Monday, February 22, 2010

JTG 02/22/10 - A new, and unwelcome, thought

I've followed Creighton basketball for a long time, and in that time there have been a number of thoughts that have run through my head. Some of them went like this:

"What a shot, [insert Taylor, Korver, or Woodfox here]!"

"How did [insert fifth or seventh school from major conference] get the last NCAA bid over us?"

"Shouldn't we be guarding that big kid for the Chippewas?"

But I can't tell you the last time I had this thought going into a game:

"Please, just don't embarass us."

Unfortunately, that's the state of the Bluejays this year going into Creighton's visit to Cedar Falls and their matchup with nationally-ranked Northern Iowa. And, even more unfortunately, the Panthers didn't oblige this fearful Bluejay backer. Creighton scored the first seven points of the game (yay!), but fell victim to a 28-5 Panther run (boo!) and never got themselves back in the game.

My wife, of course, is a UNI graduate, which makes matters worse. We were at dinner for the second half. I was facing a television with the game on, and she had her back to the TV. It didn't matter. She could read the progress of the game just by watching my face.

Sure, there were glimmers of good play from Creighton, but there's no covering up how completely outclassed the Bluejays were by Northern Iowa. Creighton has long since lost their collective mojo, and once UNI went on their big run in the middle of the first half there was no sign of life from Creighton.

So, pressure fell on the BracketBuster game on Saturday - the "JESUIT SHOWDOWN" - between Creighton and Loyola Chicago. For a half, things looked more than a little concerning. Creighton only led by a point, although that was from a seven-point run from Loyola to close the half. The magic of the Qwest Center and the 15,000+ that showed up for the JESUIT SHOWDOWN didn't disappoint, however. Creighton went on a 13-2 run to start the second half and cruised to a comfortable 78-58 win.

So, now Creighton is 14-14, with two games left to go before the Arch Madness tournament in St. Louis. We've discussed the .500 Mendoza line as a psychological tool throughout the season, but it's becoming a practical question now. Many of Creighton's streaks are already broken, but the postseason streak remains a possibility. However, to get to the postseason the Bluejays need to finish at least on the line to remain eligible.

The final two games of the regular season see them going to Carbondale to play Southern Illinois, then back to the Qwest for the home finale against Bradley. A split of those two games - and given Creighton's season, is there any way to pick anything else - leaves the Bluejays in a must-win situation for their first game in the conference tournament. Going into the tourney at 15-15 and pulling a one-and-done would leave Creighton under .500, and likely at home for the whole postseason.

This has been a brutal, humbling season for Dana Altman and his Bluejays. The team now is almost entirely remade from the squad we thought we would be seeing. The fact that Ethan Wragge and Josh Jones started against Loyola is not insignificant, showing the changing of the guard for the boys in Blue.

Much like bowl games in football, postseason tournaments are a great way for rebuilding teams to get extra work in and build chemistry. This year more than ever, Creighton needs a post season - ANY post season, be it NIT or CBA - to get some extra playing time and help figure out who they are going into next season.

Sure, a magical run through St. Louis to an NCAA bid would be fun. But a win over the stupid Salukis in Carbondale to spark an NIT bid is more likely, and a lot more important.

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