The mid-major many once labeled the most likely to make a deep run this March now appears to be slip-sliding toward the NCAA tournament bubble.
Creighton, a gaudy 17-1 less than a month ago, lost for the fifth time in its last eight games Wednesday night, falling 61-54 at surging Northern Iowa. The Bluejays (20-6, 9-5) have now fallen into a tie for second place in the Missouri Valley Conference with Indiana State, a game behind first-place Wichita State.
Although Creighton would still make the NCAA tournament if the season ended today, the Bluejays don't have the margin for error they did only a few weeks ago. Not only are they on pace to possibly end up in the eight-nine seed range for a second straight season, they may need at least three wins in their final five games to feel entirely confident about making the field of 68 at all.
Creighton's remaining schedule isn't all that easy either, especially for a team that has also lost at Drake and at home against previously struggling Illinois State recently. Among the Bluejays' five remaining games are visits to Evansville and Bradley, a BracketBusters game at Saint Mary's and a home game against first-place Wichita State.
For Creighton to survive that stretch and return to the NCAA tournament, the Bluejays need to get their vaunted offense back on track.
A Creighton team typically among the most efficient and most deadly from the perimeter in the nation shot a modest 43.8 percent from the field against Northern Iowa, sank only 7 of 23 3-point attempts and made just 5 of 14 free throws. Adding to their woes, the Bluejays also committed 17 turnovers, which helped ensure that a fairly decent effort on defense went to waste.
The poor offensive night could be written off as an anomaly except that this isn't the first time the Bluejays have struggled uncharacteristically lately.
They shot 41.3 percent from the field and got only eight points from Doug McDermott in a blowout loss at Indiana State on Feb. 6. And they shot 37.9 percent from the field and sank only 4 of 23 3-pointers three days later in Saturday's home loss against Illinois State.
Creighton's defense has improved since last season, but the Bluejays aren't the type of lockdown team that can endure many off shooting nights.
They need McDermott to play up to his national player of the year candidate reputation, Gregory Echenique to demand the ball in the post and the 3-point shooters to get hot again. Otherwise a once-promising season could go to waste.