I had the strangest dream last night. I was living in Omaha and covering the Big Ten and the Big East.
Welcome to Omaha, otherwise known as Milwaukee south and Indianapolis west. Nebraska is a Big Ten state. Now, overnight, Omaha became a Big East town.
Well, it's not official yet, at least not until the ESPN ticker makes it official. On Thursday night, we came closer than ever to a world with Creighton in a brave, new Big East. Three major national outlets reported Creighton's name in the mix for Catholic 7 expansion. ESPN and Sports Illustrated reported that CU is the favorite to be added as a 10th team after Xavier and Butler.
And this could apparently happen next season.
Welcome to Big East country, Wichita State. Technically, it's still Missouri Valley country.
Just call it the Big Valley for now.
What an amazing, unthinkable, unbelievable backdrop to the game of the year.
Check that. Wichita State at Creighton was the game of the year. Now, it's the biggest regular-season Creighton game in my 21 years here in Big East land.
Biggest. Most compelling. Most explosive. Most can't-miss.
I'll couch it because the Bluejays have played to go to the Sweet 16 three times since 1999. But none of those games, not even last year's North Carolina game, had the theatrics or stage like this one.
For starters, you have two hate-your-guts rivals playing for life, liberty and the pursuit of the NCAA tournament.
Now, put the Valley regular-season championship on the table. Winner takes all Saturday. Loser gets none. Thrill of victory, agony of defeat. The stakes are black and white. Boom or bust.
This could be a day of firsts and lasts.
This may be the last home game played by Creighton's Larry Legend, a guy named Doug McDermott. You may have heard of him. Doug could turn pro this spring, he could come back. We won't know today. Take a good, long look. Snap photos. Or wait until next season, when Doug takes on St. John's.
This may be the last Valley game in Omaha, perhaps the last visit by the Shockers, the Jays' chief nemesis.
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And now imagine trying to win the regular-season championship of a conference you may be getting ready to bolt. Nebraska football tried that a few years ago. It didn't work out too well.
Imagine if the Jays win the Valley title Saturday and then go to St. Louis next week, where the buzz will be all about you-know-what. The locals will treat them like they're the Cubs.
That's some pretty boffo hype for a game that didn't need any, and now has a few extra layers.
That's the Realignment World. Its axis spins on fast-forward. But it's a complicated world, too. Is Creighton leaving? When? There's just no way to know.
For me, the reporters involved in the stories have much credibility. There's something going on here, obviously. CU officials said they have not been extended an invite and no formal talks have occurred. But we recall that the Big Ten didn't extend an informal invite to Nebraska until Jim Delany showed up at the press conference to announce it.
The guess here is that Creighton's president, the Rev. Timothy Lannon, has been talking to someone, or several someones, in the Catholic/Big East. The Catholic presidents and Fox Sports types have to know where the prospective schools stand and what they'll do if asked. Nobody ever gets turned down in the Realignment Game.
Let's assume CU said it would jump (and frankly would be crazy not to) if asked. The national reports are confident and consistent in saying Butler and Xavier are in. Two outlets said CU is the favorite to be the 10th, and the other, cbssports.com, said the Big East might stay at nine for now and add three, possibly including CU, later.
What this sounds like is Creighton has support among the seven catholic presidents, though some still need convincing. Or, they're waiting on Notre Dame.
The Irish are scheduled to leave the Big East for the ACC in two years. They were planning on staying in the Big East in 2013-14, as long as the catholic schools were still in.
If the new Catholic Big East begins next year, Notre Dame could leave for the ACC this summer. Or spend the 2013-14 season in the new Big East, for one year.
So Creighton may have to wait for Notre Dame to get out of its parking spot, and play another year in the Valley with its signal light on.
Wouldn't that just be a whole bunch of fun?
Whatever awaits Creighton, it can't possibly be more intense than what awaits Saturday at the CenturyLink Center.
It's no coincidence that the Valley made this the final game of the season. But nobody could have known what it would mean.
Illinois State was supposed to be the chief challenger to the Jays. But as long as Gregg Marshall is coaching tough kids to play even tougher, and bigger, the Shockers are going to be involved in any of the important stuff in this league.
Marshall wouldn't beat Mayor Suttle in an election, but you have to give him his due. The Shockers had massive turnover from the 2012 league champs, and key injuries, and played their way into first place after a thrilling 67-64 victory against CU on Jan. 19.
It's hard to remember the details from that game. That was a month and one conference ago.
The Jays left that game and went into a tailspin. Then it was Wichita's turn. The two have traded pole position in the league, giving it back and forth to the other. And now here they are, tied, ready for a showdown at center court in downtown Omaha.
We've been calling this Creighton team a special bunch all season. The Jays lost the right to that title in the last month, but they can get it back today. This is a legacy game. A banner game. You want to put the season on a Sweet 16 appearance? Knock yourself out. But Sweet 16s, along with Valley tourney titles, are about getting hot, getting breaks, getting matchups.
Saturday's pelt is about toughness, endurance, digging deep for two months. It's about the right to be called a champion. There's no greater measure of toughness in the Valley than Marshall's Shox, the Baltimore Ravens of the MVC.
“Twenty-four hours from now we're going to know a lot about our team,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said Friday before practice.
This would be the eighth Valley championship for Creighton. It might also be the last. It's mind blowing to think about, for those who dare.
“It's crazy to think the next two years, the teams and the matchups,” said senior Grant Gibbs. “It's hard to imagine what might happen.”
That's for later. For today, the Valley championship still goes through Milwaukee south.
And that's no East Coast bias.
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