ST. LOUIS — Creighton. Wichita State. How it should be.
If the Bluejays are going to leave the Missouri Valley Conference, it’s fitting that their last game in the Valley is against their bitter rival. And if the Shockers are going to break through and win one of these MVC tournaments here, they should be cutting down the nets as the hated Creightonians sulk off the floor at the Scottrade Center, the sight of so many unfulfilled dreams for the Shockers.
Could there be a new ingredient in this heated rivalry? Could sentimentality rear its oh-so-soft head?
The possibility of Creighton leaving has everybody around the Valley in a reflective mood.
“And we’ve never won in St. Louis,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “We’ve got a little sentimentality … on our side as well. We’re going to cut down nets. They’re going to try to cut down nets. So I’d rather them be a little sad leaving than all jacked up leaving.”
The Shockers got to Sunday’s championship by clamping down defensively in a 66-51 semifinal win over Illinois State.
Creighton was even more dominant in its semifinal win over Indiana State.
Now the behemoths clash for the third time this season. They have split the first two. And as March rolls on, they are both playing at a high level.
When the Shockers are right, their defense is right. Illinois State didn’t score a field goal until the 7:27 mark of the first half Saturday, then amazingly surged to take a one-point lead with just a few seconds left in the half.
Don’t ask. It was weird. Let’s just say Wichita State didn’t exactly have its A-game offensively, either.
But the Shockers never relented defensively. They guarded Illinois State to the point of Redbird exhaustion. At one point, I’m pretty sure beleaguered ISU guard Tyler Brown, who had been sizzling until running into WSU sophomore Tekele Cotton, asked about early graduation in hopes he could leave the arena.
Brown, who had scored 20 or more points in nine of the past 12 games and had averaged 29 points in the past four, scored nine against Cotton and the Shockers. He had made 39 of 70 shots in the previous four games and 20 of 33 three-pointers. He was 3 of 12 and 1 of 4 against Cotton.
Wichita State’s plan is to bring the same kind of defensive effort Sunday against Creighton. That’s the plan.
The reality is that the last time these two met, eight days ago in Omaha for the MVC regular-season title, the Bluejays put a 91-point hurting on Wichita State and won by 12.
Creighton’s Doug McDermott, who is as responsible for the Bluejays being courted by the new Big East as anyone with flesh and blood, scored 41 points in that game. And he has continued rolling here, with back-to-back masterpieces against Drake and Indiana State.
The 6-foot-8 McDermott comes into Sunday’s game having made 43 of 59 shots, including 14 of 19 from the three-point line and 20 of 22 from the free-throw line. McDermott has gotten into the habit of seeing his shots register points and it’s going to be a hard habit for the Shockers to break.
“I just hope he misses,’’ Marshall said. “You have to guard him well and hope he misses. He’s as good a player as I’ve seen in this league in six years. We did a pretty good job the four or five times we played him before and he got loose last Saturday. We’ll see which way the game goes this time.’’
Yes, and we can’t wait.
This one is so thick with drama, so dripping with tension.
Wichita State would love to give Creighton a boot in the rear end as it potentially exits for a new league. And the Bluejays would like nothing more than to keep the Shockers’ annual journey of tears trip back to Wichita a reality.
Thousands of fans are here to support both schools. They are without a doubt the best two basketball teams in the Valley and the two most committed to winning.
“It’s going to make for great drama, great TV,” Marshall said.
Yeah, this is one you should cozy up to.