Nobody loves NCAA Championship Week more than I do. I have every intention of sitting on my couch as much as possible until Selection Sunday comes. I’ve decided that I’m going to track the teams from smaller conferences who win their conference championship and therefore earn an automatic bid. I shall then write my thoughts on these teams and determine just how far they will make it in this year’s tourney. We all remember George Mason last season. Will there be another small conference Cinderella in 2007?
Heading into the Missouri Valley Conference championship tournament the Creighton Bluejays were an on-the-bubble team. They finished second in the conference with a decent overall record of 22-10. Creighton eliminated all doubt when they earned an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament by defeating No. 11 Southern Illinois in the title game 67-61. While this is an upset I would not consider it a monumental one.
Creighton is one of those teams that have flown under the radar all season long. The only ranked opponent they played was Southern Illinois. Southern Illinois barely escaped twice with narrow victories. On January 20 a lay-up with four seconds left crushed Creighton’s hopes of an upset. On February 10 Southern Illinois beat Creighton by four. Last week the third time was the charm for Creighton.
Creighton has only one shameful loss on their tournament resume, a three point loss at Indiana State (13-18, 5-13). Other than that all of their losses were against teams playing in either the three or four letter tournament. Just because Creighton doesn’t play in the ACC or Big East doesn’t mean their schedule is a cakewalk. Seven teams in the Missouri Valley are over .500 teams, rather impressive for a smaller conference.
What makes Creighton a dangerous squad is how well they play together as a cohesive unit. It also doesn’t hurt that they have several players contributing to the team’s overall success. Senior Nate Funk leads the team with 17.6 points per game. He is joined by two other seniors, center Anthony Tolliver (13.4 points and 6.7 rebounds per game) and guard Nick Porter (10.6 points and 5.5 rebounds per game). Junior Dane Watts contributes 10.1 points and 6.3 rebounds a game.
One thing that bothers me about Creighton is their lack of consistency. All season long the Bluejays were unable to put together any kind of real winning steak, one of the reasons they were a bubble team to begin with. They are entering the tournament on a modest four game winning streak, nothing to be too excited about.
I can’t say it enough in these short articles. Experience cannot be overestimated when it comes to tournament teams. It will be up to Creighton’s upperclassmen to carry to this team into the tournament and keep the youngsters in check. If Creighton is matched up against a younger team the Bluejays could be a very scary opponent.
Just looking at the stats there is no reason to believe that Creighton can go very far in the big dance. As anybody who knows anything about sports can tell you statistics only tell a part of the story. Maybe it’s just because I’ve been watching way to much ESPN Championship Week (is that even possible) but I have every belief Creighton is a dangerous team in the tournament. I’ll have to see who they are matched up against but I will be very nervous about picking them to lose before the second weekend of the tourney. Inconsistent as they are Creighton has shown the ability to put together a string of victories. That’s all that needs to happen in March Madness.