The party hats and leis are out in Koch Arena in preparation for the New Year’s Eve game against No. 21 Creighton. Get there early students – only the first several rows get party favors.
From a Creighton perspective, the one item that matters most is no MVC team started 0-2 and won a title since Illinois State in 1992-93. The Bluejays should be desperate. So should the Shockers. They appear quite serious about winning the MVC and getting into the NCAA Tournament, goals that narrowly eluded them last season. Several of them gave up a trip home over Christmas, in part because of travel, but also so they could stay sharp and stay in the gym to start MVC play strong. Here’s a chance to put Creighton in a bad situation and put to rest last season’s home-court deficiencies. If WSU wants to prove it’s serious about winning the MVC title and adding quality wins to its NCAA resume, here’s a game that can accomplish both. Northern Iowa and Indiana State, expected to contend for the MVC title, also lost their MVC openers. Win this one, and everybody is chasing the Shockers.MSU shot 48 percent from the field and 41 percent from three-point range and only committed seven turnovers. That efficiency made it difficult for the Bluejays to run and MSU bottled up the half-court offense. “You will definitely see a different defensive team,” Creighton guard Antoine Young (who wasn’t at Koch Arena) said by cell phone.While the Shockers are playing well, as their eight-game win streak shows, there are always things to work on. “We’re not perfect at all,” WSU guard Toure Murry said. “Ball movement. Trying to get better defensively. Defensive transition. We have a lot more work to do.”Creighton, its loss to MSU notwithstanding, is a fearsome offensive team. The Bears held Creighton to a season-low 38.2-percent shooting, really shutting down four Bluejay starters. Young, Grant Gibbs, Gregory Echenique and Jahenns Manigat combined to shoot 6 of 25 from the field. “They’ve got a lot of weapons,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “Echenique inside. Antoine Young. . . a veteran point guard that can really play. They’ve got guys that can really shoot it.”While McDermott is deservedly attracting attention, Gibbs is a player who is making a big difference for the Jays with his passing and leadership. He averages 6.2 assists and had back-to-back games of 10 or more earlier this season. Murry is filling a similar role for WSU with his penetration and passing. Both kind of play a “point forward” role that makes teammates better.McDermott’s numbers are crazy good – 24.8 points, 61.5 percent shooting, 56.3 (27 of 48) from three, 8.6 rebounds. The MVC doesn’t crank out individual stars- I mean big-time, nationwide, Wooden Award candidate stars – much these days. ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb is already calling McDermott a first-round NBA draft pick. With McDermott and MSU’s Kyle Weems, it’s not a season where an Adam Emmenecker is going to win MVC Player of the Year honors.No MVC player has averaged more than 20 points since Illinois State’s Tarise Bryson (22.8) in 2001. I expect McDermott’s numbers to drop in conference play, but not significantly.Marshall doesn’t expect the hoopla to distract his team. With five seniors, it shouldn’t. “I don’t think they have any problem being focused,” Marshall said. “We know it’s a big game. Every game is big now. You’re trying to win a championship.”Creighton has largely owned this series since 1994. The Shockers won two straight and four of the past six, so a win Saturday strengthens their hold on the present advantage. It’s always going to matter because these are two of the MVC’s top programs. WSU last won three straight over Creighton in 1987-88. It’s also noteworthy that WSU’s past two losses to Creighton are by one point.WSU has won three straight over the Jays at home, its longest streak since it won eight in a row from 1982-88.