Creighton’s Big East Rival Is…
Conference realignment has dominated the talk around college football this offseason. Luckily for Creighton and the Big East, pretty much any move made at this point will have little effect on the conference, at least in the near future.
Creighton, of course, was a big part of the last round of conference realignment three seasons ago when they moved out of the Missouri Valley Conference to the Big East. With that move, the Bluejays left many well established rivalries behind. For many years, Creighton vs. Southern Illinois was the talk of the league. Ironically the year that ESPN Gameday decided to go to Carbondale for the Jays and Salukis, both teams were struggling and in my mind that sort of put a nail in the coffin of that rivalry. Creighton’s disdain for Wichita State dated back longer, and wasn’t confined solely to men’s basketball; no Bluejay fan will ever get over the Shockers ruining the 1991 baseball team’s dream season in the College World Series. WSU’s resurgence in basketball during the Jays final years in the Valley made the long rivalry more heated than ever, and the way it ended as conference brethern — Doug McDermott almost single-handedly beating the Shockers in what would be Creighton’s last regular season game in the MVC, and then taking them out in the MVC Tournament Finals in St. Louis a week later — only intensified things.
As Creighton hoops goes into their fourth year in the Big East, it’s obvious there’s no rival at the level of an SIU or a Wichita State (yet). The Bluejays came into the league sort of as an outsider; the original seven teams that comprised the reformed Big East all have long, established rivalries of their own, while Butler and Xavier had their own battles in the A-10 before heading into the Big East. However, there are some great contenders for Creighton’s Big East rival. After seeing some of the discussion going on at the Bluejay Underground, I thought we would see if we can flesh this out.
As Creighton joined the reformed Big East for the 2013-14 season, the hype for the conference schedule release was given a little more hype as it was mentioned in interviews and news reports that the schedule would be setup so that all the teams played on the final weekend of the season against a rival. Most of the teams had several potential options, and for CU, Marquette, Xavier or DePaul seemed the most obvious.
It was a bit of a surprise that Creighton’s “rival” for the final weekend of the season would be against Providence. Providence? From a fan standpoint, that didn’t seem to make much sense, but then as it turned out, the rest of the matchups didn’t really either. Historically, Creighton’s last regular season game has been against a rival. And maybe actually pitting the Jays against the Friars did make sense.
Creighton started out their initial Big East conference season 5-0 before heading into Providence, where Ed Cooley and the Friars took the air out of Creighton’s sails with an 81-68 victory. The Bluejays ended up going 9-1 through the first 10 games and the table was set for revenge in Omaha on Senior Day.
Doug McDermott had another career performance to cap his career as a Bluejay as the Jays jumped out to a 45-22 halftime lead with Doug eventually dumping in a career high 45 points and reaching the 3000 point mark in his career during the blowout regular season victory in front of a very fired up crowd. Whether it was Providence living up to the new rivalry, McDermott’s final game at the CenturyLink Center, or the big finish in their first Big East Conference season, it seemed like a start of a rivalry.
However, to have a rivalry, both teams need to win. Creighton has struggled against Providence since that senior day victory, as the Friars knocked off Creighton in the Big East Tournament finals that year and have gone 5-0 over the Bluejays since. 1-6 against a “rival” since joining the Big East doesn’t seem to fit.
Marquette and Creighton have history that goes WAY back to the 1950’s. The teams met 42 times between 1950 and 1988, but the series was discontinued once Marquette dropped its independent status and joined the Midwestern Collegiate Conference in 1988. A significant game in that series back in the 1970’s saw Creighton knock off the ranked Golden Eagles. Marquette had won 99 of their last 100 games on their home court in that stretch. Somehow, Creighton won that game in 1973. The Bluejays and Golden Eagles had only met one other time since 1988, in an NIT game in 1998. Marquette had dominated the series 48-28.
Fast forward 40 years later from that 1973 game and Creighton and Marquette were now together in the Big East. To build more anticipation, the reformed Big East was going to play a marathon of games on New Year’s Eve to start the conference season. Creighton fans got their wish — host Marquette at the CenturyLink Center as their first Big East Conference game. It was also the feature game of the NYE Marathon.
The electricity from that night is one that I won’t easily forget. Creighton moves to a new conference, fans showed up early, and, of course, Creighton came away with the 67-49 victory. Was an old rivalry built in the second half of the 20th century re-established? Maybe. Since joining the Big East, Creighton has gone 4-2 against Marquette, in a series of tight games; each of the last two games in Milwaukee have been decided in the final seconds.
Another part of a rivalry in my mind is that both teams need to be winners and recognized on the national stage. Both teams struggled during 2014-15. Creighton rose back to the NIT last season, while Marquette is still sort of rebuilding. Although there is some great history between these teams, maybe this isn’t really the set in stone rival that Creighton has in the Big East.
A game I will never forget between Creighton and Xavier wasn’t even on TV. The Bluejays and the Musketeers played each other on New Year’s Eve in 2002. Creighton was on a roll during Kyle Korver’s senior season and went into the game 10-0 with one of their best starts in the modern era. Xavier was having a pretty good season themselves. Both teams were in the top 20.
Xavier led throughout most of the game. Although it was tied at the half, The Musketeers ended up getting a 10 point lead and comfortable up by 9 with just under three minutes to go. From there Korver almost single-handedly brought the Jays back by draining three straight threes, while Xavier could only hit front end of their free throws. Korver then hit his fourth of that stretch (8th of the game) to tie things up with 36 seconds left.
Similarly, David West took Xavier on his shoulders to score the final two baskets of the game — the first to give a brief lead, and then after Creighton hit two free throws with 10.6 seconds left, took the ball and banked in a shot with pretty much no time remaining to lift Xavier to the win and giving the Jays the first loss of the season.
Listening to that game at Xavier on the radio you could tell how intense it was there. Years later as video of this game surfaced (thanks to CU and Tom’s work in the Bluejay Rewind of the game), it was fun to watch even though Creighton lost that game, to see what an impressive shot that was by West with three Bluejay defenders around him.
Before the two teams joined the Big East, some other memorable battles took place. In the 2004 matchup at the Cintas Center, Creighton escaped with a 73-72 win in a back and forth game where Tyler McKinney hit a jumper with 21 seconds to get the lead, but luckily Creighton had a foul to give and Xavier ended up taking three timeouts in that final 21 seconds to try to setup a last second shot they ultimately missed. For McKinney that was his second game winner that week.
Or how about the 2005 matchup in Omaha which was a 61-59 victory when Anthony Tolliver had 26 points and 10 rebounds in the big victory. Creighton had lost two games before this — at DePaul, where they lost Nate Funk for the season, and at Chattanooga where a couple more players went down. They were without Funk, Jimmy Motz and Pierce Hibma against Nebraska and blew them out 70-44 the week before against Xavier. With the injuries still keeping those guys out of the Xavier game and facing a potential letdown against the Musketeers, the Bluejays didn’t let that happen.
But wait, there’s more. In 2006, Creighton had just gotten kicked in the mouth at Dayton and a ranked Xavier came into Omaha. Again, Xavier went home with a loss in a close 73-67 game with clutch free-throw shooting down the stretch. In 2007, Xavier, again ranked, got their own revenge with a decisive 79-66 victory, the Jays first loss of the season after starting 5-0 and their only loss in the first nine games of the season. Xavier had their way again with the Jays in 2009 in the Old Spice Classic. We’ll sort of forget about that game.
Fast forward to the Big East. Both teams split their games on their home courts with 6-point victories in 2013-14. In Omaha, the Jays were down by as many as 13 before rallying back to victory. In Cincinnati, Xavier didn’t let go of that lead they had to get their victory. The rubber game came in the Big East tournament semifinals with Creighton looking to run away, but holding of Xavier in an 86-78 victory behind Doug McDermott’s 32 points.
Although Creighton struggled in their first Big East season without Doug McDermott in 2014-15, the Bluejays were able to steal a victory over Xavier ON THE ROAD in OT to move their Big East record to 2-9 at that point, after starting 0-8. It was a crazy game to even get to overtime. Xavier pulled out the win in Omaha in the conference return game on senior day 74-73 which was the epitome of Creighton’s luck that season, losing close games in the final seconds.
Last season was another set of great bouts between both teams. The Bluejays got their signature win of the season in Omaha against the #5 Musketeers 70-56 as Xavier went 1-of-21 from three point range and Mo Watson scored a career high 32 points.
Xavier, again ranked #5, took the return game in Cincinnati on their senior day 98-93. However, a late rally by the Bluejays made things mighty interesting. The Musketeers were up by 18 points with just over five minutes to go. After several times it seemed Xavier weathered the storm, the Bluejays battled back and cut the lead to 2 with 18 seconds left. The magic ran out and Xavier escaped with the win, but again it was another close game between the Jays and the Musketeers.
Since joining the Big East, Creighton has a slight 4-3 lead in the series.
Although the series history was short with only 15 all-time meetings between the two schools before they joined the Big East, the history between Creighton and Xavier has been significant. The games after becoming conference mates have continued that trend. It seems clear to me — Creighton’s rival in the Big East is XAVIER. Look out Musketeers, this rivalry is about to go up a notch.
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