As most Bluejay fans can tell you, Creighton's nonconference basketball season was highly successful, with only a curveball from upstart Boise State marring an otherwise clean slate of wins. So, the Jays stand at 11-1 — a CU record for wins before Christmas — and are ranked 12th in the coaches poll and 16th by the Associated Press.
How did the other Valley teams fare before Christmas? Were there big wins around the league? Near misses? Key developments?
With teams in the Missouri Valley Conference about to begin conference play, here is a look around the league — in alphabetical order — at how the teams have fared in nonconference games:
* * *
RealTime.com RPI: 185
Valley opener: Saturday vs. Drake
Marquee victory: None of Bradley's wins are eye-poppers, with all but one coming against teams with losing records. A victory over Central Michigan does give the Braves a top-100 RPI win.
One that got away: The Braves held an 11-point lead with 12 minutes to play but couldn't hold off Virginia Tech in a 66-65 overtime loss.
Key development: Geno Ford is trying to balance where his basketball team is now compared with a season ago. The Braves have already exceeded last season's win total of seven, but Ford realizes the level of competition that those victories have come against. One reason for optimism is Bradley is playing better defensively, but Ford knows that improvement will be tested once conference play begins.
Newcomer to watch: Junior-college transfer Tyshon Pickett has developed into Bradley's best scoring option inside. He is averaging 12.3 points, leads the team in rebounding with a 7.0 average and is shooting 50 percent from the field.
* * *
RealTime.com RPI: 16
Valley opener: Saturday vs. Evansville
Marquee victory: The Bluejays picked up a top-50 RPI win when they traveled to California and posted a 10-point victory over the Golden Bears.
One that got away: Coming off winning the Las Vegas Invitational, Creighton stumbled at home against Boise State. The loss could be minimized if the Broncos remain a top-50 RPI team.
Key development: The Bluejays have been able to play through the loss of guard Josh Jones, who is out indefinitely with a heart problem. The long-term impact of Jones' absence is yet to be determined, but it forced coach Greg McDermott to shorten his bench in the final four nonconference games. Whether McDermott expands the rotation with the grind of conference play approaching bears watching.
Newcomer to watch: With nine of its top 10 players returning, Creighton didn't figure it would have to rely heavily on the contributions of new players. Andre Yates has flashed brilliance in small doses, but CU fans remain eager to see whether redshirt freshman Nevin Johnson can develop into a contributor.
* * *
RealTime RPI: 156
Valley opener: Sunday at Bradley
Marquee victory: A late-November road win against Nevada at least gives the Bulldogs a victory over a team with a winning record.
One that got away: Drake has its pick of two, with both coming at the Anaheim Classic. The Bulldogs dropped a three-point decision to California in the opener, then wrapped up play in the tournament with a four-point loss to Xavier.
Key development: Drake came into the season with eight new players on the roster and remains a team still searching to put pieces together. The return of center Seth VanDeest has been a pleasant development. A starter his first two seasons in Des Moines, Van Deest missed all of last season with shoulder injury. He's come back to average almost 12 points and five rebounds in pre-conference action.
Newcomer to watch: Some of the team's other new players have scored more, but freshman guard Micah Mason has emerged to give the Bulldogs a defense-stretching weapon on the perimeter. Mason is shooting 61 percent from 3-point range for a team that ranks among the national leaders in 3-point percentage and 3-point baskets per game.
* * *
RealTime.com RPI: 162
Valley opener: Saturday at Creighton
Marquee victory: The Purple Aces' lone victory over a team with a winning record came against Western Illinois in the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament.
One that got away: Colt Ryan scored 25 points but Evansville couldn't finish off a late rally against No. 18 Butler in dropping a 75-67 decision.
Key development: The Purple Aces weathered the loss of All-Valley guard Ryan for 2½ games early in the season. With Ryan out, Evansville had to get step-up efforts from others in posting two victories. Ryan's 13.7 scoring average is down about seven a game from last season, but a big game against Butler might be the jump-start he needs. Ned Cox and D.J. Balentine are each averaging in double figures, but Evansville continues to struggle to develop a consistent inside scoring threat.
Newcomer to watch: Evansville coach Marty Simmons favorably compares Balentine's early development to that of Ryan, a four-year starter for the Purple Aces. The freshman leads the team with 25 3-point baskets and is shooting 43.9 percent from beyond the arc while averaging 10.9 points.
* * *
ILLINOIS STATE (9-3)
RealTime.com RPI: 40
Valley opener: Sunday at Indiana State
Marquee victory: Needing a victory to finish off its pre-conference season, Illinois State went into Dayton and pulled out a hard-fought 74-73 triumph.
One that got away: The Redbirds would own the league's best victory had they been able to hold on against Louisville. The Cardinals rallied from an eight-point halftime deficit to post a three-point home victory.
Key development: New coach Dan Muller has the Redbirds hitting on all cylinders offensively. Illinois State leads the league in scoring, averaging 81 points a game. The Redbirds are the only team in the nation to have three players (Jackie Carmichael, Bryant Allen and Tyler Brown) score 30 points or more in a game this season.
Newcomer to watch: Nic Moore's defection last spring left the Redbirds searching for a point guard. Muller's late signing of Kaza Keane has paid off: The freshman has teamed with Johnny Hill to handle duties at the point. The Redbirds don't need Keane to score, and he's averaging just 3.5 points. But he does lead the team with 58 assists while compiling a 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
* * *
INDIANA STATE (6-4)
RealTime.com RPI: 84
Valley opener: Sunday vs. Illinois State
Marquee victory: The Sycamores picked up a top-50 RPI win by outlasting Mississippi in overtime in their first game at the Diamond Head Classic.
One that got away: A night after beating Mississippi, Indiana State played nationally ranked San Diego State to the wire before the Aztecs pulled out a seven-point win.
Key development: Jake Odum is healthy again after battling foot and leg injuries that hindered his performance last season. The Sycamores knew they were going to have to lean heavily on Odum, and the junior point guard has produced. He leads Indiana State in scoring, assists and steals while ranking second in rebounding.
Newcomer to watch: Manny Arop turned heads last season while practicing with the Sycamores after transferring from Gonzaga. The swingman has developed into Indiana State's No. 2 scoring option behind Odum, averaging more than 13 points per game and leading the team in rebounding.
* * *
MISSOURI STATE (2-10)
RealTime.com RPI: 328
Valley opener: Sunday vs. Southern Illinois
Marquee victory: You know your team is off to a rough start when you have to pick between wins over Philander Smith College and Malone as being your best.
One that got away: A desperation 3-point basket at the buzzer turned a potential win over South Carolina into an overtime contest that ended in a seven-point loss.
Key development: What do you get when you mix the seventh-youngest team in Division I basketball with a top-50 strength of schedule? A team still looking for its first Division I win as the new year approaches. The Bears are playing six freshmen, starting two in Marcus Marshall and Bruce Marshall (no relation), and are getting 47.6 percent of their scoring from first-year players.
Newcomer to watch: Marcus Marshall ranks third on the team in scoring with a 10.0 average. The 6-3 guard has been hot lately, leading the team in scoring in two of the past three games while shooting over 60 percent from the field.
* * *
NORTHERN IOWA (7-5)
RealTime.com RPI: 161
Valley opener: Sunday at Wichita State
Marquee victory: Marc Sonnen's seven 3-point baskets helped the Panthers snap George Mason's 14-game home-court winning streak in an 82-77 victory.
One that got away: Northern Iowa squandered a halftime lead in dropping a 52-47 decision to Memphis that capped a 0-3 appearance at the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Key development: No Valley team had more chances for statement victories than did the Panthers. Half of Northern Iowa's games were against RPI top 100 teams, including a pair against top 15 teams. The Panthers are 1-5 in those games, which is slightly disappointing for Ben Jacobson's veteran team. Sophomore point guard Deon Mitchell has emerged as one of the top young players in the league, leading the Panthers in scoring, assists and steals.
Newcomer to watch: Nate Buss was expected to help the Panthers last season, but he broke his arm in the second game of the season and missed the rest of the games. Buss is averaging 7.0 points after 11 games this season and is shooting 55.3 percent from 3-point range.
* * *
SOUTHERN ILLINOIS (7-4)
RealTime.com RPI: 149
Valley opener: Sunday at Missouri State
Marquee victory: With the average RPI of the teams the Salukis have beaten being 292, a three-point home win over No. 238 Fresno State looks golden.
One that got away: Southern Illinois missed two game-winning shots in the final 10 seconds in dropping a 58-57 decision at Western Kentucky.
Key development: New coach Barry Hinson knows one way to build confidence is to schedule wins, and that's what he's done. Two of the Salukis wins have come against New Orleans (RPI ranking of 339), while a third came against Division II Benedictine-Springfield. In spite of the creampuff diet, Southern Illinois is showing some signs of progress. The team's defensive average is down almost 10 points a game, and a team that ranked ninth in the league in field-goal shooting last season was in the top 30 nationally last week.
Newcomer to watch: Wyoming transfer Desmar Jackson has made an immediate impact. He leads the team in scoring with a 14.8 average and is second in rebounding at 6.8. The 6-5 forward has made almost a third of his team's 3-point baskets, leads the Salukis in blocked shots and steals, and is second in assists.
* * *
WICHITA STATE (11-1)
RealTime.com RPI: 14
Valley opener: Sunday vs. Northern Iowa
Marquee victory: Shockers got everyone's attention by going into Virginia Commonwealth and posting a 53-51 win in the season's second game.
One that got away: A chance to be the first Wichita State team to start 10-0 ended in a 69-60 loss at Tennessee.
Key development: Recent injuries to starters Carl Hall (broken hand), Ron Baker (stress fracture in foot) and Evan Wessel (broken pinkie) have forced coach Gregg Marshall to juggle his lineup. Squeaking by Charleston Southern with a revamped rotation is hardly cause for rampant optimism heading into conference play.
Newcomer to watch: Junior-college transfer Cleanthony Early will have to assume an even a greater role with Hall out for a month. Early's scoring (13.1) and rebounding (5.5) averages rank just behind Hall's team-leading averages (13.9, 7.6).
— Steven Pivovar