Loyola and UIC are both playing in the Bracket Busters this weekend. The Ramblers drew an entertaining match-up against another Jesuit school from the Missouri Valley Conference - Creighton. (Led by Dana Altman, the MVC's longest tenured coach.) Loyola is heading to Omaha for the game and Patrick of White and Blue Review offered to answer a few questions about the Bluejays. You can check out my responses to his questions about the Ramblers here.
1) CCB: After a 27-win season and an NIT appearance I'm sure Creighton wasn't expecting to be hovering around .500 at this point in the season. What happened?
WBR: At first people might look at it from several angles--Creighton started the season with two key players nursing injuries which got them off the wrong foot. Others might say there was a player or two that weren't pulling their weight. But I think you have to look at it a different way. I don't think people realized how much the loss of Josh Dotzler and Booker Woodfox was to this team heading into the season.
Dotzler was part of a stable point guard position for the past 12 seasons (with Ryan Sears and Tyler McKinney the prior eight seasons before Dotzler) that knew the system and knew where all the players should be at all times. Woodfox was the MVC Player of the Year last
season and he could score in bunches. His great shooting and scoring prowess closed out close games and covered up many of the deficiencies that Creighton might have had.
This season, no one wants to step up and take the clutch shots which have caused them to lose a lot of close games with Dayton, Michigan, and New Mexico among others. The team shooting percentage is a paltry 43% and has struggled at the free throw line shooting only 69%. Creighton, normally known as a good three-point shooting team, is shooting 32% which is last in the MVC. The leadership is missing from the players on the court which has led to a lot of tough losses. At the same time it just isn't something you expect to see from a Dana Altman coached team.
2) CCB: It looks like Creighton is a very deep team. Is it depth because of even talent or is there something else?
WBR: Coach Altman will say that the rotation of so many players is because there are not a group of players that want to separate themselves from the pack. The fans can sort of see it on the court as well. The talent threshold has been hard to see for sure because every player has been so inconsistent. Players like Kenny Lawson (on defense, right) and Darryl Ashford will have great games, but then Lawson will disappear and
Justin Carter will have a nice game. Without the consistency from the players and a consistent third option it is a challenge each game to find the right combination on the court.
The idea of having a deep team is also that every player will give it all for short periods of time and that a fresh player can come in the game and play with the same intensity. That has been a little bit
harder to see this season.
3. CCB: Who are two players two keep an eye on from Creighton?
WBR: The first player to watch is center Kenny Lawson, Jr. He has actually been the most consistent player for the Bluejays this season with almost 13 points and 6 rebounds per game. When he can get a few shots to fall early his confidence blooms and he is a force inside the
paint. However against some stiffer competition in the middle and a few shots do not go down early then Kenny could struggle.
The other player to watch is Justin Carter. Carter partially tore his MCL in the final exhibition game before the start of the season and ended up missing the first couple weeks of the season. In his first game back against Michigan, he was on fire with 21 points and 8 rebounds in the loss to Michigan and almost singlehandedly kept the Bluejays in that game. Whether he liked it or not, he was anointed the "leader" of this team coming out of summer conditioning which is a lot to ask for a player who was a former JUCO and in year two of the program. He has had his ups and down too, but averages about 9 points and 6 rebounds a game. With him knowing there are only a few games left in his Creighton career, he has a little more fire in his eyes as of late.
4. CCB: There appear two seniors playing significant minutes for Creighton. Is next year their year?
WBR: Here again is where everyone is asking whether next year will be better. P'Allen Stinnett, a Junior who had the potential to be a star player during his career at Creighton has not turned out as many had expected. He has a lot of athletic ability and has been one of the
leading scorer for the Bluejays his first two seasons. This season he joined the 1000 point club. However, his 9 technical fouls over his first 2 ½ seasons and high level of emotion on the court has been enough that he has been suspended from the team since January 24th and recently announced until the end of this season. Many are speculating whether he will even be back.
Going into next season, there are potentially 6 seniors on the roster (counting Stinnett) with 4 of them going into year 4 or year 5 with the Bluejays. The hope is that a couple of those players will emerge as the season comes to a close to gain some momentum heading into next season. Over the past decade or so, Creighton fans have not endured such a season as 2009-10. I'm sure many will be looking for more results next season.
5. CCB: Creighton's home court has quite the reputation. What generates that atmosphere at Jays games?
WBR: Seven years ago, Creighton moved out of the Omaha Civic Auditorium into the brand new Qwest Center Omaha which increased the potential attendance from about 9000 to now up to 17,000 fans per game. Originally many people were skeptical about the move to the new
facility and the ability to attract the potential fans. Well, things have turned out pretty well since the move and Creighton can now boast over 12,000 season ticket holders and has finished in the top 15 in attendance for the past few years. This season they rank 10th in attendance despite the struggles the team has endured this season.
The student section usually is the group that generates some of that atmosphere, but attendance by the students has been really bad this season, partially due to the team's record, but also due to the low caliber of competition that has played against the Bluejays at the Qwest Center this season, so the atmosphere hasn't been as great as it has been in previous years. However, if you make the trek, keep an eye out for the Dance Cam Guy, Dancing Grandma, and the potential of a Cheers or Hoosiers clip.
WBR: Prediction --- This is the first time in the eight years of Bracketbusters that Creighton has not been on TV. The casual fan probably expects this to be a big win by Creighton as they probably think that Loyola is another home pushover. However, I think this will be a close game throughout and the Ramblers will come in with some fire and surprise some people. However, with the game starting a little later than usual (8:30PM start time) it gives the fans a chance to get a little more rowdy and will create some extra energy for the Bluejays to take them over the top. The Bluejays are 37-0 in non-televised games at the Qwest Center. Bluejays salvage a win at home 69-62.
Thanks to Patrick for this great look at Creighton. Check out White and Blue Review for more on the game.