The Creighton Bluejays come into today’s game against the North Carolina Tar Heels as one of the few mid-majors left. VCU was knocked out by Indiana last night, Murray State fell to Marquette, and Gonzaga was overpowered by Ohio State. The only mid-majors left in the tournament are the Jays, St. Louis, Ohio, Lehigh, and Norfolk State. March may not be so mad this year.
That being said, the Bluejays are the best mid-major team left, much better than their eighth seed indicates. Creighton brings in one of the most efficient offenses in the country, led by sophomore Doug McDermott who averages 23.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game. Ironically, he is a high school teammate of Harrison Barnes, the star Tar Heels forward. They were teammates at Ames High School in Iowa, where they were 53-0 with 2 state titles in last two years the duo played together.
Creighton’s starting point guard Antoine Young struggled against a more physical Alabama opponent in round two, but expect a bounce back game for him. Young averages 12 points and 4.5 assists per game, but scored only 2 points on 1 of 5 shooting to go along with 5 assists versus 2 turnovers. The Jays also get a solid contribution from Grant Gibbs, whose hustle plays kept the Jays in the lead at the end of the game. At 6’4″, Gibbs is not the tallest guy on the floor, but that did not stop him from scoring 10, pulling down 6 rebounds, and having 4 assists; in my opinion, he was the player of the game for the Jays.
To team with McDermott, the Jays also have Gregory Echenique, a 6’9″ center that also plays for the Venezuelan national team. Averaging 12 points and 8 rebounds, he may be the second most important player in the game today. He will need to stop UNC forward Tyler Zeller and help guards when the Heels penetrate the lane.
The game could largely be decided before it begins, if John Henson for North Carolina can go. The 6’10″ forward, if playing, will matchup against McDermott. However, McDermott won’t phased by the taller Henson; he leads the country in shooting at 50.7%, including an amazing 45% from behind the arc.
Creighton struggled against the Crimson Tide, largely because the Tide like to play at a much slower pace than the Jays do. However, Creighton should be able to run up and down the floor all day with the Heels. Creighton’s offensive efficiency comes from shooting percentage (first in the country at 51%), assists (second in the country at 18 per game), and points (seventh in the country at 80 per game).
If the Jays are going to lose this game, it will not be by lack of scoring, but because of defense, as they are rated in the lower half of teams in the country. Offensively, expect Creighton to match North Carolina the entire way. The Jays shoot the three well, which will extend the perimeter defense for the Heels. McDermott loves to run the back screen in the post when the ball is in the opposite corner, so expect a few easy underneath buckets for the sophomore.
The Jays should also be able to limit transition points by North Carolina, as they take care of the basketball. North Carolina will certainly have a height advantage, but how much they take advantage of it is yet to be seen. Creighton’s always had the teams to match up in the NCAA tournament, but have not been able to get it done, this being their first win since Ben Taylor led them to an upset over Florida in double overtime in 2002.
If the Jays offensively keep posting numbers like they have, and play defense against North Carolina like they did late in the game against Alabama, don’t be surprised if they come out on top. It could be the best game on a Sunday full of Madness, be sure to keep your eyes on this game.
Follow Paul Troupe on Twitter @gamin4HIM