The Creighton Bluejays were one of the best offensive teams in the country this season, leading the nation in efficiency and three-point percentage, and among the nation’s best in many other major statistical categories. And with senior forward Doug McDermott leading the way, this had the looks of a season that could produce a lengthy stay in the NCAA tournament.
Unfortunately for Creighton that would not turn out to be the case, as they ran into a very difficult matchup in the form of the Baylor Bears. Baylor used it’s morphing zone defense to thoroughly frustrate Creighton, and the end result was an 85-55 beating that was more shocking due to the margin than the result.
Baylor limited McDermott to 15 points on 7-for-14 shooting, communicating to each other where the national Player of the Year candidate was at all times. And they also kept tabs on Creighton’s other shooters, resulting in a 5-for-24 night for the Bluejays from three and 40% shooting from the field. Creighton couldn’t get going offensively against Baylor’s length, and the combination of that and Baylor’s record-setting shooting on the other end resulted in a game that was never in doubt.
Scott Drew’s team made its first five three-pointers and finished the game 11-for-18 from distance, tying a school tournament record (Kenny Chery and Brady Heslip were responsible for nine) and their ball movement was key. All five starters finished in double figures with Isaiah Austin’s 17 leading the way, shooting 63.8% from the field as a team and 19 of their 30 made field goals were assisted. Communication and teamwork were once again key for Baylor, something that’s been the case during their impressive turnaround over the last six weeks.
Baylor’s now won 12 of its last 14 games and they’ll be making their third Sweet 16 appearance under Scott Drew, and the fact of the matter is that the Bears’ turnaround is something few outside of that locker room thought possible. But Baylor continued to work and believe in each other, resulting in a trip to Anaheim to play No. 2 Wisconsin next week.
Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.
After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.
Video credit: Wyoming Athletics
Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.
Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.
Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.
Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.
Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.
But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.