Greg McDermott would like to think Saturday's conference championship-clinching victory against Wichita State was enough to put his Creighton team in the NCAA tournament.
Gregg Marshall would like to think that even though his Shockers failed to get the job done against the Bluejays that it won't keep them out of the NCAA field.
McDermott and Marshall have been doing this college basketball thing long enough to know one thing for certain.
“There's only one guaranteed way to get into the NCAA tournament, and that's to win in St. Louis,” McDermott said. “At Northern Iowa, we won it once and we were an at-large twice. I enjoyed the week in between a lot more when we won than the week when we were the at-large.
“You sit and watch every score and every conference tournament final and hope things fall your way.”
Creighton and Wichita State head to St. Louis this week for the Missouri Valley Conference tournament. The Bluejays are the No. 1 seed and open their quest for a second straight automatic trip to the NCAA tournament Friday at noon against the winner of Thursday night's play-in game between Bradley and Drake.
Wichita State is the No. 2 seed and plays Friday at 6 p.m. against Thursday's winner between Southern Illinois and Missouri State.
The Bluejays and Shockers start the tournament with similar résumés. Both are 24-7 overall, with Creighton's RPI 37th in the Collegiate Basketball News that Valley officials think best duplicates the NCAA formula.
Wichita State's RPI is 40, and the teams have similar nonconference strengths of schedule: Creighton is 46th and the Shockers 60th. The Bluejays are 4-3 against top-50 RPI teams and 8-5 against teams ranked in the top 100. Wichita State is 3-1 against top-50 teams and 8-4 against top-100 teams. Both are 7-5 in true road games.
The major difference is that Creighton owns the regular-season championship after defeating the Shockers 91-79 Saturday. Afterward, McDermott acknowledged there is not a lot of difference in the teams' worthiness to land in the NCAA field of 68.
“I'd like to think that the two teams that played out there were NCAA tournament teams,” McDermott said. “I think anyone that watched that game would probably agree. I think we both deserve to be in the NCAA tournament.”
Marshall won't argue with that, though he knows what happens at Arch Madness could have a huge impact when Selection Sunday rolls around. What if the Shockers go to St. Louis and lose Friday? What if a team other than Creighton or Wichita State claims the automatic berth?
Marshall said that he thought after his team posted a BracketBusters victory against Detroit on Feb. 23 that the Shockers were in pretty good shape in terms of their at-large résumé.
Wichita State then lost a one-possession battle with Evansville to set up Saturday's winner-take-all showdown for the regular-season title with the Bluejays.
Marshall said the Shockers' effort Saturday was good enough to win a lot of games. But it wasn't enough to keep up with Creighton, which shot 70.2 percent from the field and had Doug McDermott turn in a performance for the ages.
The result is that Wichita State carts a two-game skid that leaves some uneasy feelings in the pits of the Shockers' stomachs.
“I don't want to take chances,” Marshall said. “I want to win some games. If we lose in the first round of the tournament, if we lose three in a row, who knows? I don't want to get there.
“I want to win this next game. Then I'll want to win the next one to get to the final, and then see where we go. That's the thought process.”
Wichita State won the regular-season championship last season but lost in the tournament semifinals to Illinois State. The Shockers wound up receiving an at-large berth in the NCAA field.
The Bluejays went to St. Louis last season with a solid at-large résumé, then removed any doubt by winning the tournament.
“We have to reverse the roles,” Marshall said. “It doesn't mean we have to win the tournament, I hope, but we have to win some games to dispel any doubt about our résumé.”
That's Creighton's goal, too. The Bluejays celebrated their first outright regular-season title since 2001 Saturday but they know it will be time to get back to business when they return to practice Tuesday.
“We can't dwell on this for too long,” said Doug McDermott, who scored 41 points against the Shockers. “We have St. Louis coming up and hopefully some more basketball to be played after that.”
Creighton guaranteed its trip to the NCAA tournament last March by stringing together three solid performances in St. Louis.
“We're going to have the same mindset we had last year,” forward Ethan Wragge said. “Let's go to St. Louis and take care of it and not have to worry about an at-large. Let's go down there and win three games in three days and get our roll on.”
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