January 22, 2008 12:25 pm ET by Kyle Whelliston
Drake at Creighton (Missouri Valley)
Qwest Center - Omaha, NE
8:05 PM EST
You've beaten your fellow league-undefeateds and now sit alone at the top of Hoops Nation's toughest and deepest conference. You've won 15 games in a row, are on all sorts of national watch-lists, and are No. 14 in the RPI (not to mention No. 1 in our State Of The Other 22 rankings). Congratulations! Your prize is a trip to Omaha, where you'll get yelled at by over 15,000 hostile fans. Tonight Drake (16-1, 7-0) faces perhaps its tightest gauntlet yet, a roadie at Creighton. Drake's only won there twice in the past 15 years, most recently a 75-73 escape in February of 2002. The Bluejays have only lost once at home this year (against Illinois State, the fans are still a bit sore), and have only lost 15 games there this century... against 115 wins.
But this is a bit of a different Drake team than in recent years, one that believes that anything is possible, that no mountain is too high. No Valley offense clicks as well, with a solid 1.09 points per possession (that's 28th best in the country), and the defense is pretty good too -- .87 points allowed per opponent possession, and a stifling 26 percent of those end in turnovers, which is third-best in all the land. If there's a hole in the armor, the undersized Bulldogs do allow a few short-range shots. 45.7 percent, in fact.
And that's where Creighton comes in. You've probably heard of fleet, mouthguard-flashing P'Allen Stinnett by now, but the hidden strength of this team is its rotation of developing big men (a Dana Altman staple), anchored by veteran force Dane Watts, a 6-8 senior who's had plenty of championship experience. But here comes Chad Millard, Kenny Lawson and Kenton Walker, raw beef that has already made big impacts in Creighton's recent five-game win streak. And since Altman likes to show his entire contents of his bench early this year, Drake will likely get a faceful of each one. It'll be a severe test of the Bulldogs' own depth.
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