No matter what happens this week, the Missouri Valley Conference men’s basketball season will be remembered by most for what happens to Creighton.
The Bluejays entered the season an overwhelming favorite, carried by a national Player of the Year candidate and four starters back from 2012. They looked great until the grind of the 18-game MVC season hit hard. Now they are fighting from behind to win the MVC title and — more important — keep NCAA hopes alive.
Because of its preseason notice and the presence of Doug McDermott, the Valley is seen nationally as a Creighton story. When the Bluejays are ranked, the MVC looks strong. When they slump, it shifts attention away from the MVC.
Just don’t expect Wichita State fans to mourn. They’ve endured several recent seasons in which early hype didn’t hold up. With a strong finish, the Shockers can grab the story away from Creighton.
Should form hold, Wichita State will get a chance to add to Creighton’s pain on Saturday in Omaha. First-place WSU plays Evansville on Wednesday at Koch Arena. Second-place Creighton plays at Bradley. If both win, the Shockers clinch at least a share of the MVC title and can win it outright on Creighton’s court.
The irony is that Creighton’s offense — one of the best in the nation — is letting it down. The Bluejays shot 52.4 percent from the field and 45.4 percent from three-point range in its first 18 games, going 17-1. In its past 11 games, they are shooting 47.2 percent and 36.7 percent. Those are winning numbers for most teams. Creighton is 5-6 and it is clear even good offensive performances are no guarantee. It can’t defend its way out of a dip in shooting accuracy.
“There’s a lot of situations where we were getting the same shot we were getting in December and January,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. “We just haven’t stepped up and knocked those down with the regularity we were earlier in the season. When that happens, it makes it a little more crowded inside. Defenses aren’t as concerned about the three-point shot as they were early in the season.”
One Bluejay who is shooting well is forward Grant Gibbs, and that may not be a good thing. Creighton is at its best when Gibbs is passing and helping run the offense. MVC defenses often turn him into a shooter. In 16 Valley games, he is 15 of 33 from three-point range. In 13 non-conference games, he attempted only 14 threes and made three.
-- WSU starts spring volleyball practice Friday. Two key items to watch: 1) the development of the liberos, one of whom must replace Jackie Church and 2) integrating freshman Katy Dudzinski, who missed last season with a broken foot, into the lineup on the right. The Shockers will play a challenging spring schedule, including a match against Nebraska on April 20 at Koch Arena and a match at Texas.
-- Wichita State basketball signee Shaq Morris and his Edmond (Okla.) Memorial team will play Putnam City West on Friday in a Class 6A regional game. Morris, a 6-foot-8 center, scored 25 points for his second-ranked team in a 78-61 win over Edmond North on Friday. The return from injury by guard Jordan Woodard, who signed with Oklahoma, has given the Bulldogs a big boost. He missed 12 games.
THIS WEEK IN SHOCKER HISTORY
Wichita State needed to beat Tulsa to punch up its NCAA Tournament case on Feb. 27, 1988. The Shockers did so, helped by a fortunate shot, in a 79-77 double-overtime victory at Tulsa.
WSU guard Joe Griffin made a falling-out-bounds three-pointer from the corner with two seconds to play to send the game to overtime.
“Coach set up the play for Lew (Hill), but in our huddle he said ‘We might be able to hit Joe in the corner coming off a screen,’ " Griffin said of his three-pointer. "If you want to call it a Hail Mary shot, go ahead. That’s what I’m calling it."
In the second overtime, Hill made two free throws with 31 seconds remaining in the second overtime for a 78-76 lead. Griffin led WSU with 14 points, with Paul Guffrovich and Steve Grayer adding 13 each.
WSU needed that win. It earned a spot in the NCAA Tournament after losing in the semifinals of the MVC Tournament.