Its not hyperbole to say that the season is at a crossroads: it is. Starting 0-1 with two road games up next really puts this team up against the wall, because they’ve yet to win a road game this year. Should they stumble this weekend and drop both games (a distinct possibility, as the Jays have traditionally struggled both in Terre Haute and in Evansville), there will be many fans and media members writing eulogies for this team. None of us at White & Blue Review will be in that camp, but you can bet there will be a fair number of people with their forks out. For a team that has shown itself to be thin-skinned when it comes to criticism, that could spell disaster.
This is a pivotal weekend that will tell us an awful lot about where the season is going to go. Here’s the four possible scenarios and what they likely mean:
- If the loss to Northern Iowa finally makes something snap and the Jays come out to win both games this weekend, they’ll be 2-1 with a home game against Drake up next, setting themselves up to get some real confidence before the meat of the conference schedule commences.
- If the loss to Northern Iowa temporarily makes the team upset enough to win Friday, but they regress and lose Sunday in Evansville, then we’ll know the team is what we fear it is. Namely, an inconsistent middle-of-the-pack team capable of playing great and playing awful in equal amounts.
- If the loss to Northern Iowa causes a hangover that carries over into a loss in Terre Haute, but the team rallies to win Sunday against the unquestionably worse Aces, see above (although the fallout perception-wise would be worse).
- If the Jays lose both games, the gloves are off as to how deep this team could really fall. Fifth place? The Thursday play-in game in St. Louis? Suffice it to say, where they’d likely be headed is not anywhere you’d want to be.
Friday’s game will be fascinating to see how the team responds. The fact that it comes against Kevin McKenna’s Indiana State team, who plays like a Creighton-clone at times and has really given the Jays fits, ratchets it up another notch.
The Sycamores were picked by many prognosticators to be much improved this year, and indeed, they started 8-3. However, Iowa transfer and key contributor Jake Kelly tore his ACL earlier this week, and is out for the season. At Iowa last year, Kelly was an all-Big Ten honorable mention. This year, he was averaging 9 points and 4 rebounds, and given that transfers generally play better in their second semester than their first, Kelly was being counted on to be one of the Sycamores leaders. He had been clutch, too: his buzzer-beater against Toledo gave the Sycamores a nice road victory in December. His loss is huge.
Fellow transfer Dwayne Lathan has been named the MVC Newcomer of the Week twice already this year, including this week. Lathan leads ISU Blue with 10 double digit scoring perfomances in his 11 games played, and also leads the team with a 14.3 ppg scoring average, good for fifth-best in the Missouri Valley Conference and is the best by a newcomer. Lathan also leads the Sycamores with his 5.8 rebounds per game average, which is seventh in the league. He’s the most significant addition to their team this year, clearly, and perhaps their best hope to avoid the Thursday play-in game.
The Sycamores dropped their conference opener, 70-52, to Southern Illinois in Carbondale. 21 turnovers which led to 26 points were the big difference in a game that was close with eight ties and six lead changes before a decisive 14-0 run midway through the second half gave the Salukis the lead for good.
At 5-7 with a tough Sycamores team next, it might be tempting to get sour on the Jays season. Don’t give up hope yet, though. Of the 65 teams in last year’s NCAA Tournament, 11 started the season 6-6 or worse. That’s 1/6 of the field! There’s a lot of basketball yet to be played, folks. You bet.
One Big Paragraph with Lots O’Dots™: Sycamores coach and former Bluejay great Kevin McKenna is the only NCAA Division I men’s basketball head coach to earn both an NBA and CBA Championship and is the only person in the history of the Missouri Valley Conference to win a MVC Regular Season Title, MVC Tournament Championship, NBA Championship and CBA title … Indiana State has hit 185 of 241 free throws this season, good for a close second the MVC and 10th nationally with a 76% percentage. Given the Jays notorious struggles from the line this season, that could be a huge factor if the game is close … The Sycamores have won five games by five points or less, showing a knack for being able to hold on in competitive games by beating Colorado State, Western Kentucky, Arkansas State, Oral Roberts and Toledo all by five or less. Creighton, on the other hand, is 1-5 in such games … Fifteen of the last 32 games between Creighton and Indiana State have been decided by six points or less. The teams have played a game decided by eight points or less in 15 of the previous 16 seasons. Since 2003, all four of Creighton’s wins in Terre Haute have been by 16 or more points (16, 17, 18, and 28), but Indiana State’s three victories over the Jays have been by a combined 13 points (2, 3, and 8 ) … Continuing with the close game theme, three of the last five Jays’ road openers have been decided on a buzzer beater. All were losses. In 2006, they lost 55-52 in Terre Haute when Nate Funk’s desperation three clanged false. In 2005, Illinois State’s Dana Ford heaved a 40-footer that went in for a 53-50 win. And in 2004, Evansville’s Kyle Anslinger grabbed a rebound and put it back at the horn for a 63-61 win. I will stop now before I depress myself beyond help.
The Last Time They Played: Creighton won 73-62 last January in Omaha, which combined with a 79-61 win on New Years Eve, gave Creighton a season sweep.
The Series: Creighton leads Creighton owns a 48-22 record all-time against Indiana State and has won 19 of the last 23 games in the series, including a 79-61 victory in Terre Haute last Dec. 31st. The Bluejays lead the series 17-14 in 31 previous Terre Haute meetings, and are 6-3 since a 2001 meeting that snapped ISU’s 22-game home winning streak.
Gratuitous Linkage: End of years, and particularly end of decades, always bring ridiculous lists, rankings and other time-killers. This exhaustive list of the Top 31 shows of the decade is a fantastic read. Each entry is massive, detailed and well-researched. Good stuff.
Official Gametime Snack: It is (or it will be when the game is played) New Years Day. That means snacks galore. Cookies, meats and cheeses, dips, you name it, its all good. Enjoy it all, baby. I will be. And then I’ll be at the gym for hours on Saturday so I don’t feel bad about it. You bet.
The Totally Random Song I’d Play Right Now if I was Still a Radio DJ: Hey, its New Years Eve as I write this, and I’m about to head out to party. Tomorrow will be New Years Day. Two days, two videos. Both freaking obvious choices, but I’m late for a dinner engagement so…yeah.
Prediction: This will be a close game, which doesn’t bode well for the Jays given the Sycamores success in such contests, their free throw prowess and their home court advantage. The loss of Jake Kelly is huge, though, and in their first game without him I think they’ll struggle to replace his output.
Creighton 65, Indiana State 60