NCAA Basketball Tournament - Creighton v North Carolina

Top 25 Countdown: No. 18 Creighton Bluejays

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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 29-6, 14-4 MVC (2nd); Lost in the Round of 32 to

Head Coach: Greg McDermott

Key Losses: Antoine Young

Newcomers: Isaiah Zierden, Andre Yates, Mogboluwaga Oginni

Projected Lineup:

G: Jahenns Manigat, Jr.
G: Austin Chatman, So.
F: Grant Gibbs, Sr.
F: Doug McDermott, Jr.
C: Gregory Echinique, Sr.
Bench: Ethan Wragge, Jr.; Will Artino, So.; Avery Dingman, So.; Josh Jones, Sr.

Outlook: Doug McDermott is a name that you are going to hear quite a bit about heading into the season.

After putting together an All-American caliber season as a sophomore, McDermott is just about as close as you can get to being a consensus Preseason First Team All-American. We had him on the first team. So did every other publication that I’ve seen that’s worth paying attention to. When you throw in the fact that McDermott plays for a program that resides outside of the six power conferences and that he averaged 22.9 points as a sophomore, the assumption for those that have never seen him play will likely be that he is a gunner.

And while McDermott does take a lot of shots, he’s anything but a “gunner”. In fact, McDermott is one of the most efficient scorers in the country, a statement that both the stat-nerds and basketball gurus will agree on. What makes McDermott so efficient, in the Kenpom sense of the word, is that he makes a lot of threes (48.6% on 111 threes last year), hits 63.2% of his twos, knocks down his free throws and doesn’t turn the ball over. But McDermott’s efficiency goes beyond simple excel spreadsheets; I’m not sure that anyone has managed to put together a stat for it yet, but I’d be willing to be that McDermott averages the fewest number of dribbles-per-point in the country. When he’s hitting threes, they are off of a catch-and-shoot. When he’s scoring around the basket, it’s usually because he’s sealed off his man to the point that all he needs to do is turn and lay the ball it.

It’s remarkable to watch, but it is also a microcosm of what Creighton does offensively. The Bluejays are a delight to watch on that end of the floor. They spread the floor, they move the ball well, they not only make the extra pass but they make the right pass, they don’t turn the ball over and they seemingly never miss an open look. You want an awesome stat? I got an awesome stat: Creighton made 287 threes last season, and 276 of them came off of an assist.

The biggest reason for that was Grant Gibbs. A 6-foot-5 wing, Gibbs led the MVC in assists last season. He’s not overly quick or explosive, but he’s crafty and has terrific vision. A good word to describe his game is patient; he never seems to be in a rush and always makes the right play. He’s got a bit of “old-man” game, and it works with this group. Gibbs’ ability to create becomes that much more important with the graduation of Antoine Young, who was Creighton’s point guard last season, chipping in with 4.5 assists-per-game.

Who joins Gibbs on the perimeter will be interesting to see play out. Creighton has four other guards returning from last season’s rotation: senior Josh Jones, junior Jahenns Manigat and sophomores Austin Chatman and Avery Dingman. Chatman — who, like Young, is a small, quick, penetrating guard — looks like the guy that will take over at the point with Manigat, who started last season and shot 46.8% from three, alongside him. Jones is the biggest of the bunch, and he, like Dingman, will likely see extended minutes off the bench. Whether Chatman, or any of the other guards, can grow into the point guard role will be one of the most interesting subplots this year for the Bluejays.

Joining McDermott up front will be Gregory Echenique, a Rutgers transfer that plays on Venezuela’s national team. Echenique is a lumbering, 6-foot-9, 275 pound center that does for Creighton what centers are expected to do: scores around the rim, blocks some shots, gets some rebounds and bangs with other bigs. He also just may have the biggest head in the country. Ethan Wragge, a 6-foot-7 sharpshooter, is the name to know off the bench, while 6-foot-11 sophomore Will Artino will see time off the bench.

Predictions?: You notice how I didn’t once mention Creighton’s defense above. That’s because it was borderline non-existent last season. The Bluejays finished the season ranked 178th in defensive efficiency according to Kenpom. They don’t force turnovers — in fact, Creighton was one of the three worst teams in the country in turnover percentage — or block shots, and they’re ranked 200 or below in defensive effective field goal percentage and defensive three-point percentage. In other words, they don’t have play-makers that can force the end of a possession and they struggle when it comes to forcing teams to miss shots. About the only thing Creighton does well defensively is box out; they were ninth in the country in defensive rebounding percentage.

I know that’s a lot of numbers to throw at you, but the point is that the Bluejays have a cap this season if they don’t improve defensively. It has been a point of emphasis for the team during the preseason, but it has also been a point of emphasis for the team in preseasons past. The problem is that this group is made up of small guards in the back court and land warriors in the front court. I really like this group and this program, but until they prove they can get stops, I have a tough time seeing them make it out of the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

No. 2 Kansas’ backcourt shines in 79-67 win over Texas

LAWRENCE, KS - JANUARY 21: Frank Mason III #0 of the Kansas Jayhawks drives to the goal against Andrew Jones #1 of the Texas Longhorns in the first half at Allen Field House on January 21, 2017 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) Shaquille Cleare turned the ball over on Texas’ first two possessions. Not even 40 seconds had expired before Kansas’ Devonte’ Graham drained a 3-pointer in transition.

Thirty seconds later, Frank Mason III pulled up for a shot outside the arc to put Kansas up 6-0.

“I think that’s the best we started a game in the past few games that we’ve played in,” Mason said. “We have to do that every game moving forward.”

Graham scored 18 points, Mason added 17 and No. 2 Kansas beat Texas 79-67 on Saturday.

Freshman Josh Jackson chipped in 15 points for the Jayhawks while Svi Mykhailiuk added 12 points and Landen Lucas had 12 rebounds.

Kansas (18-1, 7-0 Big 12) hovered between a six- and eight-point lead for most of the second half. The Jayhawks only pulled away with 60 seconds remaining, as Graham and Mykhailiuk hit corner 3-pointers in front of the Kansas bench.

“We were so good early, you’re not going to keep playing that way,” Kansas coach Bill Self said. “Texas, we kind of staggered them early and then the law of averages prevailed. They fought back. I don’t think you should apologize for playing somebody even.”

Texas (7-12, 1-6) opened the game with five turnovers in the first 4 minutes, letting the Jayhawks run out to a quick 10-point lead. Texas managed to cut the deficit to three points with 6 1/2 minutes remaining in the first half, but that was as close as the Longhorns would get.

Freshman Jarrett Allen posted season-highs with 22 points and 19 rebounds for Texas. Eric Davis Jr. added 12 points and Cleare scored 11.

BIG PICTURE

The next three games for Kansas are going to be the biggest test the Jayhawks have had all season. In a span of nine days, the Jayhawks will play three top seven teams. Two of those games take place in hostile road environments.

Kansas goes to No. 7 West Virginia on Tuesday and remains on the road to play at No. 5 Kentucky on the following Saturday. Kansas returns home that following Wednesday to host No. 6 Baylor.

The big win over the Longhorns should give the Jayhawks confidence heading into their tough test, but the big question is: Will Kansas have enough energy to get through it?

“This is a stretch that is probably as tough as we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Self said.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Villanova leapfrogged Kansas for the No. 1 spot on Monday. With the Wildcats’ definitive 30- and 10-point wins over Seton Hall and Providence this week, expect the top two spots to remain the same.

QUOTABLE

“It’s kind of like the `Twilight Zone’ because it feels like there’s nothing else going on here besides the game,” Texas coach Shaka Smart said of Lawrence and the University of Kansas. “Everybody’s locked in on the game. That’s a testament to the program and Coach Self and what they’ve built over the years.”

GOIN’ STREAKING

The win over Texas gave Kansas its 50th straight win in Allen Fieldhouse and its 36th straight at home in conference play.

UP NEXT

Texas returns home to host Oklahoma on Monday.

Kansas hits the road to start its gauntlet, playing at West Virginia on Tuesday.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25.

Happ, No. 17 Wisconsin edge Minnesota in overtime, 78-76

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JANUARY 21: Reggie Lynch #22 of the Minnesota Golden Gophers fouls Ethan Happ #22 of the Wisconsin Badgers while shooting the ball during the second half of the game on January 21, 2017 at Williams Arena in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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MINNEAPOLIS — Ethan Happ scored a career-high 28 points and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead No. 17 Wisconsin to a 78-76 overtime victory over Minnesota on Saturday.

Nigel Hayes added 21 points for the Badgers (16-3, 5-1 Big Ten) and Bronson Koenig hit two huge 3-pointers in overtime to help beat the Golden Gophers for the sixth straight time. The bigger, stronger Badgers outscored Minnesota 44-24 in the paint to win for the 12th time in their last 13 games.

Amir Coffey scored 19 points and Akeem Springs added 16 for the Gophers (15-5, 3-4), who lost their third straight game. Springs hit a 3 to force overtime, but his last-second heave in overtime clanked off the rim to preserve the victory for Wisconsin.

The border rivalry had not been much of a rivalry lately, with the Badgers taking every game following an upset by the Gophers in 2014. That game, a win over No. 9 Wisconsin, was the last time Williams Arena was sold out for a game before Saturday. And this crowd got its money’s worth.

There was plenty of red in the upper deck at the Barn, but the old gym’s rafters rattled for the first time in recent memory thanks to a Gophers program that has awakened this season after winning just eight games last season. With the homegrown Coffey leading the way, Minnesota took a 48-45 lead with 12 minutes to play in the game.

Reggie Lynch scored on a putback to put Minnesota up 64-62, but the Gophers went more than 5 minutes without scoring against the Big Ten’s best defense. Springs got loose for an off-the-dribble 3 from the left wing that tied the game with 11.4 seconds to go.

Koenig’s second 3 of OT put Wisconsin up 77-76 with 44 seconds to play. He finished with 11 points.

BIG PICTURE

Wisconsin: Another tough win on the road against an opponent with a strong RPI has the Badgers rolling. They are in first place in the conference and withstood a fiery effort from the Gophers that should move them up the Associated Press’ Top 25. Wisconsin has road wins over Minnesota, Indiana and Marquette to bolster its resume.

Minnesota: Win or lose, this was a big game for establishing Williams Arena as a place to be in the crowded Twin Cities sports market again. The Gophers were knocked out of the AP Top 25 last week with consecutive losses to Michigan State and Penn State, but the young team gave senior-laden Wisconsin all it could handle. The gritty performance should further show a skeptical public that the team is worthy of its attention once more.

HAPP’S BINGE

The Wisconsin big man got off to a slow start in the game, missing several easy shots early. But the Badgers never would have made it to OT without his performance in the second half. He scored 14 straight for the Badgers at one point and almost single-handedly fouled Lynch out of the game.

UP NEXT

Wisconsin: Hosts Penn State on Tuesday.

Minnesota: Visits Ohio State on Wednesday.

POSTERIZED: Derek Willis stuns Kentucky bench with dunk

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Derek Willis stunned his teammates with a poster over South Carolina’s Sedee Keita on Saturday.

I’m sure you’ll be able to read his lips here …

Yeah, this was pretty nice:

No. 14 Arizona lands first marquee win, upsetting No. 3 UCLA in Pauley

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 21: Allonzo Trier #35 of the Arizona Wildcats goes up for a layup against TJ Leaf #22 of the UCLA Bruins during the first half of the game at Pauley Pavilion on January 21, 2017 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
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Allonzo Trier made his first appearance of the season for No. 14 Arizona but it was Kobi Simmons who was the star for the Wildcats as Sean Miller’s club picked up their biggest win of the season, going into Pauley Pavilion and knocking off No. 3 UCLA, 96-85.

Simmons had 18 points, five boards and five assists, providing the spark at the end of the first half as Arizona opened up a 48-37 lead. Lauri Markkanen, who has been Arizona’s best player on the season, finished with 18 points while Trier chipped in with 10 points, seven boards and four assists.

The win moves Arizona into sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 – at least until No. 11 Oregon plays at USC tonight – at 7-0, a full two games ahead of the Bruins in the loss column. Arizona still gets UCLA in the McKale Center, but their only game against Oregon will come in Eugene.

For the Bruins, Lonzo Ball led the way with 24 points, eight assists and six boards, but he had very little impact on the game in the final 12 minutes. The bigger talking point for UCLA is their defense. They entered Saturday ranked 92nd in the country in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, and giving up 96 points to the Wildcats isn’t going to help that. Arizona was able to penetrate at will on Saturday, and it’s a concern for the Bruins that is glaring.

Here are the four things to take away from that game:

1. Allonzo Trier is back, but this was more than just his return: Getting Trier back into the fold was, unquestionably, a boost for the Wildcats. He finished with 12 points, seven boards and four assists and, for the most part, held his own on the defensive end of the floor. He had a bucket near the end of the first half that pushed Arizona’s lead to 11 points, and when UCLA made a run in the second half, he had a steal and a dunk that felt like a momentum-changing play.

Arizona is a better team with him on the floor.

But this score, this result, was about much more than just the return of a guy that sat out the first 19 games of the season. For starters, Kobi Simmons played the best game that he’s played since he arrived in Tucson. He has lottery-level talent, and while his inconsistency and tendency to coast is the knock on him, when Simmons is locked in, he can do what he did on Saturday. It was about Markkanen, who outplayed T.J. Leaf, the guy that he essentially replaced in Arizona’s recruiting class. It was about the leadership down the stretch of Kadeem Allen and the key stops that Arizona got down the stretch.

In other words, simply saying that Arizona looked like a Final Four contender because Trier was back is a disservice to that performance.

2. This win provided the validation that we needed to take Arizona seriously: Arizona entered Saturday with a gaudy, 17-2 record, but it was hard to take them seriously as a Pac-12 or Final Four contender because of the teams that they had beaten to get to this point. Prior to winning at Pauley Pavilion, the best win Arizona had on the year was a Michigan State team that just got smoked by the O.G. Anunoby-less Indiana Hoosiers or at USC, who was without Bennie Boatwright.

A competitive performance, let alone a win, would’ve been enough to convince us that their record wasn’t a fluke. A win, however, is precisely what Arizona needed to bolster a tournament résumé that still lacks a bit of depth.

3. UCLA’s defense is becoming a major concern: We knew UCLA wasn’t all that good on the defensive side of the ball entering Saturday. They ranked 92nd in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, which isn’t good but which was the kind of thing that could be overlooked given just how dominant UCLA’s offense can be. They had developed a habit of getting up by 25 points and then slacking off on the defensive end, which isn’t ideal but whatever. They were still winning.

Saturday, however, was a disaster. Arizona scored 1.315 points-per-possession, which is downright unacceptable for a team with their sights set on the Final Four and a potential national title. The Wildcats seemed to target Bryce Alford, whose defensive issues are well-known, and routinely attacked him with dribble penetration. But Bryce wasn’t the only victim here. No one on UCLA’s perimeter seemed capable of being the stopper, and the result was that the Wildcats were able to get to the bucket at will.

4. Can UCLA still win the Pac-12?: After losing on Saturday, the Bruins are now two games behind both Oregon and Arizona in the Pac-12 standings, and they still have a trip to the McKale Center left on their schedule. The Bruins have been the trendy pick to win the national title for a while because of how quickly they can score and how entertaining they are to watch, but at this point it seems unlikely that they’ll be able to make up two games in the standings on two different teams with just 11 games remaining on the schedule.

Does that say more about the Bruins as national title contenders or just how good the Pac-12 is at the top of the conference? I’d lean the latter, but after seeing the way UCLA defended on Saturday, I’m not sure.

SATURDAY’S SNACKS: Florida State wins key ACC game; Creighton, SEC suffer bad losses

OMAHA, NE - JANUARY 21: Sam Hauser #10 of the Marquette Golden Eagles challenges Khyri Thomas #2 of the Creighton Bluejays during their game at CenturyLink Center on January 21, 2017 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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SATURDAY’S THINGS TO KNOW

Quality win for No. 10 Florida State as they jumped out to a 16-2 lead and held on to beat No. 16 Louisville for a home ACC win. I have five takeaways on this one, including when we’ll know if this Seminoles team is a legitimate contender for the ACC title.

Playing their first game without senior point guard Mo Watson Jr., No. 7 Creighton struggled in a home loss to Marquette. The Bluejays had some promising production from reserve guard Davion Mintz (17 points, eight assists) and Marcus Foster went nuts (30 points) but they allowed seven double-figures scorers for Marquette. Rob Dauster has a deeper look at Creighton here.

The SEC had a pretty bad day for its NCAA tournament hopes on Saturday. No. 19 Florida dropped a game a home against a struggling Vanderbilt team that lost four straight entering the game. That loss won’t take the Gators out of the field but it leaves them with little room for error.

Georgia was also comfortably ahead of Texas A&M by double digits in the second half on the road before squandering that lead and losing 63-62. A clock malfunction ultimately cost Georgia a possession in the end. The Bulldogs led by nine points with 2:09 left and the Aggies closed the game on a 10-0 run. That’s the kind of loss that could keep Georgia out of the NCAA tournament.

STARRED

Marcus Keene, Central Michigan: The nation’s leading scorer went off for 50 points in a win over Miami (OH).

V.J. Beachem, Notre Dame: The senior had a monster outing in an Irish win over Syracuse as he went for 30 points and shot 6-for-10 from three-point range. Beachem also added seven rebounds and two blocks.

Deonte Burton, Iowa State: When Burton plays well, Iowa State reaches a new level and he hit for 31 points in a double-overtime road win over Oklahoma on Saturday. Burton also had this thunderous dunk to send the game to overtime.

Josh Hart, Villanova: Adding another solid game to his Player of the Year campaign, the senior had 25 points (10-for-16 shooting), six rebounds and four assists in a Wildcat win over Providence. Hart was also 2-for-2 from three-point range and 3-for-3 from the free-throw line for the game.

Jared Brownridge, Santa Clara: The senior sharpshooter knocked in the game-winning three-pointer with five seconds left for the Broncos in a WCC win over Loyola Marymount as he tallied a game-high 25 points.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

  • Top-ranked Villanova took care of Providence for a Big East home win as Josh Hart had another strong game and Kris Jenkins added 19 points.
  • Devonte Graham led four double-figure scorers with 18 points as No. 2 Kansas moved to 7-0 in the Big 12 with a home win over Texas.
  • No. 4 Virginia got past Georgia Tech for an ACC home win as Marial Shayok had 19 points.
  • It was tight for a little while but No. 9 North Carolina scored 56 points in the second half and ran past Boston College for an ACC road win. Justin Jackson (22 points) and Kennedy Meeks (20 points) paced the Tar Heel offense. Rob Dauster has more on the Tar Heels winning on an off-game from Joel Berry.
  • Not the prettiest win but No. 13 Butler escaped DePaul with a one-point road win in the Big East. Kethan Savage had 20 points and freshman Kamar Baldwin added 18 more points.
  • All of Notre Dame’s ACC wins came by single digits until Saturday as the No. 15 Fighting Irish ran past Syracuse for a home win. V.J. Beachem had 30 and Bonzie Colson had 14 points and 14 rebounds.
  • Wins continue to come easy for No. 20 Cincinnati as the Bearcats cruised to an American road win at Tulane. Cincinnati has won 10 straight games as Jacob Evans led with 15 points.
  • Easy win for No. 21 Purdue as they made quick work of Penn State for a Big Ten home win. Sophomore big man Caleb Swanigan stayed in the Player of the Year discussion with 19 points, 12 rebounds and four assists.

NOTABLE

  • It took two overtimes but Iowa State came through with the road Big 12 win at Oklahoma. The Cyclones had 31 points from Deonte Burton.
  • Sticking in the Big 12, Texas Tech suffered a bad home loss for its NCAA tournament credibility as they got blown out by Oklahoma State. Jeffrey Carroll led the Cowboys with 25 points.
  • Rutgers earned its first Big Ten win of the season with a one-point home win over Nebraska. Sophomore Corey Sanders had 25 points and the game-winner with one second left.
  • Earning its first conference road win in three years was Wake Forest as the Demon Deacons shocked N.C. State with another bad home loss. John Collins had 21 points and nine rebounds in the win.
  • D.J. Wilson had 19 points, seven rebounds and five assists as Michigan won at home in the Big Ten over Illinois.