Wednesday, December 23, 2009

JTG 12/23/09 - Friend me!

I have to say, I'm disappointed P'Allen Stinnett hasn't responded to my friend request on Facebook. He's definitely worth following if you want to keep things interesting.

Since last we convened, Creighton has played three games, won two, lost one, and caused at least one Jay-Talking Guy to go through a half-bottle of antacids. The Bluejays now sit at 5-6 preparing to enter conference play.

The first game in the series was a home contest against Savannah State. While the Bluejays did get a 77-62 win, there were still signs of trouble. Creighton roared out to a 14-2 and 23-8 lead early, and appeared to believe the game won at that point. Savannah State continued to come at the Bluejays, cutting the lead to single digits in the second half. Creighton held on to win comfortably, but not convincingly.

Was that a big deal? Were the Bluejays looking ahead to their trip to New Mexico? Possibly. But Creighton has suffered a number of heartbreaking losses (more on that to come), and what you want to see as a Bluejay fan is a sharper mentality to close out these tough games and get wins. Fiddling around and letting a team like Savannah State stay in the game in the second half does not bode well for the development of that mentality.

Then, the trip to The Pit. Unbeaten and nationally ranked New Mexico faced Creighton, in the Bluejays last opportunity to exorcise the demons of Orlando. And it all started so well. Creighton played stifling defense and ended the first half with a 12-point lead. Could this be the breakthrough, the game that could catapult the Bluejays in conference play?

Not so much. New Mexico started the second half with a 7-1 run, which got the crowd back in to the game. Creighton played gamely and fought throughout the second half, but New Mexico took the lead as time wound down. Creighton had the ball in a one-possession game with an opportunity to seize the lead and momentum. But, in a scene that was all to reminiscent of Creighton's end-game performances throughout this season, they were lost offensively and turned the ball over without ever threatening to score. New Mexico pulled away and escaped with a 66-61 win.

The Bluejays came home and demolished Houston Baptist 85-56 at the Qwest. It's definitely a positive that Creighton blew out a team, but Houston Baptist was also rated dead last in Division I programs by realtimerpi.com. You never say no to a win, but it would have been an even bigger concern had Creighton struggled.

So, Creighton is 5-6 as the non-conference season ends. Where do we stand? There is a lot of raw talent on this team - more talent, I think, than any other team in the Valley. But that means nothing if it doesn't come together. With gut-wrenching road losses to Michigan, George Mason, and New Mexico, the question has to be raised about the team's mental state. That question was heightened when Stinnett slammed Creighton fans for questioning the team in a foul-mouthed Facebook rant.

You don't think he was talking about me, do you?

I really do think there is a ton of potential in this squad. Ethan Wragge is coming on as a real star, and Wayne Runnels is adding a physical presence to the team on defense and on the boards. Justin Carter is maturing into a leader, Stinnett can go off for 20 at any point, and Cavel Witter is making his presence felt. And, while 5-6 is incredibly disappointing, think about how close Creighton is to something else. A bounce here, a foul there, and Creighton wins those tight games they've lost. That puts them at 8-3 (and that's keeping the Iona loss on the books) with road wins against national powers along with a home win over a Nebraska team that keeps winning. That's a much difference scenario than what Creighton is looking at now.

As we've said many times before, everything Creighton does now is preparing for Arch Madness in St. Louis. But that might be liberating for the Bluejays. Everyone starts conference play at 0-0, so Creighton can look at a tough non-conference experience as a tune-up for the Valley. The talent is there, and if Dana Altman can focus that disappointment into sharp play on the court (and Creighton can break through and win one of those tough road games), then it could be a fun March for the Bluejays. Northern Iowa is up next at the Qwest, followed by a trip to Terre Haute to play Indiana State.

By the way, congratulations to Anthony Tolliver, who got called up to the Portland Trail Blazers. A-Train worked hard and had a phenomenal senior season in Omaha, and it's always good to see Creighton players get some time in the Association.

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