Stick around or come back
Koch Arena will be the center of attention for the Missouri Valley Conference for roughly six hours on Saturday. The Creighton-Wichita State men’s game tips at 3 p.m., followed by the Creighton-WSU women’s game at 7:05.
The women’s game, in case it’s been overshadowed, is the game between two conference unbeatens. Creighton (12-3, 4-0 MVC) is on a four-game win streak. WSU (9-6, 3-0) has won 6 of 7.
The Bluejays may be the rarest of Valley women’s teams by March — a legitimate NCAA at-large candidate. They rank No. 25 in the NCAA’s power rankings (RPI), thanks to a schedule that ranks No. 33, according to warrennolan.com. They are 5-3 against the top 100, including wins over BYU, Nebraska and South Florida.
Warrennolan.com projects Creighton to finish with an RPI ranked No. 19. No Valley team has finished the season in the top 40 since Missouri State at No. 34 in 2004-05. The last team to finish in the top 30 is Drake, No. 21 in 2001-02.
With that as the background, it’s no wonder the MVC hasn’t produced an at-large team since that Drake team.
Saturday’s game matches the Valley’s best outside shooting team against its best perimeter defenders. The Shockers are holding opponents to 27.7-percent accuracy from behind the arc, one reason coach Jody Adams regards this group as a highlight of her five seasons at WSU..
“As it grows, then I think it can be a great defensive team and the best defensive team here,” Adams said. “We’ve held a lot of people down.”
Creighton leads the MVC in three-point shooting, making 38.1 percent. It is 139 of 365, the most threes made by any MVC team. The Bluejays made 16 of 37 in a 70-63 win over Evansville, with Ally Jensen (6 of 11) and Marissa Janning (4 of 12) leading the way.
“As a coach, you don’t want to become completely dependent on that, but, more than anything that’s probably who we are,” Creighton coach Jim Flanery said.
Creighton hasn’t won the MVC title since 2003, when it tied Indiana State. WSU’s best finish came in 2000, when it was part of a three-way tie for second.
• Two MVC players are back from the brink of exile. Southern Illinois guard Desmar Jackson scored 28, 29 and 21 points since coach Barry Hinson threatened to boot him off the team for a variety of on-and off-court troubles. “He did everything that we asked of him, and consequently he played better,” Hinson said. “I could care less about the points, and I know people laugh when I say that. We have bigger issues than him scoring points right now. We’re just going to need him to grow up and be a young man that can be responsible and held accountable for.” Bradley center Will Egolf, suspended for four games after an arrest for possession of a non-prescription controlled substance, scored 11 points and blocked four shots in Tuesday’s 69-66 win over SIU.
• WSU junior Cleanthony Early earned his fifth MVC newcomer of the week honor on Monday. That puts him in elite company, with more than a month remaining to add more. Creighton’s Doug McDermott won it seven times in 2010-11, most of any player. Bradley’s Marcellus Sommerville won it six times in 2003-04, the first season for the award. No other player won it more than four times. WSU’s Clevin Hannah and Toure Murry won it twice each in 2008-09.
• Creighton starts a three-game road trip — the only MVC school to do so — with Saturday’s game at WSU. The U.S. Figure Skating Championships will take over the CenturyLink Center until Jan. 27 and the Bluejays won’t play at home until Jan. 30. After Saturday’s game, they play at Drake and at Southern Illinois. “It was important momentum-wise heading into a tough road trip to get this win,” Creighton guard Grant Gibbs told the Omaha World-Herald. “It gives us something to build on going into these road games.”
• McDermott passed ex-Bluejay Kyle Korver on the school’s career scoring list. McDermott (1,814 points) is fifth, ahead of Korver with 1,801 points. He is also 27th on the MVC’s career list, nine points behind Tulsa’s Tracy Moore and 20 behind South High’s Johnny Murdock, who played at Southwest Missouri State.
One to watch
Evansville at Indiana State, 7 p.m., Saturday (FSKC) — The Valley’s battle of Indiana means something this season.
In their own words
“They’re a very good, very versatile offensive team. They score in so many ways. You can defend them well and they still get points, not very many teams are like that,” — Northern Iowa coach Ben Jacobson, in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, after Tuesday’s 79-68 loss at Creighton.