Since falling to Georgetown in the Big East Tournament finals, the Bluejays (22-8) bounced back with NCAA Tournament wins over UC-Santa Barbara and Ohio. They are the last remaining Big East team in the NCAA Tournament.
As for the undefeated Bulldogs (28-0), they’ve won comfortably in first weekend games against Norfolk State and Oklahoma.
Here’s a look at their Sweet 16 matchup.
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According to Oddsshark.com, Gonzaga is a 13.5-point favorite to win.
KenPom lists the Bulldogs as a 86 percent favorite to win and predicts a final score of 86-74.
Creighton leads the all-time series, 6-4. However, the Bulldogs won the previous meeting between both teams, a 103-92 shootout in Omaha on Dec. 1, 2018.
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Creighton’s quest for an elusive Elite Eight
This is Greg McDermott’s first-ever Sweet 16 and the program’s first since 1974, but he hopes to go even further. Creighton has been in the Elite Eight once before, back in 1941, but that was when the NCAA Tournament only had eight teams in the field and they even played third-place games.
It’s been a long 70 years, unless you feel that Elite Eight appearance doesn’t count given the limited tournament field.
The Bluejays have a tough obstacle in front of them in the No. 1 overall team in college basketball. The Bluejays might try to fight fire with fire, with a balanced attack that features five players that average double-digit points, a unit led by Marcus Zegarowski but also features Denzel Mahoney, Damien Jefferson, Christian Bishop, and Mitch Ballock.
After squeezing by UC-Santa Barbara, Creighton looked more like itself against Ohio and reminded everyone how dangerous it can be when different players are contributing offensively.
While McDermott’s Bluejays have typically been offensively minded, this year is actually one of his best defensive teams. According to KenPom, Creighton is ranked 32nd in the country for defensive efficiency. The Bluejays have held opponents to just a 31.5% clip from long range and rank among the top 40 in defending inside the arc.
On paper, it’s Creighton’s best defensive team under McDermott, but it’ll be tested like no other against Gonzaga. McDermott feels that having four players that played in that 2018 game is a plus, but how much of that familiarity with Gonzaga’s style really help? Does Creighton try to go into a fast-paced shootout, or step out of its comfort zone and find another way to win?
The untouchable Bulldogs
It’s not easy to go undefeated, especially this late in the season. Although it was a shortened year, this year’s Gonzaga Bulldogs are on the hunt to go all the way and capture their first-ever national championship.
Statistically and analytically this is Mark Few’s best team, boasting the most efficient offense and a top 10 defense according to KenPom.
What’s not to love about this squad? The Bulldogs play a fast-paced game and are far from reckless. They don’t turn the ball over much, and they can score in a variety of ways. They have the best effective field goal percentage in college basketball at 61.0% and have the top two-point shooting percentage, converting on 63.6% of takes inside the arc.
Only seven teams have enjoyed a perfect season, with the last being the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers. Gonzaga hopes to join the exclusive club and are favored to do so, barring any major upsets.
Pick your poison
It’s no secret that Gonzaga is loaded with talent. Senior Corey Kispert and freshman phenom Jalen Suggs are projected by many to be top 10 picks in the 2021 NBA Draft. Redshirt junior guard Joel Ajayi has also been in the draft conversation as a late first or second round pick. Drew Timme has appeared in a couple of mock drafts as a late second round pick.
The Bulldogs use a short seven-man rotation, but mostly rely on their starters. It feels like any combination of their top four players can go off on any night, but Corey Kispert leads the way with a team-high 19.2 points per game. Kispert is a complete scorer and a dangerous shooter from beyond the arc. He’s shooting 54.5% overall and a team-best 45.8% from deep.
Timme, a sophomore 6-foot-10 big man, is a bruiser down low. He’s an old-school back-to-basket interior scorer, but he’s also the third-most efficient scorer in the country, shooting 65.5% and averaging 18.8 points and 7.3 rebounds. Creighton doesn’t have much dependable size to combat him.
As for Suggs, he’s a tough, athletic guard with a great feel for the game and solid court vision. He’s averaging 14.1 points, 5.3 boards, 4.3 assists, and 2.0 steals per game. A former standout quarterback in high school, one that got Division I offers for football, he can also thread the needle on the court.
Last but not least, Ajayi is a solid shooter and is active on the glass. He’s got great rebounding instincts and a high motor for a two-guard. He’s averaging 11.9 points and 7.1 rebounds.
Also keep an eye out for Andrew Nembhard, a 6-foot-5 point guard. He’s mostly a facilitator and a solid defender, but doesn’t provide too much of a scoring punch (not that he needs to with the players around him).
Anton Watson and Aaron Cook finish out the rest of the rotation. Watson is a 6-foot-8 forward that had 17 points in the win over Norfolk State. Cook is a grad transfer who has embraced his role as a secondary lead guard off the bench, after being a prominent player at Southern Illinois.