At 7:04pm Wednesday night, the top two teams in the MVC preseason poll prepared to tip-off the conference season — Wichita State on the road at Bradley, and Creighton at home against Missouri State. Both had gotten off to starts fitting of teams picked 1-2 in the league, the Shockers at 9-2 and the Jays at 10-1. Creighton fans were rightfully confident that their team was worthy of that prediction, fresh off a huge non-conference win over Northwestern a week earlier. Walking into the arena, one fan told me, “If we can win tonight, we’ll be 6-2 at worst at the midway point of the schedule.” He was confident, and why not?
Two hours later, that confidence was gone, replaced by disappointment for some, and anger for others. Creighton lost 77-65, and a good chunk of the 17,665 fans had left before the final buzzer, having seen enough. A fan meltdown was in full swing on Twitter and the Bluejay Underground, as a lot of fans not only believed any hopes of an MVC title had evaporated, but any hopes of an NCAA at-large berth had also disappeared. One guy on the bus back to a downtown bar said he looked forward to watching the Jays in the NIT. Coach Mac was in the crosshairs for some of the vitriol, but individual players weren’t immune.
Apparently, two hours of bad basketball completely obliterated two months of good-to-great basketball in which the Jays compiled more wins against the Top 50 RPI teams than the entire PAC-12 Conference combined. Right? Wrong. The 19th ranked Bluejays didn’t suddenly become an awful team in need of a rebuild between 7pm and 9pm Wednesday night; they’re the same team now that everyone was so in love with before the tip-off against Missouri State, the same team that fan outside the arena proudly believed could be 6-2 or 7-1 at the turn.
What they did become was a team with very little margin for error in their conquest for an MVC crown. Over the past eighteen years, 15-3 is the most common record of the MVC regular season champion, occurring eight times. 14-4 is the next highest, with six occurrences. It stinks that Creighton dropped the opening game, but there’s very little difference between a loss on December 28 and a loss on February 28 in terms of their overall record. What the loss did was remove their margin for error — they now have 17 conference games remaining, and can probably lose at most three more if they want to contend for the title.
With that said, since 1993-94, only one team (Northern Iowa, who split the 2008-09 title with the Jays) has won at least a share of the regular-season title without winning its regular-season opener. The 1992-93 Illinois State team is the last team to start 0-2 and rebound to win the league, though two years before that, Creighton accomplished that very feat. All is not lost. 6-2 or 7-1 at the turn is still eminently possible — after today, they have home games with Drake, Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois, and road games with Bradley, Illinois State and Missouri State. If it makes you happy to be negative and believe the season is already a huge disappointment after one game, knock yourself out. I just don’t see it that way. 6-2 at the turn would position them nicely for a run at the title, and with that schedule, I think it’s very possible — even if they lose today.
Speaking of today, the Jays are in Wichita for a New Years Eve showdown with the Shockers, a game which almost no one gives them a chance of winning. You’ve heard the refrain — Wichita is too tough at home, the Jays can’t win on the road. That’s garbage. A year ago, Creighton limped into Wichita at 17-12, tied for fifth place, and even optimistic fans were afraid a blowout was in the offing. Instead, the Jays and Shockers played a game with 17 lead changes and 16 ties, with neither team leading by more than 5 and the Shockers ultimately prevailing by two points.
The Shockers are a very good team, with five players who average in double-figures, led by Joe Ragland and Toure Murry, who each average 12.3 points a game. They outrebound teams by 9.3 boards per game and outscore foes by 19.5. They’re favored to win, and that’s as it should be, considering they’re at home. Tonight at tip-off, I’d imagine a lot of Creighton fans will be anticipating a loss and down on their team. Here’s hoping that two hours once again make a huge difference, and by 7pm, Jays fans are once again in a celebratory mood. It is New Years Eve, after all.
Catching Up with the Shockers: The game sold out Friday, and will be a Black Out, the second such promotion in Wichita. The first was Jan. 17, 2009 against Creighton when WSU won, 74-61 … Wichita State is 1-1 against ranked teams this season with a 70-60 loss to then-No. 16/15 Alabama in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off and a 89-70 win against then-No. 18/20 UNLV in Wichita … Wichita State has out-scored its last three opponents by 50, 49 and 39 points, respectively, to average a 46-point margin of victory … Joe Ragland, who scored a career-high 31 points against UNLV earlier this season, has scored in double figures seven-straight games, most recently with 12 against Bradley … Senior Garrett Stutz averaged 3.5 rebounds a year ago, but has upped his average to 6.8 boards a game this year, which includes seven at Tulsa and eight against Utah State … He picked up his third double-double of the season with the 14 points and 10 rebounds at Bradley, following double-doubles against Colorado (14-11) and Temple (13-11) … Gregg Marshall is 75-3 in his career when his teams score 80 or more points, which includes a 21-0 record in the last four-plus seasons at WSU.
One Big Paragraph with Lots O’Dots™: Josh Jones had 11 points Wednesday on 3-4 from behind the arc in the team’s MVC opener, which shouldn’t be a surprise. He’s 12-of-55 (21.8 percent) from three-point range prior to MVC play in his career, but 34-of-74 (45.9 percent) in league action … Creighton had lost seven straight games on New Years Eve prior to defeating Indiana State 79-61 in 2008 … Only once in WSU’s last 66 games have the Shockers had a player score 25 points or more in a game, Carl Ragland’s 31 point outburst vs. UNLV earlier this month — good news for Creighton fans dreading a Shocker player having a career night after the Northwestern and Missouri State games … Creighton was 7-27 on the road the previous two years, but is already off to a 3-1 start this year … For the season, CU’s reserves have outscored the opposition 299-261. Its 24.9 points per game average is well ahead of last year’s 18.6 points per game off the pine.
The Last Time They Played: Senior Aaron Ellis made a layup with 1.5 seconds left, snapping a 65-65 tie and giving the Shockers a 67-65 win over Creighton last February 23 in Wichita. The first half featured six ties and 10 lead changes before a 7-2 run in the final two minutes capped by Antoine Young’s fallway jumper gave the Jays a 35-32 lead at the break. The second half was more of the same, with 10 ties and seven lead changes, as the teams went back-and-forth.
The Series: Creighton leads the all-time series with Wichita State by a 52-43 margin, though Wichita State won both meetings a year ago, completing its first regular-season sweep of the Bluejays since 1987-88.
Greg McDermott is 7-6 all-time vs. Wichita State (0-2 at Creighton), including a 2-4 record in road games. He has won two of his three most recent trips to Charles Koch Arena.
Gratuitous Linkage: The Wichita Eagle’s Paul Suellentrop had a terrific piece this morning on Grant Gibbs, who he dubs “Creighton’s Glue.” I like Antoine Young’s nickname for him in the piece better, though — “Floor Dad.”
This Date in Creighton Hoops History: On December 31, 1983, Creighton played host to #4 DePaul at the Civic. The Bluejays twice led by as many as 10 points in the first half, before Ray Meyer’s team clawed back to make it 30-24 Jays at the break. A 9-2 run gave them the lead right after halftime, but the Jays refused to let them pull away. Down 53-50 with 23 seconds to play, Creighton’s 7-foot All-American Benoit Benjamin took a quick pass inside and laid it in, drawing a foul. He’d sink the free throw to force overtime. In the extra period, Creighton turned it over on their first two possessions, before Gary Swain hit a jumper and Benjamin slammed home a dunk to tie it at 57 in the final minute. DePaul’s Tyrone Corbin got the ball with less than 10 seconds to play, drove the baseline, then pulled up and lofted a game-winning buzzer beater over the outstretched Benjamin. The fourth-ranked Blue Demons escaped with a 59-57 win.
Completely Random, Totally Rad Music Video of the Day: Ozzy Osbourne channels his inner Liberace!
The Bottom Line: Creighton proved a year ago it could play well at Koch Arena. In a game where almost no one will give a chance to win, I will.
Jays 73, Wichita State 70