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Creighton's basketball players are well aware of the standards by which they are judged.
And judge themselves.
The Bluejays won 27 games last season, the second-highest victory total in school history. They earned a share of the regular-season championship, tying Northern Iowa for the title.
Yet, as he talked to reporters Wednesday at the team's media day, this was junior center Kenny Lawson's assessment of last season: “We had somewhat of a decent year.''
The Bluejays fell short last season of reaching their ultimate goal for the second straight year. They wound up playing in the National Invitation Tournament rather than landing a spot in the NCAA tournament. That marked the second straight season in which they had to settle for a basketball consolation prize.
They don't want it to happen again this season.
“We won a lot of games last year, but we didn't get to the Big Dance,'' senior guard Cavel Witter said. “Don't get me wrong: It's a privilege to get to the NIT. But you always want to shoot for the best tournament, and that's the NCAA.
“We didn't get it. We weren't one of the 65 teams. We had a good season, but we knew we could do more. That absolutely drives this team. We've never been in the NCAA tournament. We want to get there this year and go out with a bang.''
Of the 15 players on Creighton's roster, only Lawson, Casey Harriman and Chad Millard were in the program the last time the Bluejays played in the NCAA tournament in 2007. Lawson and Harriman redshirted as freshmen during the 2006-07 season, while Millard sat out to fulfill NCAA requirements after transferring from Louisville.
Millard played in the 2006 NIT with Louisville, then tacked on NIT appearances with the Bluejays in 2008 and 2009. He, too, wants to finish his career with a trip to the NCAA tournament, in part because he knows that's how success in college basketball is now measured.
“Think about winning 27 games — that's the second-most wins that Creighton has ever had,'' he said. “Winning 27 games is a feat in itself, and it's something we can be proud of.
“But at the end of the day, our goal is to go to the tournament. When you don't, you're going to be disappointed. You wonder if you'd be more satisfied to win, say, 22 games and go to the tournament or win 27 and not go.''
The Bluejays want to have the luxury of deciding the answer to that question next March. The youth that produced untimely mistakes the past two seasons has now matured into the core of the team. Lawson and guard P'Allen Stinnett are preparing for their third seasons as starters. Witter, Millard, Harriman and Kaleb Korver figure to provide Creighton with loads of experience off the bench.
CU returns a third starter, forward Justin Carter, who came on strong the second half of the season. Sophomore Antoine Young, who also made giant strides during the second half, has the inside track in replacing Josh Dotzler at the point. Freshman Andrew Bock also could provide help there, while three other newcomers — freshman Ethan Wragge and junior-college transfers Darryl Ashford and Wayne Runnels — are expected to contribute early.
The Bluejays have a giant void to fill with the departure of Booker Woodfox, the 2009 Missouri Valley Conference player of the year who led the team in scoring as well as being its most dangerous perimeter scoring threat.
Still, coach Dana Altman is counting on the experienced hands to provide direction on the journey that begins with a road game at Dayton on Nov. 14. Before opening the regular season against the Flyers, CU will play host to exhibitions against Missouri Western on Nov. 4 and UNO on Nov. 8.
“We have a lot of guys that have been around,'' Altman said. “This is a veteran ballclub, a solid group that will have a lot of competition at most of the spots. Our experience gives us a pretty good place to start.''
• NOTE: Former Creighton All-American Kyle Korver will be one of three people inducted into the Missouri Valley Hall of Fame next March. Korver will join former Southern Illinois coach Rich Herrin and former Missouri State women's basketball coach Cheryl Burnett as members of the 13th induction class. They will be inducted at a March 5 breakfast in St. Louis that coincides with the men's basketball tournament.
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