Watts, but he and his versatile offensive game weren’t hard to spot (scored 7 points before the barbershop quartet that sang the National Anthem could sit down). And I spent a good portion of the evening keeping track of the new fellas; the athletic talents Dana Altman searched the country (and the globe) to fill his roster with (11 players saw minutes, so check).

I knew all of those pieces of my beloved Bluejays would be there, so I wasn’t overly concerned when Creighton coughed up a couple double-digit leads, missed a bunch of free throws, and only posted a 7-point victory. Nope, the most important event I witnessed from my third-row seats was an up close and personal look at the man formerly known as Anthony Tolliver.

You see, word from the Hilltop this summer and fall was that young Tolliver, an athletic talent from a highly-touted high school power in Missouri, was morphing into what public prognosticators hoped he would be for the Jays – an agile, acute offensive option in the low blocks, with a good defensive sense and the vertical ability to alter shots.

Through two full seasons in the White and the Blue, Tolliver gained a reputation as a heady player, someone who showed passion on the court and on the bench. Jays fans also saw a kid trying to make a progression from a free wheelin’ high school program to a regimented, demanding high post offense Altman depends on for success. The ability was there, and it would take some time to sculpt the talent into form, but Jays fans hoped that A-Train could be part of a low post presence with enough scoring ability to take some of the pressure away from Funk, Mathies, and the other Jays on the perimeter.

Tolliver showed some flashes of good things to come in his 26 minutes against EA Sports; he looked physically stronger, scored 8 points (hit 4 of 6 from the free throw line, which in his two previous seasons was one of his glaring shortcomings), grabbed 6 rebounds, blocked a shot, and altered a few others.

I’m not screaming that the sky is falling, and I’m not jumping the gun or going out on a limb or committing another cliché, but the kid looked comfortable. He wasn’t tugging at his shorts, looking jittery or wondering where he needed to be. He had post moves, he moved the ball crisply, not hesitating and letting the defenders surround him. He just looked different – he looked like he was ready to step up and shore up the middle of the paint.

But remember, it is just one game. An exhibition. A scrimmage. But he looked good, and he’s going to need to get better each and every game, just like everyone said he did this summer. Hopefully those people are right, and the sky isn’t falling – a Bluejay is just getting ready to spread his wings.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Season Preview -- Nate Funk

Well, this is a couple months overdue, isn’t it? I almost left this blog behind, actually, because I didn’t really know how to sum up the two weeks of excitement last year’s Bluejays gave Creighton fans last March. Actually, it took some help from the local television home of the Jays (KM3) and Creighton’s best player (Nate Funk) to point me in the right direction.
Flashback: March 2005

Only a few seconds, a few plays, can define a moment as elation and despair.

Take for example the hard-fought, back-and-forth Missouri Valley Conference championship game, when Creighton defeated Southwest Missouri State with a late barrage of three-point field goals and great defensive stands. Both teams played the first 30-plus minutes of the game fairly evenly, with neither the Jays nor the Bears able to distance themselves too far beyond their opponent. Hustle plays and defensive stops made all the difference, and the Jays capped another stellar St. Louis run to the MVC crown – and a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Flashback: St. Patrick’s Day, 2005

This is where despair rears its ugly head. Creighton and West Virginia spent the first 38 minutes of their first-round NCAA tournament game going punch-for-punch with one another, with neither team backing down. With a tied game and less than one minute on the clock, Creighton had its trip to the second round in its own hands. But it was the hand of Mountaineer Tyrone Sally that blocked Nate Funk’s three-point shot, which started an unbelievable sequence that Jays fans will never forget – Sally streaked down the middle of the court, teammate Mike Gansey fed him the ball, and Sally dunked it for a two-point lead with 2.4 seconds to play. Funk’s final shot attempt fell short, and Creighton dropped a heartbreaker to WVU.
I guess I didn’t remember how much that final game hurt, until I watched KM3’s 2005-2006 Creighton Basketball season preview last weekend. A dejected Funk walks through the line of West Virginia players, showing sportsmanship with his handshakes but a look of disgust and amazement on his face. Creighton’s strongest player, the team’s go-to-guy, had his game-winning shot blocked, and no one in Jays Country knew how to react. Imagine what Funk felt.

As a Jays fan, you just knew that shot was going to fall, didn’t you? I mean, this kid absolutely carried the Jays from mediocrity in the Valley halfway through the conference slate to a MVC championship, almost single-handedly beating Wichita State and Northern Iowa twice each for victories. That shot had to fall, but Sally and the rest of the Mountaineers (who would defeat Wake Forest in the second round and make it all the way to the Elite Eight) wouldn’t let it happen.

This brings us to present day, just before Creighton’s exhibition season is set to tip off. Funk is back for his senior season, and he joins eight of his teammates last season as they return to win a regular season conference title and an Arch Madness crown, with a vision of success in late March dancing in their heads.

It would be an understatement to say Jays fans have been buzzing about the upcoming season, and the bulk of the excitement stems from the return of Funk, a deadly scoring threat who has increased his physical strength and mental toughness each of the last three off-seasons.

Funk finished as runner-up in the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year competition last season, and this year a mere few points separate him and POY-favorite Ben Jacobsen of Northern Iowa for preseason honors. The 6’3”, 205-lbs. senior from Sioux City, Iowa, is poised to build on his junior campaign, when he led the Jays in scoring (17.8 points per game) and rebounding (5.1 rebounds per game). Not only could Creighton head coach Dana Altman count on Funk for scoring, but he morphed into a difference-maker in big games, a description last held by Bluejay Kyle Korver. Funk’s epic effort at Wichita State paved the way for a late-season run by the Jays, and Funk’s determination rubbed off on his teammates. Creighton got stronger as the season finished, and Funk spent the last six months conditioning himself physically to help this year’s Jays squad continue where it left off in Cleveland last March.

Expect Creighton’s opponents to game plan around stopping Funk, trying to limit his open looks at the basket and force him to make tough plays in traffic. However, as one of the best free throw shooters in CU history, Funk can not only finish amongst bodies in the lane, but he can turn in seemingly-automatic three-point-plays. Long story short, there are not many ways to consistently shut Funk down, as any coach in the Valley can attest to.

There are people that think they are leaders because they talk loud and often and there are people who are leaders by example; people that work hard and exemplify selflessness and the utmost commitment to doing whatever it will take to succeed. Funk has shown the propensity during the last three seasons to lead by example, and a successful 2005-2006 season rests on Funk’s ability to erase the bad taste in his mouth from the end of last year and lead this team to the next level in college basketball.

You just know he’s going to do it, don’t you?
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