Creighton was stuck in the middle of another losing streak last month, yet the Bluejays were still thinking about the NCAA tournament.
They couldn’t let go of the dream.
Junior Davion Mintz sat along the sideline in CU’s practice facility two days after he missed the game-tying 3-pointer in an overtime loss to Xavier. The Jays went on to lose their next game, extending the skid to four. CU lost four in a row in January, too.
But Mintz wasn’t sulking. He was ready for a turnaround — in fact, he expected it. And that’s how his teammates felt, too.
“The (NCAA) tournament. That’s in the back of everybody’s head,” Mintz said Feb. 15, when his team had fallen to 13-12. “Once it’s in your head, it’s kind of hard to let go. We’ve been in the past two years.
“It’s raining right now, but we hope the sun will come out soon. That’s what we’re working for.”
It seems like the sun’s starting to peek through the clouds now.
Creighton has won five straight games. It’s playing its best basketball of the season at the right time, showing the improvement its coaches insisted would be inevitable for a young group. The Bluejays are healthier and more confident.
And all of a sudden, CU is back on the NCAA tournament bubble. Those idealistic musings of Mintz and his teammates four weeks ago seem almost prophetic.
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“It was a great finish to the season,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said.
But there’s still work to do with Selection Sunday less than a week away.
The Jays (18-13) were ranked 54th in the NET — the selection committee’s primary sorting metric — Sunday. They don’t have any bad losses and their strength of schedule ranks 13th. But they’ve still lost 13 games — and only two of their 18 wins have come against NCAA tournament-caliber teams.
BracketMatrix.com, a website that averages tournament projections from 75 pundits, listed CU as one of the first four teams out of the field Sunday. Teams like St. John’s, Ohio State, Florida, TCU, NC State, Arizona State, Clemson and Temple are predicted to make it — sitting just ahead of the Jays.
“You don’t know what’s going to end up NCAA tournament-wise,” McDermott said last week. “There’s so many things that have to happen that are beyond our control. But all we can do is control what we can do.”
Bottom line, CU could use more wins. And the Big East tournament could be a rèsumè booster.
Two victories could be enough. Three wins would clinch a title and an automatic NCAA berth.
It begins Thursday, when No. 5 seed Creighton plays No. 4 seed Xavier (17-14).
CU will just be trying to find a way to win and advance. That has been the mentality lately.
Even after sophomore Mitch Ballock set a school record with 11 3-pointers Saturday, he was focused on the team’s goals. The Bluejays were in must-win mode heading into that game.
Once CU had the 91-78 win wrapped up, the bench guys were joking around with Ballock. He fell a point shy of 40 — but he couldn’t help thinking about something else.
“I looked up at the scoreboard and saw I had 39, but honestly, I don’t really care about all that,” Ballock said. “I just want to win games. I want to win the Big East tournament, win a (NCAA) tournament game, make it to the Sweet 16. I don’t really care about (anything else).”