ST. LOUIS — Creighton begins a quest Friday for a 12th Missouri Valley tournament championship that also could be the Bluejays' last.
The school is under consideration to join a new league being formed by seven universities that broke away from the Big East. Creighton's fan base has been caught up in the swirling speculation for months, but its team hardly has paid any attention to rumors, reports and other matters.
Coach Greg McDermott said he knows little about where his school is positioned in regard to a possible move to a new conference. Nor does he want to at this point. “Those decisions are going to be made by those several pay grades above me,'' said McDermott, temporarily forgetting he's the university's highest-paid employee.
“Myself, my staff and my team are not on the need-to-know list,'' McDermott added. “We know nothing. There are people that have known me for a long time that would agree with that. We haven't been let in on that.''
Decisions made in board rooms in the coming days or weeks will shape Creighton's long-term future, but what happens on the basketball court at the Scottrade Center over the next three days could have an important impact on its present.
Winning 24 games and claiming the Valley's regular-season championship have left the Bluejays feeling secure that they have a spot in the NCAA tournament later this month.
Winning three games in the tournament, starting Friday with a quarterfinal matchup against Drake, might bump Creighton up a line, or even two, when the NCAA selection committee meets to seed the tournament. Get upset Friday, and the seeding number could take another dip.
After Creighton started 17-1, the Bluejays were being projected as high as a third or fourth seed. They hit a rough patch, losing six of 11 games, and they're now being projected in the seven through 10 range.
All of that matters little to the players, who want to add a tournament title to the regular-season championship they walked away with last Saturday with a victory over Wichita State.
“We have had some ups and downs,'' Creighton center Gregory Echenique said, “but I think we're where we want to be. Hopefully we can do something special this weekend.''
The assignment starts at noon Friday against a Drake team that eliminated Bradley 81-66 in Thursday's first play-in game. The Bulldogs (15-16) split the regular-season series against Creighton, losing by 30 points in Omaha in early January and then shocking the Bluejays 74-69 two weeks later.
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Creighton also began its run to a tournament title last year against the Bulldogs, who led early in the second half before the Bluejays used a decisive 15-4 run to pull out a 68-61 win.
“The turnaround is going to be short, but I thought we got our feet wet tonight,'' Drake coach Mark Phelps said after the win over Bradley. “It's a challenge playing them whether you have a little rest or a lot of rest. They're a terrific team, and we'll have to be very good to have a chance against them.''
Creighton's biggest challenge is building on its previous two games — a road victory over Bradley and Saturday's championship-clinching home win over Wichita State.
Creighton All-American Doug McDermott scored 73 points in the two wins, pushing his career total to 2,106 points. He needs five points to pass Bob Harstad (2,110) and 11 to overtake Rodney Buford (2,116), the last two players ahead of him on the Bluejays' career scoring chart.
It took Buford and Harstad four seasons to amass their point totals. McDermott has notched his in 105 games over three seasons.
The scoring record “would be cool,'' Doug McDermott said. “But it all comes down to winning and how good my team has been and how successfully we've handled things.
“That means much more to me. Certainly, it is cool to see my name with some of the great players that have played at Creighton, but winning would mean that much more to me.''
Creighton's victory total over the past two seasons (53) is the most in a two-season span in school history. The Bluejays want to add three wins in the next three days before perhaps bidding goodbye to the Valley.
“We're looking forward to hopefully what will be a great three days here,'' Greg McDermott said.
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