(7) Creighton vs. (10) Cincinnati
(7) Creighton Bluejays
Representing the Missouri Valley Conference for the second straight year is the Bluejays (27-7, 13-5), who enter the tournament riding a six-game winning streak. They feature one of the best players in the country in Doug McDermott. McDermott is the focal point of every opposing defense, yet he still puts up 23 points a night in a very efficient manner. He simply takes what is given to him, shooting a dazzling 56 percent from the field and 49 percent from beyond the arc. He has the talent to put this Bluejays team on his back and carry them deep into the tournament, that’s how good he is. However, he’s likely going to need some help. He’s surrounded by a solid group of role players. Gregory Echenique is a load inside and Grant Gibbs is an efficient player himself who dishes out a team high 5.9 assists a game. As a team the Bluejays play a very fundamentally sound brand of defense, rarely gambling for steals or trying to block shots. When the Bluejays are on offensively, which they typically are, they’re as difficult of a team to defend in the nation. The three ball is a big part of their attack as 26.4 of the 75 points a game they average comes from distance. The Bluejays played the 77th toughest schedule in the nation and were 4-3 against teams in the 26-50 RPI range.
(10) Cincinnati Bearcats
After a six year drought from 2005-2011 the Bearcats (22-11, 9-9) are back in the NCAA Tournament for the third consecutive year. Their defense, which allows just 59 points a night with six blocks and seven steals on average, is the main reason why. Offensively, they are prone to some off nights since they are somewhat over reliant on Sean Kilpatrick, Cashmere Wright and JaQuon Parker. The three combine to score 41 of the 67 points the Bearcats average. Bearcats head coach Mick Cronin plays a deep bench, which is a key to the team’s top 30 defense, but Cronin struggles to find the right mix of guys offensively at times. His team struggles shooting the ball and really plays a methodical style on that end of the court. They were 1-5 against the RPI top 25, but did pick up solid victories against Marquette, Iowa State, Pittsburgh and UConn. The Bearcats will need their top three players to really be assertive and effective in order for them to get the kind of offensive output they need to advance past the opening weekend for the second straight year.
HOOPSWORLD’s Pick: Creighton. We expect McDermott to put his team on his back and lead them to victory.