Monday, January 30, 2006

Southern Illinois 62, Creighton 48; Creighton 57, Wichita State 55

In a perfect case of good news/bad news, I’ll start with the bad news first.

Last year, after Creighton’s loss at Southern Illinois, it took me almost a week to sum up my feelings for Carbondale, the Salukis, and the Jays’ recent struggles as visitors to Little Egypt.

Again, I had to wait a few days this year, because if I would have written this immediately after the loss it would have been brief and probably full of choice language and colorful imagery.

Last year’s game was close, a 6-point loss, and so was this contest, as the Jays clawed and scratched their way back from an early 10-0 Saluki lead. However, SIU just plays too good of defense to be constantly trying to fight back from large deficits, and the Jays seemed to use all of their energy just to stave off the relentless defensive pressure applied by Tony Young, Jamal Tatum, and Bryan Mullins.

And so again, for another season, Dana Altman saw his team get out rebounded and forced into a higher-than-usual number of turnovers while being lambasted by vicious Saluki fans. Immediately after the game, I asked myself whether or not Altman’s team can win in Carbondale in the foreseeable future.

Sometimes places just start to seem haunted, like nothing will ever go your way. It must be the same way Mark Turgeon feels about Omaha.

Pulling the Plug on the Shockers

That’s right; Wichita State hasn’t won in Omaha since 1994. Couple that with Creighton’s current 14-game home winning streak, and Saturday night’s contest had all of the makings of an entertaining tilt between two of the Valley’s best teams.

At least, that is what Creighton fans thought was going to happen. Midway through the first half, however, I don’t think any Jays fan would tell you things would end in Creighton’s favor.


Jays fans might look back at that score in mid-March and realize that it defines this 2005-2006 season. At the 5:46 mark of the first half, Creighton was down by 19 points and was shooting a lights-out 10% from the field. Nothing, I mean nothing, was going Creighton’s way. Even in Altman’s worst nightmare, the game might not have started any worse for the Jays, who were entertaining a school-record 15,678 people and a regional television audience.

Someone forgot to tell them the game started at 6 p.m., and not the customary 7 o’clock tip-off. By the time Creighton reached double figures, there was barely 5 minutes left in the half and the crowd was the definition of restless.

Restless because the 15,000-plus came to get loud. There was a buzz among the crowd during warm-ups, and it continued during a stirring rendition of the national anthem by the student section. It was the first Saturday night game since the amazing Dayton double-overtime game, and even then students were back at their respective hometowns for Thanksgiving.

This game was exactly why the Jays play at the Qwest Center. The fan base is strong enough now that more than 10,000 people are going to show up consistently, and this crop of Jays consistently leave them wanting more.

Back to the 19-point deficit. The Jays didn’t defend at all in the first 15 minutes of the half, so over the next 25 minutes they turned the pressure up and stifled a WSU squad that was riding exhilaration and almost disbelief as they build their large lead in the first half.

Creighton outscored the Shox 51-30 over the last 25 minutes of game time, and each minute that passed the crowd grew louder, stood longer, and screamed crazier than the minute before.

And just when all 15,678 didn’t think things could get any better, Anthony Tolliver took everyone for a ride on the A-Train.

Anthony scored 12 of his game-high 20 points in the second half, including the game-winning 15-foot baseline jumper with no time remaining to give the Jays a two-point win. Johnny Mathies drove the lane, drew two defenders, dished to Tolliver, and watched as the A-Train drained the jumper and sent the crowd into a frenzy.

It was an improbable end to a game the Jays seriously needed to defend. If Creighton can hold home court and defeat Southern Illinois when the Salukis visit Omaha in two weeks, Altman’s team can guarantee at least a split with the other three top teams in the conference.

To make up for early road losses to Illinois State and Bradley, however, the Jays will need to beat freshly-ranked Northern Iowa tonight at the Q. A regular season sweep over a top-20 RPI team like the Panthers would go a long way to securing an at-large bid to the Big Dance. Creighton plays four more road games, two against lower-level Valley teams that always play the Jays tough at their respective buildings (Drake and Evansville), and two others at Wichita State and Missouri State, two of the toughest places to play in the conference.

It all starts again tonight against the Panthers, who come to Omaha looking for their first win in the Big O in 10 years. At the beginning of the season, NBA scouts circled this game as a Sioux City Showdown between Nate Funk and Ben Jacobsen. But with Funk out for the rest of the year and Jacobsen below his career levels in most categories, those same scouts just might have to find a seat on the A-Train and buckle up for a rollercoaster of a game.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Creighton 80, Bradley 76; Creighton 77, Evansville 58

Creighton 80, Bradley 76

Our nation is at war. American soldiers are losing their lives every day, engaged in battles and attacked by suicide bombers thousands of miles away in the Middle East.

After Creighton’s hard-fought, physical win against Bradley, fans at the Qwest Center, Omaha television personalities, and other media around the region insisted that the game was a “battle” and a “war”. Forgive me if I disagree.

I’m sure I’ve spoken metaphorically about Creighton games like this in the past, as some of the Creighton-Wichita State games the last 10 years have been bruisers. But I’ve seen the error of this metaphor, and I’m here to do my part to correct it.

What the Bluejays and Braves engaged in last week wasn’t a war; it had nothing to do with battles or divided nations or misunderstood agendas. It was a street fight, a game the refs could barely control and one that the players were more than happy to take part in.

And it isn’t a game Bradley will like to think about for the next couple of weeks. If Jim Les is staring at his team Thursday afternoon, March 2, trying to prepare them for a first round MVC tournament game, a lingering memory of a blown 10-point halftime lead on the road might race across his mind.

There is no doubt that Bradley is talented, but it just doesn’t seem that they are a team; they don’t do the little things (or the big things, for that matter) to win consistently, and a Dana Altman-led Jays team can always exploit teams like that.

Say what you will about Les – or Jim “Clue” Les as some call him, but he is fired up for his team. For example, when Jeff Day and Lawrence Wright came to blows in the first half and were each given technical fouls, Les sprinted from his bench and tried to help his player distance himself from the skirmish.

That was just one of the many physical plays that dominated the tone of the first half, a half Bradley – specifically Michael Ruffin – controlled. Ruffin scored 16 points in the first 20 minutes of action, relying on teardrops in the lane, contested three-point buckets, and a few lay-ups here and there to give the Braves a 10-point lead at the break.

But, as has been a custom in the three short years of the Q, Altman worked his magic at halftime and received a better effort from his players in the second stanza. Anthony Tolliver battled foul trouble (playing only 20 minutes) but scored 19 points, grabbed 8 rebounds, and played tenacious defense on Bradley’s monstrous front court. Tolliver led three other Jays in double figures, and Josh Dotzler added 9 points, 4 assists, and 2 steals in a game-high 35 minutes of action.

The crowd fed off the Jays’ effort, and came to life in key parts of the second half to ignite the game to another level. Bradley staged a furious comeback in the last minute, but the exclamation point to the contest came on a Tolliver block, followed by Nick Porter bringing the ball down the court and finding a hustling Tolliver for a thunderous alley-oop dunk.

With respect to our servicemen and women across the globe and fighting a war, this game wasn’t a battle or combat. But it was a street fight, and the scrappy Jays threw the knockout punches – regardless of how many Patrick O’Bryant elbows slammed into our post players’ heads.


Creighton 77, Evansville 58

Four things:
  1. Josh Dotzler is a freshman. I just wanted to remind all of you who have grown accustom to his elder-like play through 17 games of this season (and his career). The Whiz Kid had another terrific game against Evansville and their own freshman point guard, Jason Holsinger.

    Dotzler scored 15 points (6-9 from the field, 3-5 from long range), grabbed 2 rebounds, dished out 6 assists, and committed ZERO turnovers. ZERO. Granted, the Purple Aces are one of the two bottom-feeders in the Valley this season, but a 6-to-0 assist-to-turnover ratio is pretty remarkable, no matter who you are or what team you’re playing.

    He also played with foul trouble, which produced possibly the most underrated outcome of Creighton’s 19-point victory – Josh finally got to sit on the bench. He’s averaging 32 minutes per game in his true freshman campaign, which is the seventh most by any player in the entire conference. Johnny Mathies averages 31 minutes per contest, and the new guard/old guard combo continue to lead the way for the 13-4 Bluejays.

  2. Speaking of Johnny Mathies, he had another unreal game shooting the basketball. Mathies dropped 26 points on the Aces, burying a barrage of three-point bombs, pull-up jumpers, hard-to-the-hole lay-ups, and a few free-throws for good measure. Mathies has increased his role of go-to scorer for Altman, and he continues to make a strong case for All-Valley honors.

    He makes shots for himself, makes shots for his teammates, and leaves 6-foot skid marks on the Qwest Center floor with his diving, all-out hustle and tough takes to the rack. In a league that guards usually dominate, Mathies is no exception: he has the ability to take control of a game at any moment, and Sunday’s victory was another example in what will be one of Creighton’s best three-year careers in decades.

  3. Speaking of guard-dominated leagues, someone forgot to tell Anthony Tolliver and Dane Watts they are just supposed to be little more than anchors to a solid all-around team. The Mighty Missouri Mishmash are averaging 21 points and 12 rebounds a game.

    Tolliver would win a Valley most improved player award unanimously at this point in the season, as he has worked hard to transform his game into an All-Valley repertoire of spinning lay-ups, medium-range baseline jumpers, great post defense, timely rebounding, intimidating shot blocking, and overall leadership that reverberates amongst his teammates and the huge Qwest Center crowds.

    Watts struggled from the field – and the three-point arc – early in the year, but he has focused more on rebounding and converting in the paint during the last two weeks and the dividends are evident. He’s even getting his long-range, sweet-stroking three point shot to fall, which makes him a difficult match-up for some of the power forwards in the Valley. Watts also plays physically, especially when an opposing player will catch him with an elbow or foul him a little to hard. He plays his best with a chip on his shoulder, and he should receive plenty of those in the next three ball games.

  4. Assistant Coach Brian Fish said it perfectly on T. Scott Marr’s post game radio coverage on Sunday; “The next 120 minutes of basketball will dictate exactly what kind of season we are going to have,” he said. It wasn’t just the fact that he was right, that he clearly understood the importance of the next three games – at Southern Illinois and at home against Wichita State and Northern Iowa. It was that he sounded so confident when talking about the task at hand.

    If there is a team in the Valley that shouldn’t be confident, it might be the Bluejays. Everyone grimaced and felt a tad bit sorry for Altman when Nate Funk, Jimmy Motz, Pierce Hibma, and Steve Smith missed part (or all, in Funk and Smith’s cases) of the season and forced Altman to play more of his young guys for longer stretches. But this team has adjusted, and continues to echo the same expectations it carried into this hyped season in November – they want to win the Valley regular season title, they want to win the Arch Madness tournament, and they want to win in the Big Dance.

    The next three games are going to go a long way in determining if all three of those expectations will become reality. Are you going to tell this team they can’t do it? I didn’t think so.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Creighton 55, Northern Iowa 52; Creighton 69, Indiana State 53

Creighton 55, Northern Iowa 52

Johnny Mathies set the tone during the very first play of Creighton’s 55-52 win at league favorite Northern Iowa. He intercepted a pass near mid-court and finished at the other end emphatically, laying the ball up and raising the spirits of all Jays fans watching the KM3 broadcast back in Omaha.

Fans had a reason to be nervous. The four road games previous to this one ended in Jays losses, and at least two of those set-backs were against teams arguably worse than the Panthers. However, a great defensive effort can make all the difference in a basketball game (just ask Southern Illinois), and Mathies’ play was indicative of just how Creighton planned to take a home game from Northern Iowa.

Creighton held the Panthers to 35% shooting from the field, including 35% from three-point land. The Jays weren’t exactly on fire from the floor, but 41% shooting, an edge in rebounding, and 7 steals combined for a close win on the road. And if ever there was a talented team in need of a close road win (against a probable NCAA tournament team, no less), this Jays team is it.

The Panthers – specifically Ben Jacobson – had plenty of opportunities late to win the game, just as Nate Funk did for Creighton at the UNI-Dome last year. But unlike his Sioux City brethren Funk, Jacobson couldn’t convert on a jump shot, a three-pointer, and a back-door lay-up, and Creighton made free-throws down the stretch to pull out the victory and give this team a much needed confidence boost.

Behind the Box Score
  • Three Creighton Jays scored in double figures, led by Johnny Mathies’ 16 points. Josh Dotzler and Nick Porter added 10 points apiece, as the guard position dominated the game on both ends of the floor.

    However, it was the lack of double-digit scorers for Northern Iowa that served as a testament to the solid defense Creighton played. Jacobson, the preseason player of the year in the Valley, finished with 8 points on 3-11 shooting, and the Panthers were paced by forward Grant Stout’s 9 points. Jacobson had his scoring chances, but good defense by Porter, Mathies, and Pierce Hibma stymied the league’s cover boy.


Creighton 69, Indiana State 53

A bad day in Indiana, that’s for sure. First of all, most of the Indiana State Sycamore fans were either watching the Indianapolis Colts at the RCA Dome, at a local Terre Haute sports bar, or nestled on their couches at home. They weren’t at Hulman Center, that’s for sure.

And unfortunately for the blue and white-clad fans of both the Sycamores and the Colts, their teams suffered the same fates at about the same time Sunday afternoon. The Colts’ nemeses were the Pittsburgh Steelers – a physical team that physically outmanned the home team and converted calculated attempts from long range and in the red zone.

The same could be said for Dana Altman’s Jays on Sunday. Anthony Tolliver, Dane Watts, Nick Porter, and Manny Gakou (in his longest stretch of playing time this season) pummeled a smaller Sycamores squad, winning the rebound battle 36-27, while Tolliver, Watts, Porter, Pierce Hibma, and Johnny Mathies connected from long range and in the paint to pace the Jays in a blowout.

Fortunately for the Jays, Indiana State was without their Payton Manning: all-Valley star David Moss. It was evident from the opening tip that if Creighton could couple solid defense with some timely shooting, a victory would be in the cards. That happened, thanks in large part to leadership from Mathies and Tolliver and balanced scoring from a large cast of Bluejays.

With the win, Creighton swept the road trip and vaulted to second place in the Missouri Valley Conference standings. With four of their next five games at home, Creighton looks to make a push even higher in the race for the Valley crown. They’ll have to do it with defense, however, because four of those next five games are against arguably the most talented teams in the conference (Bradley, Wichita State, Northern Iowa, and Southern Illinois).

Sometimes great defense and solid pressure can beat talent. Just ask the Colts.

Behind the Box Score

  • Anthony Tolliver and Nick Porter played great games against the Sycamores, and they especially looked in sync with one another. The two Jays played give-and-go a couple of times in the paint, and that teammate helped create Creighton’s 37-22 edge in points in the paint.

  • Dane Watts, while not exploding here and there with huge offensive outbursts, keeps getting steadily better on both ends of the floor – even while experiencing foul trouble. Watts added 10 points and another 6 rebounds, bringing his season averages to 8 points and 6 boards per game.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Creighton 82, Drake 69

Driving to the game Sunday, I resigned myself to the fact that I will inevitably find ways for Creighton to lose the rest of their games the rest of the season. I am a very positive person, but after getting my hopes up so high for this season, I feel like a correction is in order.

Don’t get me wrong, I still want Dana Altman’s team to win every game. And deep down inside, I’m still expecting them to win every game; I will still get that piercing pain in my stomach after losses. But the Valley is tough this year – I mean, really tough. And Nate Funk is injured. These Bluejays, inexperienced for the most part at the Division I level, can’t overcome losing arguably their best basketball player to injury, can they?

These are the arguments I have with myself – scary, I know. But then again, this season has been overcome with conflict: Funk’s injury, Pierce Hibma and Jimmy Motz missing games because they’re hurt, Manny Gakou missing games because of NCAA infractions suffered in high school, and a tougher-than-usual non-conference schedule.

So there I was, in my Bluejay-blue car, with my Bluejay sticker in the window and my Creighton baseball hat in the rear window, making my way to the Qwest Center and racking my brain, trying to convince myself of ways the Jays could lose to Drake. There were plenty; Drake’s ability to press a Jays team that has committed its fair share of turnovers and the sheer number of players Dr. Tom Davis could throw at Altman’s game plan, which was still trying to get quality minutes from newly-activated players like Hibma, Motz, and Gakou. Yep, those seem like two pretty good reasons.

I even called Matt Perrault’s Bluejay Pregame radio show, to discuss how I thought this season’s Jays squad would have to rely on three or four guys scoring in double figures each night to carry the bulk of the offense. I figured that this might be our best chance of winning close games – not depending on one person to save us in games (ala Funk last year).

And then Johnny Mathies exploded. He did so to the tune of 32 points, hitting 6 of 10 three-point shots and elevating his offensive game just when Altman – not to mention the 14,000-plus fans at the Q – needed him to.

Poor Dr. Tom. For all intents and purposes, his team didn’t have a chance when Mathies started to catch fire. Plus, he wasn’t even the most popular Dr. Tom in the building – Dr. Tom Osborne and his Teammates program were the guests of honor at the Q that afternoon. The Jays stretched the lead to 28 points at one time, and they coasted to a double-digit win.

Most Jays fans, including Altman and his staff, could have done without the second half, when the Jays started playing carelessly and lost the huge lead. However, it is the second half of the Illinois State game and the first half against the Bulldogs that take away my ability to try and lower my expectations for this season at all.

Sure, those halves came against teams that generally finish no higher than middle of the pack in the Valley, but when the Jays are on their game they can beat anyone in this conference. End of story.

So don’t lower your expectations. Every player on Altman’s squad knows exactly just how good this team can be, when everything is clicking and everyone gives superior effort.

Their expectations won’t change, and hopefully neither will Mathies’ midrange jump shot or his cross-over, behind-the-back dribble.

Behind the Box Score
  • Ladies and Gentleman, I’d like to introduce you to Nick Porter. No, not the Porter who looked lost at times early in the season, who threw balls to phantom teammates and couldn’t get things to click on defense. I’m talking about the Porter everyone was raving about last season, when he had his Bluejay debut delayed by a year due to a knee injury.

    Porter scored 12 points, grabbed 5 rebounds, hit 50% of his three-point shots, and dished out 6 assists for the second straight game. What’s better than that? How about ONE turnover in 28 minutes of action? If Dane Watts gets on track and starts adding consistent scoring to his improved rebounding and defensive effort, he and Porter will join Mathies and Anthony Tolliver as four possible go-to guys when Altman needs points.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Creighton 71, Illinois State 52

Well, that is more like it. The Missouri Valley Conference is tough this year, and come March there should be a few Valley teams celebrating on Selection Sunday. But, looking at the schedule in late summer, this is one game that any Jays fan would circle as a “must-win”.

I said the same last year, though, when Creighton allowed Illinois State to hang around at the Qwest Center. Redbird Trey Guidry had a career night, the visitors forced overtime, and the Jays lost at home to one of the lesser team in last year’s conference race.

So when I looked at the scoreboard during halftime Thursday night, I couldn’t help but look at my dad, sitting at the end of the row, and give him one of those “what are these guys doing?!?” kind of looks.

Creighton led 27-25 at the intermission, but the first half mirrored last year’s home loss too much for me to not be nervous. Illinois State plays good defense, but for the Jays to turn the ball over 10 times in the first half and be out rebounded by 4 at the break had me shivering with flashbacks from last January.

But then something happened. I don’t know if it was the guy with the unorthodox shooting form knocking down shots during the ConAgra halftime shootout, or if it was the girl who made the lay up, free throw, and three pointer in front of 12,000 people during one of the timeouts toward the end of the first half, but the Jays caught fire from the field.

Creighton outscored the Redbirds 44-27 in the second half, but only after coughing up their two-point halftime lead and giving momentum back to Illinois State more than a couple times in the second half.

However, as was the case during the December home games since Nate Funk originally sat out with a shoulder injury, Creighton coupled some timely shooting, stout defense, and copious amounts of crowd support together to regain energy, and the Jays hit 8 of 11 free throws in the second 20 minutes to post a 19-point lead.

It was a far cry from New Year’s Eve, when Creighton played poorly and lost to Illinois State on the road. The Jays shot 73% from the field in the second half in Omaha, including 64% from three-point land for the game, and they defended the home court long enough to pull out a victory.

You’d think Jays fans would be happier, then, right? Wrong. Everyone realizes just how tough the Valley slate will be this season, and all you had to do was look up the scores from around the conference when you got back from the Qwest Center. Bradley, who Creighton managed to make look unstoppable, dropped a road game at Drake, another team that is seemingly hovering around the middle of the pack in the Valley.

Oh, by the way, Drake comes to Omaha this Sunday for a ballgame. And you can expect the Bulldogs to give the Jays just that – a tough contest. Dr. Tom Davis brings a team to the Q this weekend that plays a lot like what Jays fans expected this year’s Jays team to be; pressure defense, solid guard play, some athletes in the paint, and a deep bench.

What the Jays need is an effort exactly like the one they gave in the last 10 minutes of the second half. If they can do that, they’ll be fine, and they’ll set up a two-game road trip to Terre Haute and Cedar Falls next week. If they play like they did on New Year’s Eve, and in the first half against Illinois State at home, they’ll head out for the road with their heads down. It’s that simple.

Behind the Box Score
  • It was another night for balanced scoring, with four of five starters in double figures. Freshman Josh Dotzler led the way with 15 points in 35 minutes of action, but his most important shots were the two wide-open three-pointers he was able to knock down.

    With Funk out for the rest of the season, and Pierce Hibma still not back from his knee injury, the Jays can ill-afford to play 4 on 5 on the offensive end. Creighton needs teams to respect Josh’s outside shot, because that will open things up for Dane Watts and Anthony Tolliver to get some good looks down around the basket.

  • Speaking of Watts, he shook off a sprained ankle to record 14 points, 9 rebounds, and no turnovers in 24 minutes of play. The sophomore, whose offensive game has been inconsistent most of this early season, looked more comfortable after he got his first shot – a three-pointer – to fall, and played well on both ends of the court. Altman has reiterated numerous times during the season that the team will really benefit once Dane breaks out of his slump, and here’s hoping that this win was the beginning of that.

  • My player of the game, finally, is Nick Porter. Not only did he add 11 points and 3 rebounds, but he made good decisions on offense and defense. Porter dished out 6 assists (a career high) and grabbed 2 steals.

    On a transition opportunity in the second half, he caught the basketball on the wing, pump-faked a three-pointer, drew his defender in the air, took one dribble, and instead of trying to force something around the hoop, he made a nice pass to a cutting Watts, who was fouled and made the subsequent free throws. That was my play of the game.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Illinois State 53, Creighton 50; Bradley 86, Creighton 69

What a way to ring in the New Year, huh?

There is no such thing as a good loss. It is sports hyperbole for a player or coach to say something like, “Maybe we needed this loss; we can learn a lot from it.”

But for the Jays to lose two games in three days on the road the way they did – an underwhelming effort at Illinois State, capped off by a desperation three-pointer at the buzzer giving the Redbirds the win, and a poor shooting night against a bigger, stronger Bradley team (who shot lights-out from the perimeter) that feasted on Creighton’s soft turnovers and meek penetration play – hurts. There’s no other way to put it.

The weekend marked Nate Funk’s comeback, but his return was brief – he’ll miss the rest of this season after undergoing shoulder surgery.

So now the Jays are back to where they were three weeks ago, at home, off two road losses, looking to recapture defensive effort and offensive execution that they were with out at DePaul, Chattanooga, Illinois State, and Bradley.

The difference between the middle of December and now is, of course, that Missouri Valley Conference play has started. That means physical, hard-fought games not once a week, but once every couple of days. Jays fans thought Nebraska would pose one of Creighton’s biggest tests this season, but in hindsight (a 70-44 win and underwhelming play by the Huskers before and after last month’s game at the Qwest Center) that isn’t true.

The Jays must execute more consistently or other teams in the Valley will, plain and simple. The best six teams in the Valley resemble Xavier more than any of Creighton’s other non-conference opponents, which is a scary thought for Jays fans. It took every ounce of effort to post a victory over the Musketeers a couple of weeks ago, and Dana Altman will need that same level of exertion and passion from his guys night in and night out just to secure a top-5 finish in the Valley regular season schedule.

Is that possible? Some say no because Funk is done for the year. Take a deep breath. It is early. Give them time. If you exclude the 2003-2004 team, almost all of Altman’s squads have progressed as the season wore on, with teams hitting their strides in late February and (as the banners at the Savvis Center show) early March. With Jimmy Motz, Pierce Hibma, and Funk all missing significant time in the last month, the young/new Jays have seen increased playing time.

This scenario might cause some fatigue as the season progresses, because of the lack of warm bodies able to compete for Altman on a game-by-game basis, but the young Jays will gain experience and confidence – two traits that translate into Ws later in the year.

One thing is for certain, though: Creighton, like all of the other Valley schools, will need to protect the home court. Road victories will be at a premium this year, and Creighton’s next four home conference games offer winnable situations – two “revenge” games against Illinois State (tonight) and Bradley (Jan. 18), and games against good (but not great) teams Drake (Sunday) and Evansville (Jan. 22).

There are not many breaks for Creighton (or any other Valley school, for that matter) when looking at the schedule, which speaks volumes about the talent and execution levels in the conference this year. This bevy of good basketball also equates to two months of punishing three-games-in-seven-days swings, and I highly doubt that we’ll see a team win the regular season with a 16-2 or 15-3 conference record like the last couple of seasons.

So while the New Year started poorly for the Jays, there is plenty of season left, and it is chalked full of opportunities to play well at home, steal some games on the road, and develop in all phases of the game as a basketball team. This team is bigger than one player, and hopefully the Jays resolve to prove that in 2006, like they’ve done in 2005, 2003, 2002, 2000, and 1999.
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