Creighton basketball’s postseason continues; Jays play Loyola-Chicago in NIT’s first round

Creighton basketball’s postseason continues; Jays play Loyola-Chicago in NIT’s first round
Davion Mintz drives against Xavier's Kyle Castlin's defense during the second half. THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

Creighton fell short of its NCAA tournament goal, but the Bluejays will try to refocus quickly for an NIT opener against one of their renowned alums while a possible rematch with a rival looms in a later round.

It was announced Sunday that CU will host Loyola-Chicago in the NIT’s first round at the CHI Health Center. The Ramblers are coached by former Creighton player Porter Moser, who helped lead Loyola on a Final Four run last year.

The Jays (18-14), who are a No. 2 seed in the 32-team field, could play No. 4 seed Nebraska in the quarterfinals if both squads win twice. CU would have to defeat Loyola, then beat either Memphis or San Diego.

“Well obviously, we’re disappointed not to be in the NCAA tournament — that was our ultimate goal,” Creighton coach Greg McDermott said in a video statement recorded Sunday night. “Having said that, our season’s going to continue. We look forward to playing Loyola. … I think it’s going to be fun game against a very talented basketball team.”

McDermott said in his statement that he has a “great deal of respect” for Moser, who played at Creighton from 1986 to 1990. Moser said the same about McDermott in a statement released on Loyola’s website Sunday night, while also indicating that Tuesday’s game will be important for his program.

“(Creighton has) an awesome fan base with a great college basketball atmosphere,” Moser said. “They are playing extremely well right now. This is a terrific opportunity for our guys to compete and advance in a prestigious, national tournament. We are excited to play.”

The Ramblers (20-13) are making back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time since the 1960s. One season removed from a Final Four appearance, they earned a share of the Missouri Valley regular-season crown before losing in the conference tournament — which Bradley won.

Now they’ll head to Omaha for an 8 p.m. tipoff Tuesday.

The NIT selection show took place two hours after the NCAA tournament’s 68-team field was revealed. Creighton had hoped that it might be considered for one of the final NCAA at-large spots, even after its five-game winning streak was snapped in a 63-61 defeat to Xavier Thursday in the Big East tournament quarterfinals.

The Jays’ postseason résumé featured the 16th-toughest schedule and didn’t include any bad losses, but CU failed to pick up enough quality wins. Creighton went 3-10 against the 2019 NCAA tournament field.

CU wasn’t included on the NCAA selection committee’s first four out. UNC Greensboro, Indiana, Alabama and TCU — the four No. 1 seeds in the NIT — were the four that just missed the NCAA cut.

But there apparently wasn’t much of a gap between any of the bubble teams. Bernard Muir, chair of the Division I men’s basketball committee, said deciding on the final NCAA berths was the most difficult part of the process.

“Just those last teams in, with very few spots left,” Muir said on CBS. “There were many teams — it’s such a fine line — that looked like others.”

Muir indicated that while strength of schedule was important, the 10 panel members tried to ask this question about the teams they evaluated: “What did they do with those opportunities?”

The Jays missed many of theirs. Now they’re NIT bound.

And it could turn out to be a useful experience for Creighton’s young core.

Nine of the 20 teams that earned 2018 NIT at-large berths transformed themselves into NCAA teams this season — most notably, much-improved squads at LSU, Mississippi State and Marquette.

Creighton is one of five Big East teams in this year’s NIT. Butler, Georgetown, Xavier and Providence all received bids, as well.

CU is 7-11 all time in the NIT. Its last appearance came in 2016, when the Jays advanced to the quarterfinals before losing at BYU.

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