Tuesday, March 18, 2008

NIT Game #1 Preview: vs. Rhode Island

Let’s take a look at tonight’s game from a few angles.

First, we’ll start with a couple of highlights/interesting facts (courtesy of the Creighton Athletic Department’s game notes).
  • Is this Bradley? As stated in this morning’s Omaha World-Herald article by Steve Pivovar, the URI Rams more than slightly resemble the Bradley Braves. Some stats to back that up: The Rams average 80.8 points per game and shoot 47.1 percent from the field, 38 percent from three-point range and 69.5 percent at the line while outrebounding teams by 2.5 caroms per contest. URI allows 74.4 points per contest.

  • Postseason Party: Creighton has made either the NIT or NCAA in 11 consecutive seasons, the longest streak of postseason bids in MVC history. It is one more than the 10 straight from 1966 to 1975 by Louisville.

    The only 12 schools to make the postseason in each of the last 11 years are Arizona, Creighton, Duke, Florida, Gonzaga, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan State, Oklahoma State, Stanford and Syracuse.

  • Inside Threat Looms Large: Though it’s often overlooked by the school’s traditionally strong perimeter game, Creighton’s inside game continues to be a focal point that often dictates CU’s success. When scoring 28 or more points in the paint this season, Creighton is 13-2 this season. Since the school started tracking points in the paint five years ago, CU is 52-8 when scoring 28 or more in the paint.

  • Lots of Watts: Senior Dane Watts has played in 128 games as a Bluejay, which puts him tied for second in Creighton history (behind Nate Funk’s 135) with Bob Harstad and Kyle Korver. Tonight’s game will give him sole possession of second place.

  • P’henomenal P’hreshman Scorer: Freshman P’Allen Stinnett has taken over the team scoring lead, with 28 more points than Dane Watts to date (385-357). Should Stinnett’s scoring average lead (12.4 ppg.) hold up, he’d become the first Bluejay freshman to top the team in that category since Rodney Buford (14.5 ppg.) in 1995-96.


Next, let’s take a look at Rhode Island’s road to Omaha (and not the good CWS kind of “Road to Omaha”).

The Rhode Island Rams …

… finished the regular season 21-11.
… finished tied for 9th place in the 14-team Atlantic 10 Conference (7-9 record).
… started the season 20-4, with wins at Syracuse and versus Alabama-Birmingham.
… lost 7 of their last 8 games, beginning with an overtime defeat against Temple on Feb. 13.
… lost to Xavier by 4 points (CU lost to XU by 13 points).
… lost to St. Joseph’s by 7 points (CU beat the Hawks by 6 points in overtime).


Finally, let’s rattle off the names and stats for some of the players who will catch your attention tonight in the road jerseys (hopefully they’re powder blue road jerseys, but I’m not 100% sure of that).

Projected Starters (per www.GoCreighton.com):

PG Parfait Bitee

No, that isn’t a typo. That’s the dude’s name. Pretty cool, right? He and Booker Woodfox should go out tonight after the game and hit up the bars. I’m sure the bouncers preparing for the flood of out-of-state IDs in the Old Market this weekend during the NCAA tournament games need some practice spotting completely fake monikers.

ANYWAY, let’s get to the guy’s stats. He is third in the A-10 in assists per game (4.81), first in 3-point percentage (51%), and just outside the top 10 in 3-pointers made per game (2). He’s a 6-2 senior guard who Dana Altman says resembles Bradley’s Daniel Ruffin (Uh oh).

SG Jimmy Baron

He put the “shooting” in “shooting guard.” He’s the coach’s son, a junior, and a kid who has never met a long-range shot he didn’t like. He is the fifteenth-highest scorer in the A-10 (14 points per game), he’s making 3 long-range bombs per game (fourth best in the conference), and he’s just outside the top 10 in 3-point shooting percentage (41%).

In a word, he’s to URI what Jeremy Crouch is to Bradley. If you don’t believe me, just take it from Coach Altman. Whoever guards him will need to shut him down if the Jays want to win this NIT game.

1F Will Daniels

This guy is the real deal. A 6-8, 225 senior forward who can score (19 points per game – 4th best in the A-10), rebound (7 boards per game – 10th best in the A-10), and make the most of his touches (shooting 50% from the field, which is 3rd best in the conference).

He is a first-team all-Atlantic 10 performer, and Dane Watts is going to have to step his game up to stop this potent scorer.

2F Kahiem Seawright

This guy is a 6-8 junior who scores 9 points a game and rips down 8 rebounds per game – good enough to make him the second-most prolific rebounder in the A-10 this season. He also averages more than one blocked shot per game, which will make it difficult for the Jays to get many clean looks at the hoop close to his position down low.

3F Delroy James

This sophomore has only started 3 games this season; previous starting privileges went to 6-9, 280 lbs Jason Francis, but he looks to be out of the equation minutes-wise based on a quick look at recent box scores. James only scores 3 points per game.

Keith Cothran, Lamonte Ulmer, and Joe Mbang look to be the other key contributors for this Rams squad.


REMINDER: Tonight’s game is on ESPNU at 9 p.m. Central time. Late start at The Phone Booth tonight. We’ll see you at The Old Mattress Factory tonight before the game for some Bud Lights and a little Bluejays talk before the big game.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

CU 74, BU 70; DU 75, CU 67

Arch Ache

Last weekend marked the 10th consecutive spring I’ve either driven or flown to St. Louis to take in the sights and sounds that are burned into my mind as the definition of “Arch Madness.” Gone are the days of stuffing 10 smelly sophomore dudes into one two-bed hotel room for the weekend, but that hasn’t changed the spring break-type feel of the trip to St. Louis for me or any of my friends who still take time out of their lives to relive a sliver of our college years.

The Jays didn’t win; they fell to eventual champions Drake (the first #1 seed in quite some time to win the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament championships) in the semifinals. But they won a game against a team (Bradley) they’ve struggled to defend in the two schools’ previous meetings, and they did so in front of another large contingent of CU fans.

It hurts a little bit when Dana Altman’s teams don’t win the conference tournament. I’m spoiled. I’ve either rushed the court or tried to hold back happy tears (or both) 6 times following conference tournament championship games, and regardless of how the Jays are playing in the last week of the regular season I’m always under the assumption they will turn things on at the right time and stage a three-game coup of the league. It didn’t happen this year, but the future definitely looks bright on the Hilltop.

“Yes! NO! YES!”

Think Bradley’s starters might have tired a bit in the final minutes of Creighton’s 74-70 quarterfinal win over the Braves? Jim Les’ bench played 22 minutes total against the Jays. TWENTY-TWO MINUTES! Three of Creighton’s subs — Cavel Witter, Booker Woodfox, and Chad Millard — played more than 22 minutes each.

Players from both teams have every right to be tired and sore after a game as exciting as the one the two schools staged in front of 13,000-plus fans at the Scottrade Center. After the first 3 minutes of game action, Creighton trailed 7-2 and looked, for lack of a better word, off. Then, shortly after the under-16:00 media timeout, Creighton staged what would become a 38-20 run to end the half up 40-27.

Five Jays scored 5 points or more in the first half, led by super sub and Valley 6th Man of the Year Booker Woodfox (11). More important, the Jays clamped down on Daniel Ruffin, arguably Bradley’s best player. Ruffin didn’t score in the first 20 minutes of action (actually, he didn’t score his first points until the 15 minute mark of the second stanza), and Creighton’s perimeter defense didn’t allow him to chew them up as he did in the school’s two previous meetings.

Granted, all of this balance and defensive success didn’t keep Bradley from clawing their way back into the game. And it sure didn’t stop the Braves from tying the game at 67-all with 4 minutes to go in the contest. And it didn’t stop Matt Salley from putting back an offensive rebound and staking Bradley to a 1 point lead with 2:36 to play.

But just as it looked like (yet again) this talented but inexperienced group of Bluejays would let another win slip from their grasps, the young maestro took over. Again.

Cavel Witter put the Jays back in the lead for good with a driving lay-up, hit a jump shot right after a missed free throw by Salley, and then calmly hit two free throws of his own with 4 seconds left to give the Jays the win. This is the same guy who torched Bradley for 42 points in the final conference game of the season. With Ruffin playing his last game as a Brave in MVC play, do you think Les might be wondering and worrying about whom on his roster is going to guard Witter next season?

Not only did Altman’s Jays win the quarterfinal, but the Dean of the Valley (who, with the win, became the only coach in MVC history to win 20 conference tournament games) managed the roster perfectly. Nine Bluejays logged double-figure minutes, with Witter and sensational P’Allen Stinnett leading the way with 28 minutes each. Altman had set his roster up to be as fresh as possible against Drake in the ensuing semifinal.

Bulldog Destiny?

This stat sums up Creighton’s semifinal loss to eventual Valley tourney champion Drake: Adam Emmenecker shot 13 free throws against the Jays (and made 12), while Creighton received 13 shots from the charity stripe as a team. In a game where both teams were nearly identical in almost every statistical category, it was Drake’s free throw line where Creighton fans gazed helplessly as Emmenecker and others softly hit free throws almost immediately following big Bluejay baskets.

Creighton trailed by 9 at halftime, but Dane Watts and Stinnett nearly erased that deficit themselves in the first 2 minutes of the second half (Watts with a jump shot and Stinnett with a jumper and a three-pointer). However, in a play that would foreshadow much of the cat-and-mouse chase the second stanza would become, Emmenecker came down on the next possession, drew contact in the lane, made the shot, and made the free throw after being fouled by Kenny Lawson.

The Jays would get as close as 2 points twice more in the half, and they would be within 4 points with just under a minute to play in the game, but Drake’s juniors and seniors, the ones responsible for the most unlikely of 28-win seasons in recent conference history, would continually make the plays they need to in order to fend of the feisty Jays.

Turns out that yet again, Creighton gave Drake the best test it would experience in the tournament. During the regular season, the Jays dropped a game to the Bulldogs in overtime in Omaha and then watched DU score the final 10 points in a tie game down the stretch in Des Moines. CU had the talent to stay with a top-20 team three times this year, but that same team had the experience and desire to pull the games out of the bag and saddle the Jays with 3 of their 10 losses on the year.

Does the result hurt? Sure. It hurts the players, who were so excited and happy as they left the court to at least a thousand Jays fans cheering and chanting for them after defeating Bradley Friday afternoon. It hurts the fans, who have come to bank on Arch Madness as Creighton’s time to shine. Truth be told, it probably hurt Josh Dotzler the most — Mr. Unlucky suffered a severe mouth injury in the Drake game and underwent/will undergo some dental surgery to mend his mouth.

But the beers didn’t taste bad Saturday night at Sundeckers. The Blue and White being worn around town didn’t look tattered or dull, either. The bars were smoky, as usual, but there was nothing stinky about the stat lines of the future leaders of the Creighton basketball program:

Meanwhile, back in Nebraska, Central’s Josh Jones won his third consecutive state title and finished his high school career as Central’s leading scorer of all time. He’ll be a Bluejay next year, along with fellow State Tournament participant Antoine Young.

I’ll leave you with this. The last time Creighton lost in the semifinals was March 2001, against eventual champion Indiana State. The next two seasons featured some of the most successful teams Altman has coached at CU, and those teams both won the Arch Madness tournament (2001-2002 and 2002-2003, both versus Southern Illinois).

That won’t make Dotzler’s mouth hurt any less, but the future of Bluejays basketball is definitely promising enough to help even the most die-hard of fans absorb the loss to Drake.

This is only the beginning. The beginning of something great.

Friday, March 07, 2008

Just a Few Hours Until Tip-Off...

... and I thought I would rig the blog to post some tid-bits related to the Jays-Bradley game automatically. I'm compiling these at 12:30 a.m. Thursday morning.

(Thank you, Al Gore, for this host of boutiful amounts of creativity we know as "the Internet.")

Without further ado, here are a few nuggets of knowledge from the Creighton Athletic Department’s MVC tournament notes Enjoy!

  • Bradley is 4-2 all-time against CU at the MVC Tournament, making them the only squad with a winning record over the Jays at the league tournament.

  • In the last 24 meetings between the schools, Creighton is 13-1 when holding Bradley to 65 points or less but 3-7 when they allow more than 65 points. Creighton has also won the last 17 meetings when it scores 70 points or more against BU.

  • Bradley’s 290 three-pointers lead the MVC this season and ranks among the top-10 nationally.

  • Creighton’s bench averages 37.5 points per contest (second-most nationally) and has outscored the starting five by 85 points this year.

  • Creighton owns a 34-16 all-time record in MVC Tournament games. Creighton’s 10 MVC Tournament titles are five more than any other school, while its .680 winning percentage in league tourney action is also tops.

  • Creighton is 5-4 all-time as the fourth seed, including a 2-1 record against Bradley (wins in 1984 and 2000, a loss in 2006). Creighton’s 2000 team beat Bradley 71-62 in the quarterfinals en route to a second-straight title, something this year’s team is looking to do as well. That 2000 team is the only one in MVC history to win the league tournament as a fourth seed.

  • The only players in league history to play in three MVC Tournament finals victories are Creighton’s Kyle Korver (2000, ‘02, ‘03), Tyler McKinney (2002, ‘03, ‘05) and Nate Funk (2003, ‘05, ‘07) and Southern Illinois’ Marcus Timmons (1993, ‘94, ‘95), Chris Carr (1993, ‘94, ‘95) and Paul Lusk (1993, ‘94, ‘95). Creighton seniors Pierce Hibma and Dane Watts have a chance to join that elite club, as they were played in the championship game for the Bluejay title teams in 2005 and 2007 as well.

  • Creighton has won its last six games at the MVC Tournament decided by four points or less. However, six of CU’s last eight losses at the MVC Tournament have been by margins between five and eight points.

  • Cavel Witter’s career-high 42 points against Bradley was noteworthy for numerous reasons. Witter’s 42 points were double his previous career-high of 21 points against Indiana State on Jan. 19, 2008.

    Witter’s 42 points were the most by any Missouri Valley Conference player since Indiana State’s Nate Green scored 45 points against Eastern Illinois on Dec. 19,1999.

    Witter’s 42 points were the most by a sophomore in any game this year nationally. According to ESPN.com, Witter became one of three players nationally to score 40 or more points off the bench this season.

    Witter’s 42 points were the most by a Creighton player since Benoit Benjamin had 45 vs. Indiana State on Jan. 19, 1985.

    Witter’s 42 points were the most by a Creighton player ever in the month of March.

    Witter’s 42 points were tied for eighth-most in Creighton history.

    Witter’s 42 points made him the first Creighton player with at least 40 points since Rodney Buford had 40 on Dec. 30, 1996 vs. Bradley.

    Witter’s 42 points was a Qwest Center Omaha record, four more than Nate Funk’s 38 points on Nov. 26, 2005 vs. Dayton.

    Witter’s 42 points came just two weeks to the day after he was held scoreless in the first meeting against Bradley.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Arch Madness 2008

The Spirit of St. Louis

It is time for the annual Dana Altman Invitational.

I mean, it is time for the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament, affectionately known by the moniker (and great marketing slogan) “Arch Madness.”

If you don’t believe me, maybe this highlight video of last year’s MVC tournament title run will conjure some goose bump-inducing feelings:

Altman’s Jays have won 6 of the last 9 MVC tournament titles, including hoisting last season’s championship trophy in front of a sold-out arena on national broadcast television.

Gone from last year’s run are Nate Funk, Anthony Tolliver, Nick Porter and the majority of offensive firepower (and overall minutes per night) that brought yet another MVC tournament title to the Hilltop.

Does this year’s team have what it takes to win three games in three days, starting with an opponent (Bradley) that has score almost 200 points against the Jays in two games during the past two-plus weeks? More than 1,000 Jays fans are confident enough in their chances that they’ve purchased all-session tickets through the CU ticket office. Myself, my wife, and 8 other friends of ours are part of that grand pack of Jays fans, and we’ll be in the Gateway City for the weekend to see if the Bluejays can go back-to-back.

First, before my annual predictions, let’s recap a week’s worth of awards.

The Player of the Year is Who?

I can see it now. The short little man with white hair, spectacles, a furrowed brow, and a flowing beard is etching the name of this year’s POY on the trophy/plaque. He raises his eyes, shakes his head, and asks, “Are there two ‘M’s in ‘Emmenecker?’”

You, good sir, are not alone. Before this season started, little attention was being paid to Drake’s senior guard Adam Emmenecker, a former walk-on who hadn’t exactly set the MVC on fire with his play (aka the little amount of minutes he logged in the past few seasons) previous to his last season as a Bulldog. But after an improbable season for coach Keno Davis (who, barring any wild outcomes, should win the Coach of the Year award Thursday afternoon) and his Drake squad, the point guard was recognized by the league as the MVP of the conference.

I wonder if Osiris Eldridge will carve “POY” in his hair next to his Mohawk this weekend in protest. I’d give him some illegal benefits if he did. I’m not saying Emmenecker wasn’t great this year, because he was; I just consider Osiris the best player in the league right now.

The full All-Valley Team:
Adam Emmenecker, Drake, Sr. G
Osiris Eldridge, Illinois State, So. G
Jeremy Crouch, Bradley, Sr. G
Randal Falker, Southern Illinois, Sr. F
Josh Young, Drake, So. G 6-1

That’s right, no Bluejays. Not a surprise, I guess. You can’t really argue with any of these selections, although I’m sure some of the dudes in the list below would have a thing or two to say about their seasons.

The full All-Valley Second Team:
Eric Coleman, Northern Iowa, Sr. C
Jonathan Cox, Drake, Jr. F
Leonard Houston, Drake, Sr. G
Deven Mitchell, Missouri State, Sr. F
Bryan Mullins, Southern Illinois, Jr. G

Again, no Jays. But starting with the Honorable-Mention selections, CU becomes well-represented.

Honorable Mention Selections:Shy Ely, Evansville Jr., F/G Gabe Moore, Indiana State, Sr. G Daniel Ruffin, Bradley Sr., G Anthony Slack, Illinois State, Sr. P'Allen Stinnett, Creighton Fr. G

And so it begins. The legacy P’Allen has started in Omaha has officially branched out to the rest of the Valley schools and fans, as it is hard to overlook his status as the only underclassman on the Honorable Mention list and one of only three freshmen or sophomores on any of the All Conference teams (Young and Eldridge being the others).

If the following highlight reel of plays from the Qwest Center this season is any indication, Stinnett and some of his fellow newcomers have a few more exciting seasons in store for Jays fans.

In fact, P’Allen claimed the league’s Newcomer of the Year and Freshman of the Year awards. He was joined on the All-Newcomer team by Booker Woodfox, while Kenny Lawson joins Stinnett on the All-Freshman team.

All-Newcomer Team:
Ramon Clemente, Wichita State, Jr. F
Sam Maniscalco, Bradley, Fr. G
P'Allen Stinnett, Creighton, Fr. G
Theron Wilson, Bradley, Jr. G
Booker Woodfox, Creighton, Jr. G

All-Freshman Team:
J.T. Durley, Wichita State, Fr. F
Kenny Lawson Jr., Creighton, Fr. C
Sam Maniscalco, Bradley, Fr. G
Isiah Martin, Indiana State, Fr. F
P'Allen Stinnett, Creighton, Fr. G
Pieter van Tongeren, Evansville, Fr. C

No Jays were named to the All-Defensive team, but Woodfox was named the league’s Sixth Man of the Year (and captain of the All-Bench team). He was joined on the Super Subs Squad by Cavel Witter.

All-Bench Team:
Chris Cooks, Missouri State, Jr. F
Emmanuel Holloway, Illinois St. Jr. G
Isiah Martin, Indiana State, Fr. F
Cavel Witter, Creighton, So. G
Booker Woodfox, Creighton, Jr. G

While it disappointing senior leader and four-year starter Dane Watts didn’t garner so much as honorable mention honors, it is equally as exciting that the future of Jays hoops looks so bright.

Arch Madness Predictions

Instead of boring you with only my prognostications for how things will go down in St. Louis this weekend, I asked friends Panon and Sign Guy to share their projections for each game of the tournament.

Game 1: #8 Indiana State vs. #9 Wichita State

Regular Season Results:
WSU beat ISU 65-60 in Wichita; ISU beat WSU 83-73 (OT) in Terre Haute.

Panon — WSU
Sign Guy — ISU
Me — ISU

Game 2: #7 Missouri State vs. #10 Evansville

Regular Season Results:
UE beat MSU 84-65 in Evansville; MSU beat UE 76-38 in Springfield.

Panon — MSU
Sign Guy — MSU
Me — MSU

Game 3: #8/#9 vs. #1 Drake

Regular Season Results:
Drake didn’t lose any games against either Wichita State or Indiana State.

Panon — DU
Sign Guy — DU
Me — DU

Game 4: #4 Creighton vs. #5 Bradley

Regular Season Results:
Bradley smoked the Jays in Peoria; Creighton beat the Braves in Omaha last weekend.

Panon — CU
Sign Guy — BU
Me — CU

Game 5: #2 Illinois State vs. #7/#10

Regular Season Results:
The Redbirds swept Missouri State and Evansville this season.

Panon — ILS
Sign Guy — ILS
Me — ILS

Game 6: #3 Southern Illinois vs. #6 Northern Iowa

Regular Season Results:
SIU lost to UNI by 5 in Cedar Falls; they beat the Panthers by 20 in Carbondale.

Panon — UNI
Sign Guy — SIU
Me — SIU

Game 7: CU/BU vs. Drake

Since we each picked Drake to advance out of the quarterfinals, we’ll consider them a “lock” in this spot. However, Panon and I both think the Jays will not only beat Bradley on Friday but will also enact revenge against the Bulldogs for two close losses during the regular season. Sign Guy predicts a Drake loss, too, but he feels the Bradley Braves will be the ones knocking off the top seed.

Game 8: SIU/UNI vs. Illinois State

Again, the Redbirds were a unanimous pick among the three of us. And while Sign Guy and I both chose SIU to defeat Northern Iowa, Panon is reaching back to his Iowa roots and predicting a UNI-ILS semifinal.

That being said, everyone agrees: Illinois State has a date with the conference championship game.

Championship Game: CU/BU vs. Illinois State

This time, I’m in the minority. I think the Jays go down at win the whole damn thing. I’m probably crazy, but at least I acknowledge it. Panon thinks it will be a CU-ILS final, while Sign Guy thinks Bradley will meet their match and drop the title game to the Redbirds.

Panon added one caveat to his predictions, however. He said that if SIU beats UNI in the last quarterfinal Friday night (as Sign Guy and I both feel will happen), then he predicts SIU will beat Illinois State in the semifinal and then the Jays will upend the Salukis for the league title.

Hopefully the talented folks who made the following video will have some footage to add after this weekend, footage that includes trophies being held, fans flooding the court, and the Jays claiming another Arch Madness championship.


Regardless of the outcomes, it is sure to be a great time as always.

Go Jays!

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

ILS 68, CU 54; CU 111, BU 110 (2OT)

The Season Starts Friday

Tonight marks the start of my “Christmas in March” … Arch Madness Week!

I’ve spent at least three days in St. Louis in early March in each of the past nine years; this Thursday amounts to a decade of traveling (in sometimes horrible weather) to watch Dana Altman and the Jays partake in the Missouri Valley Conference postseason tournament in the Gateway City. It also marks the 9-year anniversary of Altman’s first MVC tournament title, secured by Rodney Buford and the boys during the 1998-1999 season.

To celebrate that accomplishment and the 5 other tournament titles secured in the previous nine seasons by the Jays, this week will feature a feast of blog entries. At least that’s the plan. Let’s start with recapping last week’s games. While the loss to Illinois State left much to be desired, Saturday’s Senior Night festivities were pretty fun, if you haven’t heard (*sarcasm included free of charge*). And it wasn’t just because of Nick Bahe’s Dana Altman impression, featured in the interview below.

Can They Rebound?

What a difference a couple of days make. Last Wednesday night, after the Creighton Bluejays were absolutely manhandled by Illinois State to the tune of a -21 rebounding margin, I was sullen and somber. Streaks were on the line. Seeding for St. Louis was on the line. A season sweep at the hands of the Redbirds (first time since 1997-1998) was on the line.

And the Jays couldn’t box out Anthony Slack. It wasn’t too hard to find him, at least on television. He was the gentleman dressed in the home whites with red trim who grabbed what seemed like every rebound within a five foot radius of his 6-foot-7-inch, 210-pound frame (a frame that was almost dressed in blue; Creighton was among the schools seriously recruiting Slack out of junior college).

Slack’s line: 15 points, TWENTY rebounds, and 4 blocked shots. Do you know the last time the Jays gave up 20 rebounds to anyone? It was 1990, and Notre Dame’s LaPhonso Ellis grabbed 20 caroms for the Fighting Irish against Tony Barone’s Jays team. Ellis was a top-five draft pick in 1992, averaged 12 points and nearly 7 rebounds per year in 11 NBA seasons, and completely owned Creighton that night. Slack might not rack up those impressive post-college numbers, but he sure duplicated the damage Ellis inflicted almost 20 years ago.

Slack continued to dominate the Jays, mirroring the success individually that his team has achieved as a group against Creighton this year. Slack had 11 points and 11 rebounds in a complete defeat of CU in December. ISU outscored the Jays in second-chance points 38-13 for the season; absolute mastery of the backboards and taking advantage of second (and third, and fourth) opportunities.

Historically, the Jays on average have never completely dominated the rebounding margin against MVC opponents during the past 7 seasons. After the ILS loss, CU stood in a statistical dead heat with its Valley opponents in that statistic: CU grabs 33 rebounds per game and allows 33 rebounds per game to the other MVC schools. Before last season’s 32-28 average margin in MVC play (led by Anthony Tolliver), the Jays had been outrebounded per game in the previous two seasons (32-33 in 2005-06 and 30-34 in 2004-2005). In those two years, Creighton finished as the 4th and 3rd seeds in the MVC tournament, respectively. In 04-05, Nate Funk not only led the team in scoring as the shooting guard (17.8 ppg) but he was also tops in rebounding as well (5 rpg).

Yet again, the Redbirds exposed the Jays on the glass. In the first match-up earlier in the season, the problem was Creighton’s defense. They made adjustments in the second meeting, forcing ILS to shoot just 39% from the field in the first half. And even though they trailed in the rebounding column 24-10 at halftime, CU was even with the host Redbirds on the scoreboard at intermission.

But P’Allen Stinnett had the flu. CU shot only 32% in the second half, while Illinois State turned things around to the tune of 46% shooting from the field. The Jays made just 7 of 26 3-point attempts, too, which was the only strategy they could employ after being effectively locked out of the lane by Slack and the other Redbird post players.

The Jays had their chances, but couldn’t get the shots, stops, or rebounds in consecutive possessions in the second half to thwart posting a losing MVC road record for the third time in the past five seasons. The two previous times? No NCAA tournament birth for the Jays (first-round MVC tournament exits in 03-04 and in 05-06).

Yes They Can!

The Jays faced more questions than just “can they rebound?” before the Senior Night game against Bradley. Would they go streaking?

It is well known among Jays fans the unparalleled success Altman’s teams have filled the record books with since he stepped on campus in the mid-90s. Coming into this year, Creighton found itself with three amazing streaks worth noting:

  • 9 consecutive 20-win seasons

  • 11 consecutive 10-plus conference win seasons

  • 10 consecutive postseason births (in either the NCAA tournament or NIT tournament)

But after the absolute drubbing Altman’s Jays suffered against Bradley just two weekends previous, the continuation of these streaks looked improbable. Creighton would need a win at home on Senior Night over the Braves to secure two of these streaks for sure (and with 20 wins and a solid RPI ranking, a postseason birth was probable). Little did the seniors know it would be a sophomore who would almost single-handedly continue these important milestones.

Cavel Freaking Witter

There are so many story lines surrounding Creighton’s 111-110, double-overtime nail-biter win. Where to start?

  • Bradley’s Daniel Ruffin, arrested just one week previous for domestic assault, dressed for the game and listened to a chorus of boos echo throughout The Phone Booth every time he touched the ball. It didn’t stop him from putting up 30 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, and almost winning the game by himself for the visitors.

  • Bradley’s Jeremy Crouch made almost as many 3s (7) as Creighton did as a team for the game (10). Crouch, one of the most feared shooters in the Valley, scored 29 points.

  • Theron Wilson, the birthday boy on Saturday, scored 24 points, grabbed 11 rebounds, and joined Ruffin, Crouch, and Sam Manascalco in playing more than 40 minutes in the game.

  • Stinnett made just 2 of 8 shots from the field, one of which was a sick dunk on an alley-oop from Josh Dotzler, but he finished 10-12 from the free-throw line and recorded 14 points and 5 rebounds for the game. His technical foul, assessed after he stepped to the aide of teammate Booker Woodfox (who was given a forearm/elbow shiver from Rashad Austin) and apparently opened his mouth in the direction of Austin, gave Bradley the momentum they used to erase a 17-point deficit in the second half.

  • Woodfox shot worse than his usual percentage, but he still ended up with 13 points. That’s nearly a dozen straight games Booker has come in and scored double-digits for the Jays off the bench, a streak that is tops in the nation.

  • Kenny Lawson continued to improve, posting one of his top performances of the season in limited minutes. After giving up his starting spot to Pierce Hibma on Senior Night, Lawson scored 14 points (perfect 7-7 from the field) and grabbed 7 rebounds in just 18 minutes of play. He is getting better at hedging out to the high pick-and-roll on defense, which hopefully will lead to increased minutes for the freshman from California.

However, all of these individual feats pale in comparison to Cavel Witter’s night.

  • 42 points (13-20 shooting; 12-13 from the free-throw line); 3 rebounds; 7 assists; 4 steals; a fair number of cross-over moves that left BU defenders breathless (and maybe shorts-less); a countless number of clutch shots.

Forty-two points. More than Nate Funk scored in a Jays game. More than Kyle Korver. Most since Rodney poured in 40 points in a late December game against these same Bradley Braves. Witter’s night was the most explosive scoring outburst in Qwest Center history. He scored the last 10 points in the second overtime after scoring the final 5 points for the Jays in the first overtime.

He was, in a word, sensational.

On a night when the seniors were honored, it was the newcomers stepping up and saving the day. Because of the other finals around the Valley that afternoon and evening, the game meant nothing more seeding-wise than to figure out who would be the home team in the upcoming quarterfinal match-up on Friday between these same two teams. But as I looked around the raucous crowd after the final buzzer after 50 minutes of game time, and as I watched the Jays and Braves players slowly carry themselves off the court, you could see the satisfaction and relief in the eyes of Jays fans and Jays players that they continued the streaks!

Dane shared some memories and words of thanks with the crowd

Unfortunately, anyone outside of Omaha probably didn’t get a chance to watch the craziness ensue. The game wasn’t picked up by MVC TV for broadcast, as the powers that be instead chose the Illinois State-Southern Illinois game. That battle for second place went to the Redbirds, who swept SIU (just as they did Creighton) and now are the hottest team in the MVC going into the conference tournament. Thankfully, the Creighton Athletic Department posted a link to the CU-BU game replay in its entirety for free (access it here: http://www.gocreighton.com/mediaPlayer/video.dbml?DB_MENU_ID=&SPSID=0&SPID=66&DB_OEM_ID=1000&CLIP_ID=70644&CLIP_FILE_ID=75679&CONTENT_TYPE=ONDEMAND and then click on “Free Video – Creighton vs. Bradley MBB).

It was arguably the most exciting game played in the relatively short lifespan of the Qwest Center, bringing back the recent memories of other “Cardiac Q” results such as Tolliver’s game-winner against Wichita State a few years ago…

… Or maybe even this season’s comeback against the Shockers.

Hopefully we won’t see anymore games at the Cardiac Q this season. The Jays will need to win the MVC tournament to reach the NCAA tournament again, but an NIT berth is almost certain. It is amazing to think a team with as many newcomers and inexperienced key contributors as the Jays have relied on has posted 20 wins yet again. While the team’s 9-1 start in non-conference play was a surprise, their road struggles in conference play were not. The fact this team has a chance to play in the postseason yet again speaks volumes about the seniors and the coaching staff; they’ve laid the foundation for the continuation of unprecedented success within the Creighton basketball program.

The Jays have the talent and depth to win Arch Madness; if they can rebound in St. Louis literally like they did figuratively against Bradley, I like their chances.

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