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Friday, January 24
Updated: January 31, 6:46 PM ET
Yes, Creighton can be a Cinderella

By Ron Buck

From a team that entered the week ranked No. 9 in the country to one currently 158th in the RPI rankings, the Cinderella Watch hasn't seen this kind of wide-spread confusion since, well, Gonzaga was reaching the Sweet 16 three years in a row and being barred from the Watch.

And you thought picking a Final Four was difficult this season.

Two days before the Super Bowl is no time to be picking Bracket Busters, but here at, we like to keep an eye on those teams that could cause trouble in March. And there are plenty of teams to watch.

But, before we go any further, let's answer the question on everyone's mind: "How in the world can Creighton be considered a Cinderella?"

Answer: "It's all about perception, not numbers."

Yes, the Bluejays are in the top 10 (well, at least for a couple more days after losing to Evansville on Thursday). But who wouldn't call Creighton a Cinderella if it wins a game or two in the NCAA Tournament? Last year, the Jays were one of the tournament's biggest stories in the first week, knocking off Florida in the first round. But, like fellow MVC rival Southern Illinois, the Jays remain a "story" because of the surprises they pull off, not the expectations they live up to in March.

In the simplest of terms: Until a team makes headlines by losing in the first round of the NCAAs, instead of winning, it's considered a Cinderella -- at least in's mind. (Call it the "Gonzaga Rule.")

So, now that Creighton's place on the Watch is clear, let's move on to exactly what the Cinderella Watch is each week. Going forward, will try its best each Friday to identify eight teams to simply pay attention to on the way to Championship Week, and ultimately, Selection Sunday (March 16). In no way are we saying the teams below are "locks" to reach the NCAA Tournament. In the world of low- or mid-major conferences, nothing is guaranteed (Just ask Butler).

For those still new to the Watch, here is how it works: picks eight teams each week leading up to the NCAA Tournament. Teams can move off the Watch for three reasons:

1. Promotion: The team moves from being a Cinderella story to a favorite. Again, call it the "Gonzaga Rule."

2. Demotion: The team plays so poorly its status of making the tourney is in jeopardy. You can't be a Cinderella if you don't go to the dance.

3. The poll: In the spirit of democracy, the lowest vote-getter each week is removed from the Watch, no questions asked.

But be sure to follow along each week, these lists tend to change quite frequently. And, as always, we want your thoughts, compliments or gripes about the Watch. Click here to submit an e-mail. We'll post the best user responses with Cinderella Watch each week.

Here is this week's list of teams we're watching. The RPI rankings and team records are through Jan. 23 games.

   By The Numbers  Marquee Wins  Up Next
Overall: 15-2
Horizon: 6-1
RPI: No. 51
SOS: No. 197
W. Kentucky, 63-60
Saint Louis, 68-46
Sat: at Wis.-G.B.
Jan. 30: at Duke

By now you know the story about how the Bulldogs won 26 games last season, but were left out of the Dance. Well, Butler learned a hard lesson that every mid-major must keep in mind -- don't lose in the first round of your conference tournament, no matter how many times you've won during the regular season. Butler is once again atop the Horizon League, but did lose to a team it may have to beat two more times to assure itself a NCAA bid -- Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Nevertheless, Butler has established a consistent pattern of success and an NCAA résumé that looks strikingly similar to Creighton's at this point of the season.

Waiting To Replace Them ...
Wisconsin-Milwaukee: An at-large bid isn't the question in the Horizon. Who survives the postseason tournament is what matters. The Panthers (14-5) won the showdown Thursday night with Butler, but remain a game back of the Bulldogs because of defeats against Wisconsin-Green Bay and Illinois-Chicago. Speaking of the Flames, Jimmy Collins' club is tied with Butler at 5-1 in conference play after getting that automatic NCAA bid that eluded the Bulldogs last season.

   By The Numbers  Marquee Wins  Up Next
Overall: 13-5
Southern: 3-2
RPI: No. 75
SOS: No. 111
Wyoming, 81-72
Oklahoma St., 66-58
Villanova, 71-69
Jan. 25: at Citadel
Jan. 27: VMI

Let's make this clear: Charleston isn't going to get an at-large bid. It could have been in line to be considered, but after winning the Great Alaska Shootout with three marquee victories in three nights over Wyoming, Oklahoma State and Villanova, the Cougars have lost to five teams that most likely won't see the NCAAs -- including two setbacks already in five Southern Conference games. But we put them on the Watch for what they showed they can do in Alaska and what they should end up doing in the Southern, and that's win the postseason tournament in their hometown.

Waiting To Replace Them ...
UT-Chattanooga: The Mocs (12-5, 4-2) beat Charleston on its own court Jan. 11, but then dropped two consecutive last week to lose their momentum and let the Cougars back into the South Division race.

   By The Numbers  Marquee Wins  Up Next
Overall: 16-2
MVC: 6-1
RPI: No. 48
SOS: No. 201
Notre Dame, 80-75
BYU, 74-64
Sunday: vs. TCU
Jan. 29: at Indiana St.

We've already touched on the Bluejays' season, which is already shaping up to be their best in 60 years. It started with 10 consecutive victories and only a two-point defeat to Xavier before the setback Thursday night at Evansville. Creighton remains on the cusp of breaking through to the mainstream college basketball audience, which didn't recognize Gonzaga for what it was until three consecutive trips to the Sweet 16. But those who watch more than SportsCenter highlights or look at top 25 polls, know Kyle Korver has All-American skills and Dana Altman is among the best sideline minds in the country. With a combo like that, it's clear that Creighton can not only be an NCAA team, but this year's biggest mid-major surprise come March.

Waiting To Replace Them ...
Southern Illinois: The Salukis simply play in the wrong conference. Otherwise, we'd have 'em on this list to start 2003. SIU was consistently on last year's Watch and reached the Sweet 16 under Bruce Webber. This year, the Salukis (11-4, 6-1) could get another at-large bid if not the automatic spot. Don't be surprised if both Creighton and Southern Illinois occupy spots on the Watch down the road.

   By The Numbers  Marquee Wins  Up Next
Overall: 14-3
WAC: 7-1
RPI: No. 34
SOS: No. 82
Tulsa, 74-65
Hawaii, 56-55
Jan. 25: S.J. State
Feb.1: at Nevada

We here at group the WAC among our major conferences, but it's a stretch at times to compare Fresno State with those programs that share "State" in the ACC, Big 12 or Big Ten. And if the Bulldogs get into the dance, and were to knock off a N.C. State, Michigan State or Oklahoma State, it would certainly be considered a upset ... mild or not. So, there's the reasoning for including Fresno State on the Watch. As for the Bulldogs' credentials? You try to explain how FSU has won seven of eight in conference play after losing its top two scorers (Melvin Ely and Chris Jefferies) and legendary coach (Jerry Tarkanian). But that's what the Bulldogs have done. This is not a top 25 team, yet, simply a very good team that could become a great story in March.

Waiting To Replace Them ...
Hawaii or Tulsa: The preseason favorites to battle for WAC supremacy are both lurking. And both have already lost to Fresno State, although Hawaii (10-4, 4-3) did beat FSU on the island. Tulsa (11-4, 4-2) hasn't been quite same since losing to Kansas, but could emerge as a team to watch as WAC play continues. But, unlike last season, getting two bids out of the WAC will be tough.

   By The Numbers  Marquee Wins  Up Next
Overall: 12-2
MAC: 5-1
RPI: No. 53
SOS: No. 177
at Rhode Island, 82-63 Jan. 25: at Toledo
Jan. 29: C. Michigan

Kent might not be as good as last year, but it's still plenty good to make the Watch. What 4, 5 or 6 seeded team would want to see "Kent State" paired up with it in the bracket after what the Golden Flashes accomplished last year ... even if Mr. Heath and Mr. Huffman have left town. Antonio Gates is still around to cause havoc on a nightly basis, and Gates is a guy who can carry a team come March. Kent won't go unbeaten in the MAC, it might not be Elite, but it's certainly a Cinderella we loved watching last season and wouldn't mind seeing in the field of 65 again this year.

Waiting To Replace Them ...
MAC Attack: Central Michigan, Marshall, Miami, Ohio, Bowling Green ... once again, the conference is beating each other up. Bowling Green already has a victory over Kent -- on the Golden Flashes' court, no less -- and even a team like Northern Illinois is being a pest to established MAC contenders. One of these years, the MAC will get two bids. But it doesn't look like this year.

   By The Numbers  Marquee Wins  Up Next
Overall: 14-3
MAAC: 8-1
RPI: No. 83
SOS: No. 232
St. John's, 72-65 Jan. 27: at Seton Hall
Jan. 31: at Niagara

Looking for the best team in New York? We'll take Manhattan. And yes, that means the Jaspers could give Syracuse a game -- on a neutral court, of course. Manhattan has reeled off 10 straight wins, including consecutive victories over Hofstra, St. John's, Iona, Marist, Siena and Niagara in 17 days. Not too shabby, huh? Outside the state, the Jaspers haven't been too bad, either. The class of the MAAC has one problem: The conference's No. 1 seed doesn't always fare all that well in postseason tournament. As the top seed a year ago, Manhattan lost to Fairfield in the quarterfinals. Just something to file away for later. As for now, keep an eye on Luis Flores (23.6 ppg), who torched Fairfield on Thursday night for 44 points to move the Jaspers into sole possession of first place.

Waiting To Replace Them ...
Fairfield: While the Stags (11-6, 7-1) failed to protect their home court, just the idea of Fairfield being 7-0 in the MAAC heading into its loss to Manhattan, was enough to get them consideration for the Watch. Remember, Fairfield knocked off Manhattan last year in the conference tournament and if it continues its recent level of play, could face the Jaspers with plenty on the line come March. Fairfield's next victory will also equal its win total of a year ago and we just like saying "Ajou," "Deng" and "Gai" -- as in the Stags' cousins, Ajou Deng and Deng Gai.

   By The Numbers  Marquee Wins  Up Next
Overall: 12-5
Mid-Con: 3-1
RPI: No. 158
SOS: No. 281
Arkansas, 76-64
SMU, 75-62
Jan. 25: UMKC
Jan. 30: at Valparaiso

Oral Roberts was thrilled about a month ago when it received a vote in the AP Top 25. Imagine how excited the Golden Eagles will be when they see their name on the Cinderella Watch. Seriously, ORU is enjoying a banner season under Scott Sutton and is a legit threat to end Valparaiso's reign in the Mid-Con. Sure, their computer numbers aren't great and they don't figure to get any better. But on the court, Oral Roberts gave Tulsa and Minnesota fits, while beating Arkansas and SMU. And isn't that what a potential Cinderella is all about?

Waiting To Replace Them ...
Utah State: The safe pick would have been the Aggies, or a host of other teams that appear on's Mid-Major Top 10. But we like to live on the edge here at Still, it wouldn't be a shock to see Utah State on the Watch in weeks to come.

   By The Numbers  Marquee Wins  Up Next
Overall: 13-5
Big Sky: 3-0
RPI: No. 68
SOS: No. 149
BYU, 75-69 Jan. 25: at Sac. State
Jan. 30: Portland St.

If "Weber State" sounds familiar, but you can't put a face to this Ogden, Utah, school. Think: "Harold Arceneaux" and 1999 when the Wildcats upset North Carolina in the first round before losing to Florida in overtime of the second round. So, while BYU, Utah and even Utah State might get more publicity than the Wildcats, don't be surprised if Weber State is dancing with all three come March. After slipping a bid last year, Weber State is once in the mix for the single bid out of the Big Sky.

Waiting To Replace Them ...
Eastern Washington: The Eagles are a half-game ahead of the Wildcats and could have easily made the Watch this week. The two teams square off Feb. 1, so if both continue to win, the winner gets this spot the following Friday.

Ron Buck is the men's college basketball editor at

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