Saturday, December 29, 2007

Creighton 110, Houston Baptist 73; Creighton 88, North Carolina Central 54, Creighton 80, Arkansas-Little Rock 61

Finals Week

Most of us have been there before. A semester full of ups and downs comes to this; a week of finals. A plethora of tests smashed into handful of days, their methods mixed but each aiming for the same result – to test what you’ve learned during a few months of studying and intermittent examination.

The Creighton Bluejays had their academic finals in the week previous to their three-games-in-six-days homestand against Houston Baptist, North Carolina Central (NCC), and Arkansas-Little Rock (ALR). But with their tests behind them and a brief holiday break staring them down, the Jays’ three games served as a final exam of sorts for the first one-third of the season.

The first two games were like exhibitions, while the game against ALR was supposed to be more difficult because of the Trojans’ early season successes at the defensive end of the floor. Creighton averaged 93 points per game, won all three games by at least 19 points, and every Bluejay had multiple chances to show what he could do in extended minutes of action.

Below are the three-game statistics for Creighton’s basketball first semester basketball “Finals Week”.

The Starters

Dane Watts

It is not a stretch to say Watts is Dana Altman’s best player. Point guard Josh Dotzler might be the most important piece of the puzzle, as Altman’s lead guard usually is, and P’Allen Stinnett might be his most explosive talent, but Watts gives the Jays a lot of everything. He can score inside and outside, he can crash the glass, and with nearly 100 consecutive starts since his freshman year, he has seen just about every defense and other in-game situation possible.

During “Finals Week,” Watts led the team in points (43), minutes played (57), field goal attempts (26), field goals made (15), rebounds (22), and blocked shots (5). He is in the top 10 in scoring among all Missouri Valley Conference players, but he is doing his damage during much less court time than his MVC peers. Things were no different last week, as he recorded the second-highest points per minute average among all Bluejays (.75). It is one thing to be consistent; it is completely different to be consistently good.

Josh Dotzler

The holidays are a time for giving, and Dotzler spent the week before Christmas dolling out assist after assist (10 total, four more than the next closest Bluejays) in his 53 minutes of playing time. He committed just 2 turnovers, for a 5-to-1 turnover-to-assist ratio, which compares to Illinois State’s Boo Richardson’s league-leading A-TO ratio.

Dotzler also spent the week before the holidays taking from others. He recorded a team-high 8 steals during the week, and his 2.6 steals per game for the season is currently the third highest average among MVC players. It is simply amazing to watch Dotzler continually tip the basketball away from opponents, both during passes and simple man-to-man, face-to-face defense. Say what you will about his paltry .32 points per minute (only four Bluejays have lesser averages in that category); Altman doesn’t need Dotzler to score, but rather to help his teammates score and keep opponents from putting points on the board.

Nick Bahe

Bahe, the entertaining senior guard, did a little bit of everything during the past three games. He spelled Dotzler at the point guard position, logging valuable minutes (55 total) handling the offense against ALR’s pressure defense. He knocked down 4 of his team-high 11 three-point attempts, as well, on his way to averaging 6 points per game.

Chad Millard

The sophomore transfer from Louisville shot 15 times last week, 11 of which were three-pointers. Millard made 4 of them, keeping him on pace (along with teammate Bahe) among the conference leaders in three-point field goal percentage (Millard’s currently 9th with 41.7%, Bahe tied for 11th at 40%). It was a fairly non-descript week for Millard, who continues to give a high level of effort whenever he is on the floor. His defense as the point person on Altman’s full-court press has proved invaluable, with his long arms and heady play combining to make it seem as though there is nearly 1.5 “Millard” jerseys on the court at once.

Pierce Hibma

Hibma played the fewest total minutes (45) of any of Altman’s starters last week, and he didn’t score many points (.15 points per minute, the smallest percentage among Jays who scored at least a point during the three games). His production was a far cry from his scoring outburst against St. Joseph’s (17 points on 6-10 shooting from the field).

The Junior College Transfers

Cavel Witter

The explosive guard averaged 7 points in the three games, putting in 49 minutes of action (a .43 points per minute average). However, Witter committed one more turnover than assist for the week (6 and 5, respectively), and didn’t record a steal. He continues to be a quicker, flashier point guard option when compared with Dotzler, but that speed and energy translated to more turnovers and fewer defensive takeaways from Witter during the past three games.

Booker Woodfox

The Lone Star Gunner played 36 minutes last week, and he made the most of his time offensively. He shot the ball 13 times, 10 of those were from long range, and all of his field goal makes were three-pointers (6, which led the team for the week). Coach Brian Fish has warned Jays fans since Booker’s commitment to Creighton that once he gets on a roll shooting the basketball, he is capable of scoring in bunches. Jays fans saw that ability during the past week, along with a few jump shots that just rimmed in and out for the junior from Texas. He also added 2 steals on the defensive end.

The Freshmen

Kenny Lawson, Jr.

It was a banner week for Altman’s freshmen post players, and Lawson led the way. He scored 37 points (12.3 per game), second only to Watts’ output, grabbed 13 rebounds (fourth most), and scored almost a point a minute (.93 points per minute, far and away the leader for the week). He shot 71% from the field, including 3 slams during the dunkfest victory against NCC.

What’d he get for his effort? Just the Newcomer Of the Week award among Valley rookies, marking the fourth time a Bluejay has won the award this season (Millard, Stinnett, and Witter also claimed the prize earlier this season). Hard to imagine Lawson is just a redshirt freshman.

Kenton Walker

The other half of the Cali Connection had a breakout week, as well. The true freshman from the Left Coast averaged 9 points during the three games, maxing out his minutes to the tune of .71 points per minute played (third best for the week). He made 75% of his field goals, including his first three-pointer of the year, while grabbing the second most rebounds (16) of any Jays for the week. He also had two blocked shots. The left hander is going to be a beast for years to come in the conference, and there is a decent chance that the names “Lawson” and “Walker” will become synonymous with “winning” and “low post domination” in the next couple of years.

P’Allen Stinnett

When I walk through the Qwest Center concourses and see boys and girls of all ages wearing #10 CU jerseys, I can’t help but think of the coincidence. Nate Funk, who wore the #10 jersey for the five seasons previous to this year, was arguably the most popular Bluejay since new Utah Jazz forward Kyle Korver when he graduated. And now Stinnett, who now dons #10, has quickly become the most enjoyable Jay on the court. His highlight-reel dunks, he defensive effort, and his positive attitude both on the floor and on the bench seems to permeate throughout the building, and his charismatic play is making all of those kids (and adults, too) who bought #10 jerseys in the past few years look like savvy investors. The #10 jersey is going to mean something special for a long, long time.

Oh, and his stats were good this week, too. He scored almost a point for every two minutes he played, he logged starter-type playing time (51 minutes), and he continued to prove stingy on the defensive end (5 steals, second only to Dotzler for the week). He had some rough spells, though, including the most turnovers among Jays for the week (7), and his long-distance shooting has tapered off since his outstanding three-point show against DePaul at the start of the season (0-5 for the week from three-point land).

Kaleb Korver

The younger brother of Bluejay legend and the newest addition to the Utah Jazz (Kyle was traded from Philadelphia to Utah just moments ago), the Phone Booth crowd grows excited every time the freshman from Pella checks into the game. Korver couldn’t have come into a better situation for his maturation as an all-around basketball player: Altman doesn’t need to count on him for any one thing off the bench, and when he hits the floor he can give maximum effort on all ends of the court for a few minutes while he learns the speed and makeup of the college game.

Korver played 47 minutes last week, shooting 50% from the field (5-10) and from three-point range (4-8). He chipped in 5 assists and just 2 turnovers, including a perfectly placed alley-oop pass to Stinnett for another one of P’Allen’s p’oster-style dunks.

Casey Harriman

Harriman, the redshirt freshman who looks as comfortable setting strong screens and picks as he does shooting the basketball, had one of the more productive weeks among his teammates. He finally got a little help from the Basketball Gods, and some of his near makes from the beginning of the season swished through the net. He averaged 7.3 points in the three games, and scored more than a point for every two minutes he was on the floor. He shot 50% from the field (6-12), and made better than half of his three-point shots (5-9). He added 5 assists, 1 turnover, and 3 steals in 47 minutes of action.

Both he and Korver look more well-rounded as overall players than their prolific shooting statistics from high school showed, and they are in the position to gain valuable experience as first-year players.

The Pizza Providers

Aaron Brandt

Brandt, the redshirt freshman, scored 10 points on 4-6 shooting from the field for the week. An athlete in the truest sense of the word, Brandt is slowly getting acclimated to major Division-I basketball. His physical abilities allow him to be fairly productive when he sees playing time, but it will be hard for him to increase his minutes with the sheer number of guards ahead of him on the bench. When he’s in the game, though, it usually means good things for the Jays and the wallets of those season ticket holders in attendance – pizza time!

Dustin Sitzmann

Truly the fan favorite, The Nickel played just 15 minutes last week and missed his only field goal attempt during the three games. That doesn’t stop the crowd from loving Sitzmann’s hustle and effort.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Creighton 90, St. Joseph’s 84 (OT)

With A Little Help From My Friends

Tragic events such as the Von Maur Massacre do so much more than lead the average person to question the motives for and consequences of such acts of violence; often, such heartbreak reminds people to express their love and feelings for family and friends. I’m no exception, and the following weekend provided numerous opportunities to spend valuable time with friends and family.

It culminated on Sunday with Creighton’s game against St. Joseph’s, We filled the front of Section 123 with friend from Chicago and Omaha who braved bad weather to bond over Bluejay basketball. Those same friends, along with some others, gathered for brunch before the game, and my immediate family celebrated my mom’s birthday after the game. All in all, it was a Sunday spent with those closest to me, rounding out a week that was both painful because of the violence and uplifting because of the community’s support and the strengthening of relationships among those closest to me.

Oh, and the game Sunday was pretty uplifting, too.

More than 15,000 fans packed the Qwest Center to see how Altman’s Jays would bounce back from their first loss of the season. For the second straight year, Creighton hosted a team that had posted one of the more memorable “mid-major” seasons in recent memory (last year it was George Mason). In 2004, coach Phil Martelli led his St. Joe’s Hawks to a perfect record in the regular season and a #1 seed in the NCAA tournament before missing out on a trip to the Final Four by two points. They are as far removed from that success as the Jays are from their magical 2002-2003 season, but both teams remain among the elite non-BCS conference basketball programs.

This game belonged to the Jays who were either playing college basketball or preparing to be Bluejays during St. Joe’s remarkable 2003-2004 season. Pierce Hibma redshirted for the Jays that season, picking up the knowledge and valuable practice experience that would lead him to a starting position during this, his senior season. Nick Bahe was down at the University of Kansas, where he would spend the first two seasons of his college career before transferring to the Bluejay program. And Dane Watts was capping off his high school career with a senior season that saw him average 21 points, 12 rebounds and 3 assists per game.

Against the Hawks, Hibma controlled the first couple of minutes of action. He scored 10 of his career-high 17 points in the first half, including two three-pointers within a minute of each other that pushed the Jays’ early lead to 8-3 through just two minutes of action. After leading by as many as 8 points in the first stanza, the Jays would relinquish the lead due to some hot shooting by the Hawks. St. Joe’s hit 57% of their field goals in the first half, which was eerily similar to the percentage posted by Xavier in the Jays’ previous game. However, Creighton went to the locker room trailing by just 1 point instead of the 15-point deficit they faced as they walked to the visitors’ changing room in Cincinnati.

Watts was on his way to a nice game, too. He had 11 points at intermission to lead Creighton, and all of his scoring was coming from monster dunks and nice work inside the paint. However, the Jays had yet to really ratchet up the defensive pressure, and the Hawks made them pay by burying nearly 46% of their three-point attempts.

The back-and-forth nature of the game continued well into the second half, before Iowa State transfer Tashied Carr slammed home a dunk at the 10-minute mark for a 5-point St. Joe’s lead. Nearly two minutes of game time passed, and the Hawks hit another long-range shot near the 8-minute mark to regain the 5-point cushion, marking the largest lead at the latest time of the contest for the visitors.

The Jays would chip away at the deficit, finally bringing the crowd to its collective feet with numerous steals and defensive stops. However, with a tied game at 2:07 to play, Stinnett turned the ball over (a problem for him and the other Jays guards all day), the Hawks converted a three-point play off the turnover, and then a minute later opened a 4-point lead with 1:09 to play.

The Jays were 70 seconds away from a home loss to a decent opponent, until the seniors stepped up once again. With Creighton needing a big shot, Bahe delivered his third three-pointer of the half (and his first since the first 2 minutes of the second stanza) on an assist by Dotzler (who had 10 assists to go with 7 turnovers, both team highs). St. Joe’s came right down and went back up by 3 points on a nice lay-up by Carr, who also hit a career high in points, but senior Watts matched him with a quick lay-up (on another assist from Dotzler) to bring the Jays within one again. And after the Hawks’ Pat Calathes went 1-2 on a trip to the free-throw line, Watts nailed his 2 attempts at the charity stripe to tie the game at 70 and send the Jays into overtime.

The extra session belonged yet again to the Jays’ seniors. Watts scored the first four points in the overtime period, Bahe added the next two points, and after a big three-pointer by Chad Millard the Jays slowly but surely distanced themselves from the Hawks, the hard-luck losers of 4 close games this season.

And the best part about the win? Not the fact the Jays beat another solid team to start the season 6-1. Not the fact the seniors led the way, proving the doubters in the media and the coaches on the couches wrong. Nope, it was the fact I got to witness the win amongst some of the people I care about most in my life. In a week of tumultuous emotions, it is tough to describe in words what it meant to be surrounded by a large number of friends and family, all healthy and safe, cheering on a team we all love.

We are truly blessed.

#21 Xavier 79, Creighton 66

The Heavy Hand of Reality

I’ve thought about it for almost a week, and there is no appropriate way to describe the events of last Wednesday in Omaha. By now, the entire country knows almost every detail from the murderous rampage at Omaha’s Von Maur department store. Although my thoughts and opinions about this horrific event could spill onto the space on this blog, there really isn’t any reason to do so.

The reality is, however, that this isn’t the first mall shooting in the country, just the first of its kind in our city. The people of the Denver area witnessed this reality a few days after the Omaha shootings; another young person opened fired in a senseless act of violence at a church, killing two more people before an armed parishioner acting as a security guard gunned down the gunman.

Christmas shopping and going to church. A good friend of mine, a graduate of Creighton, e-mailed Wednesday afternoon from Minneapolis to make sure everyone was OK. In signing off one of his messages, he typed, “Unbelievable.” Unfortunately, I told him, it was all-to-believable. Attribute it to whatever factors you want — issues of mental health treatment in the United States, the prevalence of the Internet as a communication medium between people of all ages and mental states, access to firearms, fractured family units, etc. — but this is the new reality. These kinds of tragedies won’t go away, and now Omaha is among the cities nationwide that will know all too well the pain and suffering experienced by the victims and the communities affected by the next kinds of these attacks.


That the massacre fell on the day of a Creighton game only added to the bizarre aura surrounding that Wednesday. I had to leave work around 2 p.m. that afternoon and pick something up from home real quick before returning to the office. I tuned in the local sports talk radio hosts to pass the time during the mid-afternoon drive, but instead was greeted by the confused and hurried “breaking news” reports regarding the shooting. The entire drive to and from the apartment was full of false reports and assumptions from local media, who were trying to get their finger on the pulse of the situation. Needless to say, I spent the last two hours of my day in the office trying to piece together the incident myself, forgetting for the moment about Creighton’s game that night.

I had a previously scheduled meeting on Creighton’s campus that evening, about an hour before tip-off, and it was while driving to that appointment I realized there would be a very good chance the game wouldn’t be broadcast from Cincinnati. Local CBS affiliate KMTV has brought the Omaha metro area increased coverage of Creighton home and away games each of the past few seasons, and this road broadcast was arguably the crown jewel of this season’s KMTV game schedule.

A group of friends met to watch the game at The Old Mattress Factory Bar and Grill, a newly opened restaurant near the Qwest Center, and we were joined by a packed house full of Jays fans anticipating the game to show up on The Matt’s 136-inch projection screen. But as the clock inched closer and closer to 7 p.m., it was looking less likely with each passing minute that the channel would leave live coverage of the deadliest day in recent Omaha history to broadcast a basketball game.

There were conflicting reports. People throughout the restaurant were on their cell phones, claiming to have heard from someone that the game was going to be delayed slightly. Then, someone would say they weren’t showing it. About five minutes after the game was supposed to start, someone said there was a technical gaffe at the Cintas Center, where Xavier plays, and that the game was going to start late out in Cincinnati anyway.

However, there was no broadcast. Some people were upset, because by that time the only “live” coverage was of the shooter’s house and the bomb squad carefully inspecting the shooter’s car. There was no way the station was going to sign off to carry a basketball game, though, so it was out the door and into the car to listen to T. Scott’s play-by-play of Creighton’s most difficult non-conference game of the season.


Creighton passed their first road test relatively well a few days earlier, posting a blowout payback win against Drexel in Philadelphia. However, Dana Altman’s Jays had lost 20-some straight road games against ranked opponents, and Xavier came into the Jays game in the top 20 and playing even better than that ranking. Make it another loss for Altman’s Jays on the road against a top-25 host.

The last time Creighton lost to Xavier was December 2002, when future NBA’ers Kyle Korver and David West staged an epic battle seen by almost no one. Polyfro reminisced recently about that game, which featured one of Korver’s most impressive scoring nights as a Jay.

Since then, Creighton had posted three straight wins against the Musketeers, including winning at the Cintas Center in 2004 by one point and then claming two close home wins at the Qwest Center in 2005 and 2006. All of the media pundits spent the days leading up to this season’s game commenting about how much the Musketeers wanted to beat CU this year after being on the losing end of so many difficult non-conference battles the past few seasons. They sure played like they wanted it.

(Side note: Jays fans in the Omaha area have become spoiled with Creighton’s meteoric rise in local popularity as a source of entertainment. This season, between home games fans can get tickets to and road games that are available to watch on television, all but two games are available to watch (the only exceptions are games at Evansville and at Illinois State). You’ve come a long way, Jays.)

From the opening tip until halfway through the first 20 minutes of action, the game was a frenetic example of two fast and exciting teams playing quickly and scoring seemingly at will. Creighton’s first three made field goals all came from three-point range. In fact, the Jays hit 7 of 13 three-pointers in the first half (54%). However, they were nearly outscored as a team by two of Xavier’s players, forward B.J. Raymond and guard extraordinaire Drew Lavender. Raymond missed just one shot in the first half, Lavender missed just two attempts, and both of them were a perfect 3 for 3 from long range, combining for 30 points (CU scored 32).

From the 9:04 mark in the first half, following a tying three-pointer by Nick Bahe (8 points, 2 rebounds on the evening), Creighton scored just 7 more points — lay-ups by Booker Woodfox and Dane Watts, and a three-pointer right before halftime by Watts. Xavier just absolutely poured it on the Jays, led by the speedy and seemingly unstoppable Lavender. The senior transfer from Oklahoma was slowed by no one in a CU uniform as he put up 17 points, 7 assists, and zero turnovers in 18 minutes of first-half play.

Trailing by 15 points, the Jays seemingly played their worst half of basketball all season. They could ill afford to play so poorly against a veteran Xavier team looking for another statement win (the previously defeated top-15 team Indiana this season), but the Jays shot just 43% in the first stanza and shot just one free throw the entire half. Watts picked up two early fouls, and the Jays stopped trying to force the ball inside. Altman said after the game that they fell in love with the long-range shots they were hitting through the first 10 minutes of the game, and when they stopped falling they didn’t make the proper adjustments.

Speaking of adjustments, Jays fans had to wonder what changes Altman could make with his squad during intermission. Creighton hadn’t played this poorly all year, and no one could really tell how a team full of inexperienced players would react in the second half. P’Allen Stinnett, the freshman Altman and the Jays have turned to early this season to swing momentum in their favor and score when the Jays need a lift, played only 7 minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls. He didn’t score until the second half, when he had all of his team-high 12 points (6-7 from the field).

As expected, Xavier cooled off. But after pulling within 9 points with 5 minutes to play and having the basketball following a Musketeer turnover, the Jays were unable to score on a fast break attempt and would never get closer than 9 points the rest of the way. Altman would say after the game he was disappointed by the lack of competitiveness his guys showed during the first half, and that they stepped up their tenacity in the second frame, but that they needed to play a complete game to even have a chance at beating a seasoned Xavier team on the road.

Josh Dotzler led the Jays in the loss, dishing out 5 assists to just one turnover, grabbing 6 rebounds, and adding 8 points and 2 steals in a game-high 27 minutes of play. However, seniors Watts, Bahe, and Pierce Hibma failed to get on track after the first 10 minutes of play. And save for Stinnett, the younger Jays did not play to their potential: Cavel Witter, coming off a career-high 20 points against Drexel, had as many turnovers (4) as points (4), while Booker Woodfox scored 9 points but did so on 4-13 shooting (including 1-7 from long-range), missing a couple of point-blank opportunities while taking some questionable shots in key stretches of both halves.

All things considered, however, the Jays still had a chance. They played much better defense in the second half, a trait most likely attributed to Altman’s halftime adjustments and motivations. It is a loss on the record, but by no means a “bad” loss; Xavier will turn more heads throughout this season, and barring any injuries or lapses will most likely compete for the A-10 conference title and a single-digit seed in the NCAA tournament. It was a reality check for Creighton, one they will surely build on as the season progresses.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

One More Wave

On the eve of Creighton's important non-conference contest at Xavier, let's wrap up our look at the Jays statistically through five games.

In the past couple of days, I’ve detailed the on-court contributions from the top six Jays sorted by minutes played per game. As would be the case with most basketball teams, Creighton’s leading scorers lead the team in court time, for the most part. However, the firepower spreads out throughout the entire roster. See below.

Casey Harriman
(14.4 minutes, 3.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, 0.2 assists, 0.8 steals per game)

Harriman looks like someone who could star on a football field; in fact, he did in high school. At 6-5, 205 lbs., the redshirt freshman from Battle Creek, Iowa, is physically ahead of his class thanks to sitting out last season and strengthening both his muscles and his basketball IQ. He now comes off the bench for Altman to lend some strength and a sweet shooting stroke.

His offensive numbers are what you’d expect from a redshirt freshman fighting for minutes at the deepest spot on the Creighton roster, but he is getting better as the season moves forward. Harriman made the most of his 13 minutes against Savannah State, scoring 9 points on 2-3 shooting from the field and a perfect effort from the free throw line (4-4). He also added 3 steals.

His stats were not as good against Drexel, but he made up for down scoring night by setting some deafening screens that knocked Dragons to the ground. Not real Dragons, of course, but if given the chance the former football play might take the chance. Guys like Harriman don’t shy away from contact.

Harriman's time on the bench last year added to his strength and knowledge in 07-08

Pierce Hibma
(14.0 minutes, 3.0 points, 1.0 rebound, 0.6 assists per game)

Hibma, the senior from Pella, has started all five regular season games for the Jays this season. His numbers won’t strike fear into the hearts of opponents, but Hibma always gives his best effort and does what Altman asks him to do. He brings savvy play and a knack for the big three-point shot to the lineup, something this team will need as it heads to its best non-conference contest of the season at Xavier Wednesday night.

Pierce is always looking to make the extra pass to a teammate

Kaleb Korver
(13.3 minutes, 4.3 points, 2.0 rebounds, 1.3 assists per game)

For all of the constant subbing players in and out all season, perhaps the most controversy Altman’s team has faced all season was the absence of Korver from the win against Nebraska. He saw the court against Savannah State, though, and made sure to make the most of his minutes. Korver put up 10 points and grabbed 4 rebounds in 20 minutes of play, and he showed some great court awareness at times. However, on his trip to brother Kyle’s town, Kaleb was only able to see the court for 7 minutes. That didn’t stop the Drexel student section from ribbing the younger Korver for his bloodlines, something he’s no doubt used to by now.

Korver's been aggressive in his limited action so far as a true freshman

Kenny Lawson
(13.0 minutes, 6.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 0.2 assists, 0.8 blocked shots per game)

Kenton Walker
(6.0 minutes, 1.6 points, 2.2 rebounds, 0.0 assists per game)

Simply put, the Kalifornia Ks are both the present and future of Creighton’s low post production. Lawson redshirted last season while dealing with some knee issues, whereas Walker is a raw but athletic left-hander who has a knack for blocking shots and being around the rim. Because of Creighton’s opponents’ lack of size so far this season, Altman and his staff have been able to slowly work Lawson and Walker onto the court, giving them great learning opportunities and some favorable match-ups along the way.

Lawson is the more polished of the two right now, with a deft right-handed hook shot and long, condor-like arms that seem to snatch the ball out of midair no matter how high it is or how many other people are around it. These same long arms get in trouble when the bring the basketball too low to the court, however, something that hampered young Anthony Tolliver’s first couple of seasons on the Hilltop. Lawson looks much more comfortable in his first full year of playing than Tolliver did, and we all saw how A-Train turned out. He scored 8 points in each of the past two games, including both some power finishes at the hoop and some nice close-range shooting touch.

Lawson's wingspan sets him apart from the rest of his Bluejay brethren

Walker flies around the floor, looking for opportunities to get his huge hands and long arms near the basketball. The lefty has played in every game this season, including 14 quality minutes against Savannah State (6 points, 4 rebounds, 3 blocks) and 6 more “appearance” minutes at Drexel. With great jumping ability and the generous frame of someone who could gain a few dozen pounds of muscle and carry them just fine, the sky is truly the limit for Walker.

Altman is taking his time with the young and talented Walker

Booker Woodfox
(11.6 minutes, 4.4 points, 1.6 rebounds, 1.0 assist, 1.0 steal per game)

The season is just five games old, but we’ve already seen two different hair styles from Woodfox, the junior college transfer from Lewisville, Texas. We’ve also seen more than a couple attempts by the dangerous outside shooter to establish himself as a three-point threat, and it hasn’t gone as smoothly as Woodfox probably would like it to go. He’s shooting just 27% from three-point range, but you can tell by both his demeanor and the coaching staff’s words about his recruitment that the kid has been brought in to play defense and hit long-range shots.

Woodfox has a great all-around game against the Tigers, scoring 8 points and swiping 3 steals in just 11 minutes to play. His one assist was a doozy – a perfectly-thrown alley-oop pass to P’Allen Stinnett – and he knows what he’s doing when he’s out there. Once the shots start falling – and they will – he’ll give the Jays one more deep threat on a team of good shooters.

His shot isn't falling quite yet, but Booker is still playing hands-on defense

Dustin Sitzmann
(3 appearances, 2 shots, 2 baskets, a couple free throws, 6 points total)

Aaron Brandt
(2 appearances, 0 points)

The fan favorites, as always, are usually the last to be seen in the ballgames. When Aaron and Dustin are in the game, it usually means good things are happening for the Jays on the scoreboard. No matter what their stats are, don’t you think it makes them feel good that they usually translate to wins for the Jays? A little bit of the what’s-good-for-me-is-good-for-the-team mentality goes a long way.

Plus, Sitzmann is the Pizza Man. That’s not a bad moniker to have at the Qwest Center these days.

These two are familiar faces to happy home crowds at the Qwest Center this season

Monday, December 03, 2007

Waves of Mutilation (Continued)

Let’s jump right to it.

Chad Millard
(22.6 minutes, 7.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.0 assists, 0.8 steals per game)

Millard, the sophomore transfer from Louisville, starts alongside Watts on the CU frontline. He can do a little bit of everything; he has shown the ability to shoot from outside (47% from three-point range), he’s second on the team in rebounds per game, and he is leading the squad in blocked shots. But the defensive end is perhaps where he has made his most immediate contributions to this season’s team. When Millard’s in the game and when the Jays implement their stifling full-court press, it is he who plays the point. His elongated wingspan and quick hands and feet allow him to cut off what seems like half the baseline while opponents try to inbound the ball.

Like seemingly everyone else, Millard recorded a workmanlike effort against Savannah State. He logged just 17 minutes of action, or just about as much playing time as Watts and Dotzler. He had a steal and a blocked shot, scored 3 points, and got some rest before the trip to Philadelphia. Two years ago, Millard started games as a freshman for the Cardinals in the Big East. Back in familiar territory on the east coast, Millard scored 7 points on 3-4 shooting from the field (including one of CU’s 4 three-pointers), grabbed 5 rebounds, blocked another shot and had another steal. Oh, and he did all of that in just 19 minutes.

Efficient, huh? I have yet to see much wasted motion or energy from Millard, who continues to do a lot of things very well for Dana Altman’s team. If he can continue to play solid defense and add more rebounds to his totals, he’ll go a long way to jumpstarting his career after sitting out last season due to transfer rules.

Millard is a tough match-up for smaller guards and slower forwards

Nick Bahe
(18.0 minutes, 5.4 points, 2.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists, 1.0 steal per game)

This is Bahe’s senior season, his last year in a career that has spanned two schools and years of positive effort if not below-average statistics. He is a vocal leader, simply a funny guy who knows all of the right things to say and who isn’t afraid to say them when asked.

He has started every game this season, but his traditional strong point (three-point shooting) has been anything but this season – he’s firing at just 27% from three-point range. However, he’s making crisp passes, he’s quicker on defense than he was last year, and he is putting the ball on the floor when defenders close in on his quick three-point shot and hitting pull-up jumpers with the same quick release.

These additions to his game were on display against Drexel. Bahe missed all four of his three-point tries, but he twice hit jump shots on pump-fakes from long range. Add his 2 assists and 3 steals to the equation, and it is understandable that the senior leader recorded his second-highest minutes of the season in the somewhat hostile environment in the City of Brotherly Love.

When he isn't making Funk laugh or impersonating Altman, Bahe can play basketball, too

Cavel Witter
(16.0 minutes, 10.0 points, 1.4 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 1.0 steal per game)

Earlier this summer, after Altman and his staff announced in the spring the signing of junior college guard Witter, someone started singing the praises of a kid few Jays fans had ever seen … before he even played a game in Omaha.

There are a few hundred Jays fans that spend hours upon hours on a little Internet community known as The Bluejay Café. It’s a fancy name for the only true Jays message board on the Web, and it is where a lot of us voice our opinions of all-things Creighton athletics.

So, someone strolled onto this board and starting raving about a young guard from Kansas City, a guard this someone proclaimed would be among the best guards in the Valley during the 2007-2008 season. This someone didn’t seem to mind Witter wouldn’t be in the starting line-up to start the season, nor would he be guaranteed any more playing time than the other recruits and returners in the backcourt. This someone regaled readers of Witter’s past triumphs in high school and junior college, while readers were left to scratch their heads and wonder, “Is this someone for real? Does this person know something we don’t know?”

The answer is a resounding “yes.” From the first summer league games to the most recent win, Witter has been among the most pleasant surprises on this young season. In limited minutes, Witter is the third-leading scorer on a team loaded with guards. His athleticism and pure speed and energy have already been the focus of local newspaper reports, and his playmaking ability is followed by the caveat that his quick play can also lead to quick turnovers.

He celebrated his 20th birthday on Saturday with a 20-point effort against Drexel, doing pretty much everything the Bluejays needed in just 16 minutes of action. He was perfect from the free-throw line, going 10-10 and opening his Jays career perfect from the charity stripe for the season.

Forget his size; Witter's been huge for the Jays thus far

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Creighton 78, Savannah State 52; Creighton 72, Drexel 48

Waves of Mutilation

The title of this post refers to one of my favorite songs from the seminal band The Pixies. And while I can safely bet that Black Francis, Kim Deal, and the rest of the band didn’t have hoops in mind when penning “Wave of Mutilation,” I can’t help but hum the tune and have the title in my mind while watching this year’s Creighton Bluejay basketball team.

After last season’s bitter ending in the first round of the NCAA tournament, Creighton’s roster experienced what seemed like constant change for the remainder of the spring. Dana Altman left Creighton for Arkansas, a move he negated almost faster than you could say “Wal-Mart”. Isaac Miles transferred to Murray State. Brice Nengsu left the team, too. With Altman back in the head office, the coaching staff needed to almost completely overhaul a roster while keeping the bar of expectations set at another 20-win season and some sort of postseason play.

That’s why I found it exciting, if not a little strange, when assistant coach Brian Fish made an appearance on a local radio station last spring raving about the new recruits who would step on campus this fall. His most important point, after talking about each individual’s strengths and areas for improvement, was that there was an increased level of athletic and explosive basketball players on the horizon for Jays fans to get to know and love, and that the sheer number of quality players the staff planned to bring into the program was going to allow Altman to implement the style of defense he prefers to play.

Hence, the waves of mutilation. Altman is using every part of his healthy, balanced, and talented roster to relentlessly force opponents into submission. Last season, four Bluejays (I think you can probably guess who they are) averaged 28 minutes played per game or more. This season, 11 Jays are averaging more than 10 minutes of action per game; the four most frequently-playing Jays average just more than 20 minute of action per game.

This reliance on the entire bench for strong blasts of concentrated energy and defensive intensity is paying immediate positive dividends and has translated into a 5-0 start for the young Jays. Altman and his coaches continue to say they are still about six or seven games away from cementing a more permanent selection of playing combinations and individual roles and responsibilities, but this team’s identity right now is one of pressure defense.

Simply, they are mutilating teams with their constant waves of defenders, whether it is in the full-court press, tight man-to-man pressure, or continually improving match-up zone looks. For the season, the Jays have forced opponents into an average of 23 turnovers per game, including a season-high 29 turnovers against Drexel yesterday.

(Interestingly, the 29 turnovers committed by the Dragons matches the per-game average of turnovers caused by the 1972-1973 Jays team, which holds the school record for most opponents turnovers caused in a season — 758 in 26 games.)

Just like The Pixies, the Jays have thrown waves of mutilation at opponents all season

The storylines for the wins against Savannah State and at Drexel are simple: Savannah State was a trap game sandwiched between an emotional win against rival Nebraska and Creighton’s first road trip of the season; Drexel was that first road test, in a return visit for last season’s Bracket Buster debacle. Instead of addressing each game individually, let’s review how each player on the Jays roster added their own effort to Altman’s waves of mutilation of the Tigers and the Dragons.

In order of most minutes played per game to least per game:

P’Allen Stinnett
(Season essentials so far: 23.4 minutes, 12.2 points, 2.4 rebounds, 2.8 assists, 2.2 steals per game)

Stinnett had another sensational throw-down against Savannah State, following up his monstrous victimization of Nebraska’s Shang Ping last week. This one was an ally-oop from Booker Woodfox, during which Stinnett seemed to keep elevating even after receiving the basketball in mid-air along the baseline. He tallied 13 points against the Tigers to lead the team in scoring, as well.

The shots were not falling as easily for P’Allen during his trip to P’hilly. He went just 3-11 from the field, including 1-6 from three-point range, and grabbed just one rebound in 24 minutes of action. However, that didn’t stop him from playing defense. He led the team with 4 steals on a day when all they seemingly needed to do was pressure Drexel into handing the Jays easy shots in transition. But Stinnett’s day was not without flare; his one assist was a perfectly placed quick pass in transition to a Bluejay lay-up.

Stinnett didn't posterize anyone against Drexel, but his defense was suffocating

Josh Dotzler
(23.0 minutes, 3.2 points, 2.4 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 2.8 steals per game)

For as long as Dotzler has been a fixture of the Creighton program, he is still somewhat of an enigma on the court. He is a junior, but he has only been fully healthy for a small sample size of his playing career. He’s missed almost an entire season’s worth of games due to numerous injuries, while members of both the fan base and the local media continue to wonder out loud whether or not he is providing enough offense in relation to the minutes he plays.

Will Dotzler ever be mistaken for Rodney Buford? No, but that’s not the kind of game Altman needs from his veteran point guard. Dotzler’s accumulated a 2.10 assist-to-turnover ratio so far this season, good enough for the sixth best ratio among MVC players through the weekend.

That being said, Josh didn’t have his best game against Savannah State on Thursday. He was 0-5 from the field and had as many assists (2) as turnovers (2). However, he had 4 of Creighton’s 18 steals, and he only played 17 minutes in the blowout. That rest, and his experience as a court leader for Altman, paid great rewards for the Jays at Drexel. Dotzler dished 7 assists and committed only 2 turnovers in 26 minutes of play against the Dragons, while adding 2 steals and some solid defensive pressure during the rout.

Radio hosts and others looking for reasons to put Josh on the bench should watch the game tape and realize that among the reasons he is on the floor is his ability to play at the pace Altman wants, whatever that pace might be.

Dotzler contributes on offense even though he doesn't score many points

Dane Watts
(22.8 minutes, 13.2 points, 7.2 rebounds, 1.4 assists, 1 steal per game)

Watts has quietly waited to take over his team as a leader for the past three seasons. After being a steady contributor for each of the past three years, this year was finally Watts’ time to be “the guy”. He’s thought to be one of the best returning players in the Valley this season; at least, that’s what Jays fans think. However, when the preseason All-Valley teams hit the papers before the season started, Watts’ name was nowhere to be found. Not even in the Honorable Mentions section.

Dane may or may not have been upset by that lack of acknowledgement, but plenty of Jays fans were. And so far this season, Dane’s play is backing up all of us who thought he was overlooked by those coaches and media “in the know” who compose those lists. He got to rest a bit against the Tigers, logging just 16 minutes and collecting 6 points and 6 rebounds. But against the Dragons, he was noticeable for doing almost everything needed to help his team win.

In this case, the box score doesn’t do the young man’s effort justice. Watts scored 10 points and grabbed 6 boards in 20 minutes of action, but his defensive effort against Drexel’s post players (in particular, star Frank Elegar) set the tone for the slaying of the Dragons. Even the local television broadcasters seemed enamored by Watts’ do-everything attitude and effort, commenting numerous times about his ability to keep a play going for this teammates with getting his hands on loose basketballs and tipping them out to his guards.

Later this week, Watts returns to the place where his Jays career really took off. The last time Creighton played at Xavier, Watts was a few games into his freshman season. In a 73-72 win, he poured in 18 points in 23 minutes on 7-10 shooting from the field. Xavier didn’t have an answer for him; heck, they probably didn’t even know who he was. CU fans didn’t expect that kind of game from him that night three years ago, but they do now. If Watts can deliver a similar performance, the Jays will have a decent shot to upset the Musketeers on their home court on Wednesday night.

Watts sends a message against DePaul earlier in the year

Coming tomorrow … more player profiles, including a look back at Cavel Witter’s wonderful weekend
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