Archive for March, 2007

Same Sad Song
Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Huskers were bit hard by the injury bug on Wednesday.

Zack Bowman Out Again

After sustaining a season-ending ACL injury in his left leg last August, Zack Bowman was determined to come back stronger than ever. In just five Spring practices, Bowman’s playing health went from 90% to about 2% after he ruptured the patellar tendon in his right knee. After Thursday morning’s surgery, he will be out for the next 4 1/2 to 6 months.

The secondary was supposed to be a key strength heading into the 2007 season. With Bowman out until at least some time in August (and possibly longer) that has changed. Thank goodness for depth… perhaps someone like Rickey Thenarse will get a look at a cornerback spot. The addition of Armando Murillo just became of heckuva lot more important.

The saddest thing about it is that Bowman elected to turn down a lot of money to come back for his final year. With two injuries/surgeries (one to each leg) his “first day status” (let alone his “first round status”) may be shot. Of course, there’s still a season to play… you just wonder how much of it Bowman will be able to participate in. Maybe none of it, which would be a terrible shame.

Time for a Medical Lesson

As some of you know, I was a pre-med student before I went into broadcast journalism. So let me enlighten you on what Bowman went through. When the patellar tendon ruptures, the patella loses its anchoring support to the tibia. Without this anchoring effect of the intact patella tendon, the patella tends to move superiorly (towards the hip) as the quadriceps muscle contracts. Without the intact patella tendon, the patient is unable to straighten the knee. If a rupture of the patella tendon occurs, and the patient tries to stand up, the knee will usually buckle and give way because the body is no longer able to hold the knee in a position of extension (straight).

Oh, and one other thing: I forgot… I was never pre-med. But I did minor in “Internet Cut-and-Paste”.

Bigger Isn’t Always Better


Running back Kenny Wilson will most likely be gone for the 2007 season after breaking his leg. Coach Bill Callahan said he sustained the injury while moving a television. I’m going to assume that this was not a 13″ black-and-white box television with rabbit ears.

After battling a staph infection, this is another big blow for Wilson. The guy simply hasn’t been given much of a chance to live up to his expectations. This is another position, though, with a lot of depth. Major Culbert moved from the defensive secondary to running back after last season. With Cody Glenn still coming back from an injury, that move looks a lot more imperative now.

McKenna to Indiana State

We told you it was a possibility on Monday’s sportscasts. Now it’s official. Creighton assistant Kevin McKenna is the new head coach at Indiana State. He succeeds longtime coach Royce Waltman.

If you’re trying to read into this that “Dana is definitely staying at Creighton”, don’t bother. We haven’t heard word one from anyone in CU camp, and head coaching jobs aren’t easy to come by. You have to take the opportunities as they come. McKenna was going for that Wyoming job a while back and obviously wanted to become a head coach as soon as possible. He’s found a good fit, where he doesn’t have to follow in Altman’s shoes.

Hopefully the Altman saga will sort itself out soon.

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Long Time No Post
Monday, March 26, 2007

It’s been a fairly uneventful week in Nebraska. Unless, of course, you’re a Husker football fan, in which case the world almost ended.

Keller Instinct

Quarterback Sam Keller was cited for disturbing the peace on Thursday, after he allegedly yelled at a woman for taking a parking spot that he was waiting for at a campus garage. He also threw a cup at her. In fact, if you want to purchase the cup, you can. It’s going for about $5. I’ll sell you a package of 20 the same style of cup for about $4 if you’re interested.

All kidding aside, it was an unfortunate incident for Keller, who is trying to assert himself as the leader both on and off the field. While the issue may not be a big deal in the grand scheme of things, I’ll still contend that your starting quarterback should never be cited for anything. Anything. He has to use sound judgment and make good decisions in all avenues of life. He doesn’t have to be perfect, but he should never have a scheduled court date.

That being said, he’s taken this latest mishap head-on. He’s applied it directly to the forehead.

It’s a ridiculous incident that will be forgotten by April 14th.

Husker Baseball Gets a Win… But is This Team Any Good?

If you’re an adolescent, “breaking out” is the last thing you want. On Sunday, it was imperative for the Huskers. Staring its first-ever series sweep at Haymarket Park right in the face, Nebraska got a big win which could provide the spark this team desperately needs.

There is not question Nebraska (13-9, 2-4 Big 12) has talent. Sixteen runs in six innings against Missouri on Sunday tells you that. Giving up 16 runs to Notre Dame and losing the first two conference series of the year tells you something else. The question is: will this team be able to win consistently? Will it be able to win when it counts?

Watching the team last week against Western Illinois, the Huskers looked listless, devoid of any emotion or camaraderie. Leaders will have to step up in the clubhouse and perform on the field. In fact, that’s a good question: Who is the team leader? Ryan Wehrle? Tony Watson? Johnny Dorn? Andrew Brown? It’s interesting — as I go down the list, I’m not sure Nebraska has had this many introverts on its roster in quite some time.

Some guys may have to step out of their comfort zone and take charge. Perhaps one of the new guys will embrace that leadership role… Jeff Tezak? DJ Belfonte? We shall see.

Sunday was a good start — we’ll find out more about what this team is made of very soon. Nebraska visits Texas A&M next weekend.

Final Four Set

Florida, UCLA, Ohio State and Georgetown all got their Final Four tickets stamped over the weekend. The rest of the nation’s teams will need actual tickets to get in.

My best bracket had three of the Final Four (I didn’t pick UCLA to make it to Atlanta in any of my brackets).

How are your brackets doing?

My early Final Four Picks:

Georgetown over Ohio State
Florida over UCLA

Georgetown over Florida

How do Your Brackets Look?
Monday, March 19, 2007

Since ESPN.com gives you a chance at multiple brackets, I did multiple brackets. Five to be exact. I may or may not have created a fake identity in order to fill out ten. I will not tip my hand, though.
In my best bracket so far, I’ve got 12 of the Sweet Sixteen left, with Oregon as my national champion in that one. Why? In a tournament with such dominant #1 seeds, I’m gonna try and ride a different team to the title. If Oregon wins it, I can slip up in other picks but still win the pool. If you pick a team that everybody’s picking, then you’d better have a fairly unblemished bracket in order to still be alive.

Of course, we’re only playing for pride here.
No money.

In another bracket, I’ve got 11 of the Sweet 16 remaining, including USC. In that pool I actually have USC in the Elite Eight, with seven of my Elight Eight remaining (and Ohio State the champ). In another I’ve got six of my Elite Eight, with Pittsburgh winning it all (another underdog).

All-in-all, I can’t pick games, and I will once again watch someone else claim the top prize.

Which, of course, is a boat-load of dignity.

Parallel Between Sweet 16 And Bracketbuster?

For the second year in a row, the premier BracketBusters matchup has generated two Sweet 16 teams. Butler and Southern Illinois did the honors this season, following George Mason and Wichita State last season.

So much for Creighton and Drexel.

Nebraska Bows to Temple
After a sluggish start, the Husker women sprinted to halftime with a 30-to-29 lead in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. They kept it going after intermission, leading by as many as seven points. In fact, they led throughout most of the second half, until about 1:38 remained in the game, when Temple collected critical rebounds and hit its foul shots, and the Huskers went cold. Nebraska made just one field goal in the final 2:48, and fell 64-61.
Nebraska had a chance to tie on its final possession and tried to get the ballto Kiera Hardy. After calling a timeout with 16 seconds left, Hardy got the ball but was unable to find space. So Coach Yori called another timeout with seven seconds remaining. The Huskers set four screens for their star senior, but Hardy was only able to get off a falling-away-spinning-around-baseball-throw-three-pointer from 30 feet, which bounced harmlessly off the top of the backboard.

Watching the post-game press conference, Coach Yori was as miffed as I’ve ever seen her.

“We had our chances, as we have in a lot of games, and we weren’t able to get it done down the stretch,” said Yori. “I’ll take full blame for that. Our players fought really hard, full-court defense, trapping for the entire game. Pleased with our players’ effort. I’m taking full blame for my decisions down the stretch. We let that one get away.”
As for the ill-fated final play, Yori said, “With seven seconds left, every player on their team was guarding her. The first opportunity with her with 20 seconds, we fumbled it, and then we didn’t get into rhythm with what we were trying to run. We don’t have a lot of 3-point shooting options in our program… We’ve been in that situation a couple times. Kiera is the best option, they knew we were going to her. Our second option isn’t nearly as good as Kiera.”
With “every player” guarding her, I would much rather have an average three-point shooter take an open shot in that situation. A flailing shot from beyond NBA range isn’t how I want my season to end, especially coming off of two timeouts.

It was an unfortunate end to the season. A team that at one point looked like a potential Sweet-16 team, wound up losing six of its final seven games to end the year.
Regardless, this program has come a long way. And thanks to Kiera Hardy and Chelsea Aubry, who came to Nebraska despite watching the Huskers go 1-15 during their senior years of high school, the foundation has been laid for future success in Lincoln.
As Connie Yori left the podium Sunday night, she buried her face in the scoresheet, seemingly incredulous that her team came out on the losing end.
If you’re a Husker fan, you’ve gotta be feeling good about the hands that the two programs are in.

A Sign That You’re Not Quite There Yet

In the first few minutes of the first half, ESPN showed a shot of Connie Yori on the sidelines. They put a graphic up with her name: “Connie Yuri.”
I guarantee you we’ll never see a graphic that reads: “Pat Sommitt.”

Now What?
Sunday, March 18, 2007

That was the question another sports reporter asked me after Creighton lost the NCAA Tournament. It’s always an interesting time, when one sports season ends and another begins. The Bluejays are done. The Huskers are done (well, the women will be within two days).

On the docket now:

Nebraska Baseball (/softball)
Creighton Baseball (/softball)
Knights Hockey
Lancers Hockey
High School Spring Sports

And, oh yeah… Husker spring football starts in less than a week.

I suppose we have enough to keep us busy.

Are You Enjoying the Tournament?

Is it just me, or is this year’s NCAA Tournament simply not as exciting as in years past? Is it because there aren’t a lot of upsets? Or, is it because there haven’t been any incredible buzzer-beaters? The game-tying three-pointer for Ohio State against Xavier was the best high-drama play we’ve seen this tournament… unfortunately it game on the heels of a missed free throw.

Maybe it’s just me.

The Women Begin Their Dance

It may not be with as much fanfare, but the women of college basketball have begun their tournament. I started an office pool for that one. I’m the only one in it. I think I’ve got a great shot at taking first place.

Nebraska is in the dance for the first time since 2000. Connie Yori has actually done a remarkable job. Back in 2002-03 (her first year at the helm), the team was terrible. A record of 8-20 overall, and 1-15 in conference play. Yori was miserable. The program was in shambles. Four seasons later, they’re in the NCAA Tournament, and they’re not terrible.

The 9th-seeded Huskers weren’t as fortunate as the Creighton men. CU dodged the 8/9 matchup (although they lost anyway). If it can beat Temple Sunday night, Nebraska will face the #1 team in the entire tournament in the second round in Duke. That would be interesting, if for no other reason just to see how far away Nebraska is from the elite. Games like that aren’t always entertaining… but they can be informative. (See: Nebraska football vs. USC 2006).

Hometown Kid Makes Good

It was a great scene in The Palace of Auburn Hills in Michigan Saturday Night, as Nebraska wrestler Paul Donahoe captured a national championship in the 125-pound division. The sophomore became the ninth Husker ever to win a national championship. Better yet — he did it in overtime. Even better yet — he accomplished the feat just 33 miles from his hometown of Davison, Michigan.

One-and-Done… Again
Saturday, March 17, 2007


For the third straight time, the Creighton Bluejays will play only one game at the NCAA Tournament. A 77-to-71 overtime loss to Nevada means the Jays are one-and-done. Again.

Every Chance in the World

Creighton had the ball with a four-point lead with four minutes to go. They didn’t get the shot they wanted, and Nevada took advantage. Even when Creighton’s defense forced a turnover at the end of regulation, Nate Funk was unable to get a shot off for a game-winner. Was he fouled? After the game, Funk said yes. But only an obvious foul will get a call at the end of an NCAA Tournament game.

In overtime, Nevada outscored Creighton 18-to-12, winning 77-to-71. The Jays played pretty well, though. That second-half stretch when they forced three turnovers and converted them into fast-break points was a thing of beauty. They played tough, scoring 24 points off 19 Nevada turnovers. That’s a recipe for Creighton success.

But 3-of-19 shooting from 3-point range is a recipe for disaster.

Rough Game

Dane Watts is one of my favorite players, and I felt going in that he had the chance to make the biggest difference. He did… but in the wrong way. Watts finished 1-of-12 from the floor, including 0-of-8 from 3-point range. If he’s 1-of-8, they win that game. He’s still got a promising senior season ahead of him.

Where to go From Here?

Nate Funk, Nick Porter and Anthony Tolliver, all gone. They scored 53 of the teams 71 points. I’ll do some quick guess-math and say that’s about 75% of their scoring.

Will the Jays be able to reload, or is it rebuilding mode?

And, more importantly, will Dana Altman be here to see it happen?

NCAA Tournament Begins
Thursday, March 15, 2007

Serves us all right. Seems like everytime we search for upsets and force the issue, the higher seeds play true to form. Eight games into the NCAA Tournament, we have no upsets.
Anyone’s Cinderella now in rags?
I filled out five brackets on ESPN.com and have Louisville winning it all in one of them. After one day, I feel one step closer to $10,000. After Saturday, I’m sure I’ll be right back where I started… hopeless and backrupt.
Gimme your Cinderellas, your tired, your poor, your huddled masses. I’d love to hear them.
Another Pleasant Surprise?

On ESPN.com, navigate your way to the front page of the Tournament Challenge. Scroll down and you will dine a Q&A with last year’s winner, Russell Pleasant. The Bellevue man won last year’s challenge, riding George Mason to the Final Four and taking home $10,000.
I spoke with him on phone today (Thursday). He said his five ESPN.com brackets are locked and loaded. Who is Pleasant’s Cinderella this time around? “I’ve got Maryland going to the Elite Eight in one of my brackets,” he said.
He’s promised to keep me posted on his title defense.
Although, with the way this tournament works, he might have a better chance winning Powerball twice.

Beautiful Day… Should be a Beautiful Weekend
Wednesday, March 14, 2007

It was 80 degrees in Omaha on Tuesday. What a day. It’ll be gorgeous this weekend, too. I’m not talking about the weather… it’s tournament time.

Creighton as a #10 Seed

Despite being a #10 seed, the Jays are getting a little bit of love from the national media. Doug Gottlieb of ESPN is predicting the winner of the Creighton/Nevada tilt to beat Memphis in the second round. We’ll see.

I know some people were thinking the Jays deserved a little more respect than a #10 seed. If Nevada and Creighton were flip-flopped in the seeding, they’d still have to play each other anyway. All the Jays should’ve been concerned about is not being an 8 or 9 seed. Avoiding a number one seed until the Elite 8 is a big plus. Of course, you have to get there first.

Jays’ Chances

They’ve got a chance of knocking off Nevada. Unfortunately, I see some foul trouble coming Anthony Tolliver’s way. I’m sure Dana Altman will concoct some sort of defense for Nick Fazekas, perhaps a double-team here and there. At the same time, when was the last time the Jays faced a dominating big-man (I know Fazekas is a 6’11” forward, but you know what I mean). Was it Bradley’s Patrick O’Bryant last season? Randall Falker is okay, but even he can be pretty soft. This will be quite a test. I’ll still take the red-hot Jays (hopefully they haven’t cooled of in the last 10 days) over Nevada. I’ve love to see them match up with Memphis.

Filling out the Brackets — Thanks for the Help

Don’t you love the national prognosticators? I watch them to get some help on my brackets… but when they’re all picking number one seeds to advance to the Final Four, these guys become useless. Yeah, picking Ohio State, UNC, Kansas and Florida in the Final Four is really going to give me that edge in my office pool. Come on, fellas — I need a #3 seed in the Final Four… or maybe a #4. Heck, show me some Georgetown love and I’ll be somewhat impressed. I’m not asking you to give me this year’s George Mason, because even if you predicted that last year no one would’ve listened to you. The key to winning your office pool is to pick a middle-seeded team to catch fire, and hope they don’t flame out on you.

Speaking of which: When is the last time “Duke” was a Cinderella?

Should the NCAA Make a Change?

NCAA football has it right — the BCS system is what everyone wants to see. So why not use it in basketball, too? Who needs to see all these teams settle it on the court? We’ve got some pre-tournament Schick’s Shtick for you Wednesday night at 10pm on KETV. And the Creighton Bluejays have some pretty surprising opinions.

Weather is Perfect — but Controversy Still Abounds
Friday, March 9, 2007

Last week’s start to the girls state basketball tournament was shrouded in controversy. The blizzard-like conditions made travel dangerous, yet the tournament went on as scheduled.

Thursday there was no shortage of controversy… and the weather was actually pretty nice.

Prep Wins — But Not Really

Creighton Prep trailed #1 Omaha Bryan 49-48 with 11.3 seconds left. Matt Imig missed the front end of a one-and-one, and the Junior Jays rebounded the ball and pushed it up the court. Ted Stessman missed a lay-up, followed by another miss by Matt Harmon. Stessman, though, tipped the rebound at the buzzer to win it for Prep.

At least that’s how it appeared.

Replays on KETV’s camera (and the Bryan coaches’ film) showed that Stessman still had his hands on the ball when the backboard lit up (the backboard lights coincide with the clock reading triple-zeros). I was with the Bryan coaches in the tunnel as they watched the replay again and again. “He still has the ball with 0.0 left on the clock,” said one coach.

Bryan Coach Tim Cannon was beside himself afterwards, questioning why the play wasn’t at least discussed by the refs and official scorers. “I think the referees and the NSAA should be responsible to review those things,” said Cannon.

However, NSAA rules do not allow for reviews.

I caught up with NSAA Executive Director Jim Tenopir after the game (he attended the contest) and asked him if it was handled properly. The biggest thing he stressed was that the ref who counted the bucket was decisive. “He did not wait to ask another official… now, if it was wrong it is regrettable, but we support his decision.”

To Prep’s credit, they deserved to win this game. They led for 97% of it, as Bryan could not get anything going until it was too late. Missing the front end of a one-and-one is a recipe for disaster.

It was a great basketball game, although it was more physical than any high school game I’ve seen in a long time. The refs let them play, even past the final buzzer.

Here are some of the e-mails we received shortly after the game:

“Today at 9:30am March 8 Bryan And CreightonPrep Played against each other…Which CreightonPrep won by one point when the ref said the shot was good…after reviewing the shot they said it was not good…And will not let Bryan play tomorrow either way, which is technically wrong becuase Bryan Won By the rules… “

“Bryan High School Boys Basketball team was cheated out of going into the second round of the State Basketball Tournament. After having proof that Bryan Bears won that game, Creighton Prep still gets all the glory. It’s not fair. The Bears won the District Tournament which makes them #1 in the district. But, because of the referees being blind the Bears were eliminated in the first round.”

(Kari Hixson, Bryan Senior)

“On the “See the Shot” video. It’s clear to me that the shot was taken after the buzzer. Even being there in Lincoln I could clearly see it. Do you know if they are going to be doing anything about it?”

“The Nebraksa Boys Basketball State Tournament was unfair today. Creighton Prep did not earn that win. Bryan High won without a doubt. Creighton Prep should be ashamed that they’re going to accept that win with them and the whole local area knowing that they lost. If they had any class and dignity, they would stand up for what they know is right, and let Bryan have it.”

Feel free to submit your thoughts on this wild start to the state tournament.

Order Restored
Monday, March 5, 2007

Dust off your dancing shoes and grease back your hair — the Jays are going dancing. After a 67-61 win over #11 Southern Illinois, Creighton is back in the NCAA Tournament.

The Bluejays have now beaten the Salukis in each of their last six meetings in the MVC tournament — the longest winning streak by one team over another in the history of the event, which dates back to 1977.

Seniors Again Show the Way

Led by Tournament Most Outstanding Player Nate Funk, who scored a school-record 66 points in the three Valley Tournament games, the seniors carried this Bluejay team to a conference championship. Anthony Tolliver, Nick Porter and Funk combined to score 146 of Creighton’s 201 points in the tournament.

Who needs depth, anyway?

This is the Team We Expected

At the beginning of the season, experts and fans alike believed this team was destined for a Sweet 16 appearance. There were no signs of that until it mattered most — in the post-season. Not until they showed up in St. Louis did anyone see glimpses of a team that could make some noise in the NCAA Tournament. Now, Creighton looks like it might just surprise some big boys. And now with some weight off its collective shoulders, who knows what CU can do?


A Blessing and a Curse

The Jays now have about 10 days off until their next game. For a team that’s peaking, that may not be the best thing. Then again, what college athlete wouldn’t like some extended rest? That’s the blessing and curse of playing in a mid-major, where the conference tournament is held one week ahead of the BCS schools’ tournaments.

Nothing worse than getting into a big dance, then having to wait by the punch bowl for a week for the rest of the dancers to show up.


He Doesn’t Sleep Much Anyway, But…

Dana Altman will surely sleep much better knowing he doesn’t have to wait a week for the selection committee to come out with its list of invitees. After getting locked out of the ballroom last year, the Jays are giving the committee no choice — they’re coming to the Big Dance.

Dana is the Man

Altman is now 6-0 in Valley Tournament championship games with Creighton. Those wins have come by an average of 12.8 points. Sunday’s six-point margin was the narrowest yet. Altman’s teams come to play when it counts.

That Being Said…

Bring on the Dana Altman coaching rumors. It’s an annual affair, which should run from March 5th through early summer. When’s that Iowa job gonna open up, anyway?

National Pub

CBSsportsline and espn.com have some interesting columns, both written on the same topic: the rise of Creighton basketball. I actually think they were looking over each others’ shoulders throughout their key-strokes… but I thought I’d post them anyway:

————————————————————————-
ESPN.com

Jays Save Best for Last, Stop Eight-Game Skid vs. SIU

by Mark Schlabach

ST. LOUIS — So you want to turn your middling mid-major college basketball program into one that is nationally recognized and has a chance to knock off one of the sport’s powerhouses in the NCAA Tournament at the end of nearly every season?

Go to Omaha, Neb., the Midwestern city best known for its beef, where Creighton University has done what so many small colleges would like to do — beef up its program so it can compete with any team in the country.

When Dana Altman became Creighton’s basketball coach in 1994, about 39,000 fans came out to watch the Bluejays play — in the entire home schedule. This season, the Bluejays averaged nearly 16,000 fans for each of their 14 home games in the four-year-old Qwest Center, a $291 million facility financed by the city and private funds.

“We gave them a reason to drink beer during the winter,” said Creighton athletics director Bruce Rasmussen, joking about the fact that beer can be sold during Bluejays’ games now because the new arena is off-campus and located downtown.

Omaha fans have learned that watching the Bluejays play basketball isn’t a bad experience, either. Creighton again claimed an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament on Sunday with its 67-61 upset of No. 11 Southern Illinois in the championship game of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament at Scottrade Center.

It will be the Bluejays’ seventh appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 1999, a mark of consistency that would make many larger programs envious.

“It’s a great feeling,” Creighton guard Nate Funk said. “This is my third time here, and it doesn’t get any better. All that preseason hype doesn’t mean anything if you don’t finish it out.”

With Funk and fellow seniors Nick Porter and Anthony Tolliver leading the way, the Bluejays again look like a team capable of pulling off an upset or two in the NCAA Tournament. Creighton beat No. 7 seed Louisville in the first round of the 1999 NCAA Tournament, then stunned No. 5 seed Florida in double overtime in the opening round in 2002.

“We always feel good going into the tournament,” Altman said. “It’s a crapshoot with matchups and who’s playing well and who isn’t playing well. Hopefully, we’ll get a good draw and play well.”

Creighton’s ability to keep Altman is one of the biggest reasons it no longer can be considered a true mid-major program. The Bluejays beat the big boys, spend money (sort of) like the big boys and draw fans like the big boys.

“That doesn’t guarantee it will happen, but it makes it easier,” Rasmussen said. “If you’re going to talk about being a Top 25 program, you can’t just talk the talk. You’ve got to walk the walk.”

Altman, who grew up in Nebraska and coached a junior college in the state, has turned down several opportunities to leave Creighton, a Jesuit university with an enrollment of about 6,000 students. In the past several years, Altman has interviewed with larger schools such as Georgia, Iowa, Iowa State and Tennessee, but he kept coming back to Creighton, which reportedly is paying him an annual salary close to $1 million.

“I think loyalty is developed by doing things you don’t have to do,” Rasmussen said.

Altman has needed Creighton’s loyalty in parts of the past two seasons. After the Bluejays missed the NCAA Tournament in 2006 — a campaign thwarted by season-ending injuries to Funk and guard Josh Dotzler — many fans wondered earlier this season whether they would be relegated to the NIT again or, worse, left out of the postseason altogether.

Creighton lost five of its first 13 games, falling at Nebraska, Dayton, Fresno State, Hawaii and Indiana State. Even after Creighton seemed to right its ship during conference play (the Bluejays won nine of their next 11 games after losing to the Sycamores), Altman still wasn’t satisfied with the way his basketball team was performing.

When the Bluejays lost consecutive games to Drexel at home and at Illinois State in mid-February, leaving them dangerously close to falling out of competition for an NCAA at-large bid, Altman knew things had to change.

“This season was just a little disappointing because our fans’ expectations were just so high,” he said. “We didn’t play well in November and December. Most of the kids are from the Midwest, and they were carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders. They felt like they were letting everybody down.”

Perhaps no Creighton player felt that burden more than Funk, who missed all but six games last season because of a shoulder injury that required surgery. The 2006 season was supposed to be his final year at Creighton, but he petitioned the NCAA for an extra season of eligibility and was awarded it. Funk, who averaged 17.8 points and 5.1 rebounds in 2004-05, was named the preseason MVC Player of the Year this season.

“We play about 10 different ways,” he said. “We haven’t been consistent at all. You’ve got to adjust during a season. With our personnel, we had a couple of guys leave and had some injuries.”

Against the Salukis, the Bluejays proved they’re versatile enough to press and run up and down the court, as well as capable of playing with the same blue-collar ethic as Southern Illinois.

The Salukis, the top seed in the MVC Tournament and a possible No. 3 or No. 4 seed in the NCAAs, had defeated Creighton eight straight times. The Bluejays last beat the Salukis in the 2003 MVC tournament final, although they lost the two regular-season meetings this year by a combined five points.

“You almost couldn’t consider it a rivalry anymore because they had just dominated us,” Funk said.

But Creighton jumped on the Salukis early, leading by seven points early in the second half and by as many as 14 in the second. Funk scored 19 points and was named the tournament’s most outstanding player. Tolliver outplayed Southern Illinois’ Randal Falker , scoring 15 points to go with 13 rebounds — his sixth double-double of the season. Porter had 15 points, six assists and five boards.

“I just knew I wasn’t going out a loser,” Funk said. “We’ve gone through a lot of ups and downs this season, but it’s always nice to finish like this. Hopefully, we can keep it going and make some noise in the tournament.”

——————————————————————-
CBS Sportsline

Bluejays’ Success Starts at Top… Very Top
by Gary Parrish

ST. LOUIS — The numbers are staggering, almost unbelievable at first glance. So I wrote them down, memorized them and took them to Creighton athletic director Bruce Rasmussen.

I wanted an explanation.

Did his basketball program really go from averaging 6,613 fans to 15,909 fans in a matter of five years?

“That’s right.”

Please explain, sir.

“People in Omaha like to drink beer,” Rasmussen said with a laugh. “We gave them a reason to drink beer in the winter.”

Ah, the perks of an off-campus arena.

You can buy a nice cup of warm beer for $8.

Granted, it doesn’t sound all that great. But there’s no denying warm beer for $8 is better than no beer at all, and when combined with a first-class coach, some first-class players and a first-class facility, the ingredients for success are all in place.

Only thing left to do then is win, to turn off-the-court accomplishments into on-the-court triumphs. And that’s what Creighton coach Dana Altman did here at the Scottrade Center on Sunday. He held up his end of the agreement by taking the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament title with a 67-61 victory over top-seeded Southern Illinois.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Nate Funk, net draped around his neck, said after scoring a combined 52 points in the semifinals and finals to earn MVP honors. “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

What college basketball fans tuned into CBS saw Sunday were two equally matched, well-coached teams from the nation’s best non-BCS league. They saw a pair of programs that are both capable of advancing to the Sweet 16, which would give The Valley a couple of second-weekend participants for the second consecutive season.

But there was something bigger happening, too.

It was a message for all administrators out there.

It was a lesson that though vision and a financial investment doesn’t ensure success, it certainly makes it more easily attainable. So while I’m not suggesting it’s as simple as the clich├ęd if you build it they will come, there’s no debating that if you hire the right guy, stand by him, compensate him properly, give him an operating budget to compete nationally, put him in a brilliant facility and allow it all to grow there’s a better-than-decent chance it’s going to grow.

The proof is in the Bluejays.

“That’s the situation we have,” Altman said. “Thirteen years ago we went our entire first season and drew 39,000 total. That was our total draw, and to see where we’ve come … ”

Altman went on to thank former Creighton president Michael Morrison and current Creighton president John Schlegel, plus Rasmussen and the city of Omaha. He was right to do that because though Altman is the guy recruiting the players and drawing the plays, what has happened at Creighton is a culmination of a number of things, and some of it starts at the top.

See, every school likes to think it can win, and most any school can for a year or two here or there. But unless the foundation for success is laid it’ll come and go quickly, and a fan base will be left wondering what happened when the reality is nothing happened except their team ended up right back where it was supposed to be all along.

Take Washington State, for instance, and the success it’s having this season. It was unexpected, and it’s a wonderful story.

But will it last?

Not unless the people at Washington State make the financial commitment necessary. They’re going to have to pay Tony Bennett like a Top 25 program would and commit to doing the other things required to put him in a position to flourish. Otherwise, Bennett will take his pristine reputation and strong recruiting ties to another BCS school, plain and simple.

Creighton, it’s worth noting, grasped this concept long ago.

Rasmussen recognized he had the right coach, so he made him the highest-paid coach in the MVC. The result is a sense of loyalty that now works both ways, and it’s at least partially why Altman didn’t bolt to Georgia, Tennessee, Miami or Illinois at separate times over the past few years.

Rasmussen also recognized he had a product Omaha would latch on to if given a reason to care, so he moved games to the $291 million Qwest Center downtown despite some believing its capacity of 17,272 was way too big. The result is a fan base that has grown by miles, evidence being the number of total people Creighton drew in Altman’s first season is now amassed in three games, easily.

“If you’re going to talk about being a Top 25 program, you can’t just talk about it,” Rasmussen said. “You’ve got to walk the walk.”

To Creighton’s credit, it walked it.

And now the Bluejays are strutting, straight into the Big Dance.

Creighton is Back
Sunday, March 4, 2007

The Bluejays simply played Creighton basketball on Saturday — with the seniors leading the way. The Jays will play Southern Illinois in Sunday’s MVC Tournament Championship game.

Senior-Laden, Senior-Leadin’

Nate Funk, Nick Porter and Anthony Tolliver combined to score 65 of Creighton’s 75 points, propelling CU to a 75-58 win in the MVC semfinal matchup with Missouri State. Funk was never hotter than he was Saturday night — a season-high 33 points, the most by a Creighton player in MVC Tournament history.

Nick Porter was tough — he turned it over a couple of times, but his first-career double-double was timely. He battled his way to 19 points and a career-high 13 rebounds.

Does Creighton Have a Shot?

CU has lost eight straight games to Southern Illinois. They haven’t beaten the Salukis since the 2003 MVC Tournament Championship Game. It’s been four years… isn’t it time?

Mid-Major?

The attendance was incredible on Saturday… 22,612 packed the Scottrade Center for the two sessions.

Okay, fine… Mid-Major.

There’s nothing too “major” about the in-between-game interviews on Valley Television, which include live sit-down chats with the sponsors.

Interviewer: “We’re here with Bob of Casey’s General Stores… Bob, I love chocolate, and I know you’ve got of lot of it. What other new food products do you have?”

Sponsor Bob: “Yeah, we’ve got a lot of great food…”

The next time the SEC interviews a Cingular representative for six full minutes will be the last. But, I suppose you have to pay the bills.

And fill the time.

What a Finish!

Did you happen to catch the Class C1 Girls State Championship Game Saturday night? Trailing Norfolk Catholic 46-44 with five seconds remaining, Amber Hegge pushed the ball up the court and banked in a three-pointer at the buzzer to give Crofton its third consecutive state title. As great as that must feel for Crofton, how lousy must Norfolk Catholic have felt… especially losing in that fashion to your rival?

One of the best finishes to a girls basketball game I’ve ever seen, let alone the state tournament.