The Creighton Bluejays had never been to the Sweet Sixteen before last season and they made it all the way to the Elite Eight.
Head coach Jim Flanery knows “the bar has been raised.”
The Bluejays return three members of their core group in Emma Ronsiek, Lauren Jensen and Morgan Maly, which is why they are ranked No. 21 to start the season. They know that could turn into another Elite Eight appearance or at least a trip to the second round or Sweet Sixteen. Just to be in the mix with the best teams in the country and have the opportunity to build on the best season in program history must feel good.
Flanery said on Halloween that he wishes his team’s exhibition games had been a little tougher, especially considering they face No. 23 South Dakota State right off the bat Monday night.
“We’ve got a big jump up in competition with South Dakota State, especially playing them on the road,” he said. “Really tough place to play and a veteran team coming at us, a team that played a lot of games last year ... won all six games in the NIT. They’ll be a confident group and a well-coached, disciplined team, and they’re always tough-minded.”
It’s nerve-racking to play a game with bracket implications right away and Creighton has high expectations to live up to as the No. 21 team, but Flanery is trying to downplay being ranked.
“I feel like we have a good team, but whether we were in the Top 25 or not in the Top 25, I know we’re gonna have to play well early cuz our non-conference schedule is good. But ... I believe in the experience level, the talent level and the composition and makeup of this team too. I want us to experience some adversity over the next month and I’m confident that when we do we’ll respond in an appropriate manner or in a way that pushes us to become a better team.”
Flanery’s belief in the makeup of his team isn’t misplaced — Jensen of course made the clutch shot to shock No. 2 seed Iowa in the second round of the NCAA Tournament and the team as a whole has the experience of winning three tourney games.
It is because of the Bluejays’ flair that Monday night’s game is a must-watch. The Jackrabbits are an intriguing team as well as they are expected to return to the Big Dance, where they went in 2019 and 2021 before last season’s hiatus. Myah Selland is a must-watch player for South Dakota State — she was the Summit League Player of the Year in 2021.
No. 21 Creighton Bluejays vs. No. 23 South Dakota State Jackrabbits
When: Monday, Nov. 7 at 8 p.m. ET
Where: Frost Arena in Brookings, S.D.
Key to the matchup: Can Creighton keep SDSU’s sharpshooters in check? South Dakota State returns its top four scorers from a year ago and they were all incredibly efficient from long range. Paige Meyer shot 53.4 percent, Selland 46.6 percent, Tori Nelson 41.5 percent and Paiton Burckhard 39.8 percent. The Jackrabbits shot 38.7 percent as a team. The Bluejays weren’t as efficient (36.8 percent), but were more prolific with 334 makes to SDSU’s 305.