Dayton 60, Creighton 54
Well, the Valley is holding true to form. Of last season’s 50 starters — a year that was arguably the Valley’s brightest in recent seasons — 38 returned to the 10 MVC schools. That experience and quality depth shows; before the weekend, The Valley was in the top five conferences according to many calculations and projections of the Ratings Percentage Index. Granted, it is still early, but teams like the Salukis and the now-top-10 Shockers have some quality wins and are the current torchbearers for mid-majors across the country.
But that was supposed to be us. At least, that’s what Bluejay Nation, the Phone Booth Phaithful, the local media, the regional media, and the national media though. Heck, it’s even what the coaches thought — the Jays were in both the Associate Press and Coaches preseason polls. Were they wrong? Not entirely, I still think. Is this team making them look wrong? Um, yeah.
So when my cousin asks me, “What’s going on with these guys”, it will be hard to answer. I mean, our only two losses are on the road to decent teams in front of packed houses in games where we were within one or two possessions as late as the 4 minute mark. But yet it seems like we’re a world away from being Dance-caliber. When I finally stop flashing back to the painful first half against Dayton and muster up an answer, I’ll probably explain a combination of a few things, including:
- We’re just standing around. The offense looks completely out of synch, no matter who is out on the floor. Altman’s starting lineup was different again on Wednesday, as Nick Porter took back his starting off-guard spot after returning from a minor knee injury. But Porter was just as guilty as anyone for the stagnant offense, as his knee problems have taken an obvious toll on his speed and agility. His inability to score or draw the foul on two breakaways coming from steals gave away scoring opportunities on the fast break, and he once again proved he is not a viable scoring threat from the outside.
As Dana Altman said after the game, they seemed to be standing straight up and down on the court, with no one poised to make an aggressive move and make their own offense. Nate Funk is struggling with health issues, but he again was really the only consistent threat to penetrate with the dribble. However, his energy seemed a little off, his outside shots were short (1-7 from three-point range), and he finished with 15 points on 5-14 shooting from the field and 4-5 from the free-throw line.
- The Jays half-court defense continues to get lost, while the offense isn’t exactly finding gapping wholes in opponents’ defenses, either. Against teams with talented, athletic players who love to fly up and down the court, I have no problem with the coaching staff asking our guys to slow things down, run some time off the shot clock, and create a good shot within the set offense. I do have a problem, however, when our guys can’t run the offensive sets without looking confused or slow. And then, on the other end, even after the Jays keep the other team from getting out in transition, Creighton is still getting caught on picks or three or four steps too late recovering from screens.
Whether it is knowledge of the offense, experience running it with all of last year’s missing pieces in place (Funk, Josh Dotzler, newcomers Isacc Miles and Ty Morrison), or communication breakdowns, the switching on defense and timely passing on offense need to get better if the Jays are going to play their usual half-court system.
- We’re simply not hitting shots, regardless of whether they’re contested or wide open. Creighton finished the Dayton game shooting 37%, which is the fourth time in five regular season games they’ve been held under 40% shooting for an entire 40 minutes. Typically, the first halves are worse than the second stanzas, but they Jays have shot above 50% for a game only once — an even 50% in a win against George Mason.
But I’ll also try to convince my cousin just how close their losses have been, regardless of all these stats and stumbling offensive sets. Funk kept the Jays in the Nebraska loss, and Anthony Tolliver did the same against Dayton (13 points, 13 rebounds in 34 minutes), but the Jays couldn’t get the one or two buckets or big stops they needed to complete the momentum shifts in the second halves of both of those contests.
I’ll tell him that this team’s goal was to be playing its best basketball at the end of the season, and that there really is nowhere to go but up. It starts with Xavier, whose name would look good in Creighton’s “Good Wins” column come March. A difficult game, no doubt, but one the Jays can win at home.
At least that’s what I told my cousin to get him up here from Texas in mid-December.