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Arena: Omaha Civic Auditorium
School Name: Creighton University
Has Creighton's basketball program reached the point where making the NCAA Tournament no longer is enough for the Blue-jays? Most mid-major programs would love to be able to claim Creighton's run of success. The Bluejays have made it to the postseason in each of the past eight years, are one of only 12 Division I schools to post at least 20 wins in each of the past seven seasons, and are one of only eight programs to win at least 10 league games for at least nine consecutive seasons.
But after Creighton's sixth NCAA Tournament appearance in seven seasons ended last March with its fourth first-round loss, the Bluejays made it clear that they expect more out of themselves this season. It's time, Creighton guards Johnny Mathies and Nate Funk said, for the Bluejays to establish themselves as a team that can make it deeper into the Tournament. "We need to be tough enough to take the next step," Mathies says. "We got to the first round, but I want to go further next year. How last season ended will provide plenty of motivation."
Says Funk: "Going one and done is tough, but it's going to drive us to get better in the offseason. We want to make a better run next year."
Funk and Mathies figure to be two key components in the Bluejays' bid to take the program to the level of a Gonzaga, another mid-major power capable of making it to the Sweet 16 and beyond. Funk, runner-up for the MVC Player of the Year award last season, is Creighton's leading returning scorer and rebounder. Mathies was a major contributor to the late-season surge that carried the Bluejays to the Valley Tournament title and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
Two other starters — forward Dane Watts and forward-center Anthony Tolliver — also return, as do key reserves Jeffrey Day, Jimmy Motz and Pierce Hibma. Two players forced to take medical redshirts last season — Nick Porter and Steve Smith — are healthy and expect to add to die Bluejays" depdi. So do newcomers Josh Dotzler, Brice Nengsu, Dominic Bishop and Manourou Gakou.
Dotzler and Bishop expect to figure into the competition to replace point guard Tyler McKinney. Dotzler, a freshman who fits the classic point guard mold, was impressive in summer workouts, while Bishop, who led Brown Mackie to a Division II junior college national tide, showed he could provide a scoring punch in addition to being a playmaker.
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