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Creighton fans in unfamiliar, yet familiar territory

Creighton's history and love affair of conference tournaments goes way back. That's why this season is so different, yet the same.

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

This year is unlike any other for Creighton fans, yet it's still the same. The annual pilgrimage to the conference tournament begins this week for many Creighton fans. The tradition has been etched in many Bluejay families for more than 15 years. This year is different though, as Creighton finds themselves in the play-in round, a place Creighton hasn't found themselves in ages. It's still the same though in that legions of Creighton fans will still make the trip to conference tournament. They'll still send the players off at the team hotel and enjoy an adult beverage before and after the game.

The trip to the conference tournament began for many fans in the early days of Dana Altman's tenure. Altman, now coach of the Oregon Ducks, took over the Creighton program in 1994, a time when they were coming off abysmal seasons under Rick Johnson. The first few seasons under Altman were fairly average. It wasn't until his fourth season that things started to take shape. The team finished second in the Missouri Valley that year, making it to the 1998 NIT. The following season, Altman guided the Bluejays to an MVC Tournament title, a tournament that became known as Arch Madness due to its location in St. Louis, home of the famous Gateway Arch. The automatic bid to the 1999 NCAA Tournament allowed them to defeat Louisville, 62-58, in the first round. An MVC powerhouse was born.

The following season, Creighton fans began flocking to St. Louis, about a six-hour drive from Omaha, Nebraska, if you're really flying down I-29 and I-70. Creighton took home the 2000, 2002, and 2003 MVC Tournament titles with star players like Rodney Buford, Kyle Korver, Ryan Sears and Ben Walker. Altman led them to five consecutive appearances in the NCAA Tournament, which includes the improbable upset of Billy Donovan's Florida Gators in 2002.

The Creighton bandwagon had grown to historic proportions. They were now routinely selling out home games at the old Civic Auditorium and the team was the talk of the city. Fans made sure that every March it was Arch Madness time. Places like Sundecker's, the piano bar and all of downtown St. Louis became a sea of blue. The success of Creighton at the conference tournament continued through the 2000's as the program won the 2005 and 2007 MVC tournaments. Creighton fans and others began referring to the tournament as the Creighton Invitational due to the team's success at the event.

Creighton didn't take home another conference tournament title until 2012, when sophomore Doug McDermott and his father, Greg, took the conference by storm. The following season saw a record number of Creighton fans flock to St. Louis. With the Scottrade Center a sea of blue, Creighton defeated rival Wichita State in the 2013 MVC Tournament final in an epic showdown. The game would be Creighton's last in the conference.

Creighton's win in the 2013 MVC title game courtesy of White and Blue Review

Creighton made the move to the Big East, McDermott stayed for his senior year, and a special season was under way. The Bluejays finished second in the Big East regular season, earning the second seed in the famous Big East conference tournament at Madison Square Garden. Creighton fans continued their tradition, this time making New York City their destination. Thousands of fans clad in blue cheered the Bluejays on to the tournament final, where they fell to a hot Providence team. But the seed was planted in New York and a new tradition was born.

This year, Creighton will have to win four games to win the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, something very foreign to Creighton fans. But that isn't stopping them from making MSG their home. The magic of conference tournaments isn't anything new to them.