It’s going to happen.
Last season, it was Villanova. In 2004 it was Georgia Tech. Those are extreme examples from the March Madness era, but every season a few teams overcome bland pre-preseason predictions and make the post-season party, occasionally making serious noise there.
This is my attempt to discover those teams before their seasons begin. Players and fans of the two teams below surely have a warm fuzzy going into the season, but nary a media member or coach voted for them in the respective polls.
Creighton has a recent seven-year run that takes a back seat only to Gonzaga among high-mid-majors.
Season Record NCAA Seed 2005 23-11 9 2004 20-9 - 2003 29-5 6 2002 23-9 12 2001 24-8 10 2000 23-10 10 1999 22-9 10
But the fuss over the Jays is a tiny fraction of the ‘Zags because Creighton has only two tourney wins in those six appearances. With their year-to-year consistency, it’s surprising that they aren’t getting much attention nationally going into ‘05-‘06. There’s no deadlier guard combo in the nation from long range than Nate Funk and Johnny Mathies (a combined 110-of-243 on threes, 45.3%). Oh yeah, Jimmy Motz patrols one of the wings and checks in at 54 for 111 (48.6%) from behind the arc. The only other team in the nation with a comparable triple threat from long range last season was Alabama.
Creighton is weak on the frontline and they don’t rebound well. But it doesn’t matter too much on the offensive end, where their shooting and ball security propelled them to 19th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency last season. They play at such a slow pace (280th nationally) that their offense is underappreciated. With the key components returning, their efficiency should only get better.
Much of the MVC love is going to Northern Iowa right now. If Creighton can get a little better defensively (86th in adjusted efficiency), they’ll be the ones getting the love deep into March.
Xavier brings everybody back from a team that went 17-12 in Sean Miller’s first season. The big question mark is point guard Dedrick Finn. His game took a step back in 2005. His eFG% dropped to 42.9% from 52.7% in 2004 with only a slight increase in offensive workload.
Was it because of the losses of Romain Sato and Anthony Myles? Perhaps, but the ‘05 (and ‘06) frontcourt of Justin Cage, Justin Doellman and Brian Thornton is not that far off from the ‘04 version. And don’t forget about Brandon Cole, who was injured last season but posted an OR%/DR% of 13.5/23.0 for the ‘04 team that scared Duke in the Elite Eight. If Finn supplies what he did for that team, the ‘06 Muskies also will be dangerous.
Line o’ the night
FG 3pt FT Reb Min M-A M-A M-A O-T A F S TO BLK Pts Eric Williams 25 10-12 0-0 2-5 3-9 0 3 0 2 2 22 Result: Win. Wake Forest 78, Mississippi Valley St. 64
(Hey, it’s been three days and I’m still sticking with this thing! )
Come March, somebody from Duke is going to be ACC player of the year. But don’t be surprised if a legitimate case can be made for Eric Williams, Wake’s 6-9 power forward. I wouldn’t expect him to exceed his phenomenal 63% mark from the field last season, but he’s off to a good start, admittedly against less-than-stellar competition.