Creighton is in the Sweet Sixteen for the first time since 1974. Gonzaga, the national title favorite, awaits Creighton in their upcoming Sweet Sixteen matchup. Creighton has played great team defense in the NCAA Tournament. However, how will they approach stopping Gonzaga’s absurdly talented offense?
First off, Gonzaga is widely known for their high-powered offense. In contrast, Gonzaga gets it done on the defensive end as well. In the NCAA Tournament, Gonzaga is holding opponents to only six made three-pointers per game. For reference, holding opponents to only six made three-pointers would be good for 28th in the country. Creighton relies heavily on points from the three point line. Creighton ranks 17th with 9.6 made three-pointers per contest. Also, the Bluejays’ star player Marcus Zegarowski shoots 42.1% from three. Recently, Gonzaga has great perimeter defense and this must continue.
Another key for Gonzaga is the rebounding battle. Gonzaga has been tenacious on the glass in the NCAA Tournament. They outrebounded Norfolk State by 23 and Oklahoma by eight. By winning the rebounding battle, Gonzaga will gain more possessions. In turn, they can dictate the tempo of the game. With so many offensive weapons, Gonzaga wants to get plenty of shots up per game, so they want to play at an up-tempo pace. Creighton had six less rebounds than UCSB and five less than Ohio. This presents Gonzaga with another opportunity to dominate rebounding.
Allowing 60 points per game, Creighton has played great defense in March Madness. Also, Creighton has held opponents to 35% in the NCAA Tournament. This must continue against Gonzaga. Gonzaga is simply overwhelming on the offensive end. They have four All-Americans at their disposal in Corey Kispert, Drew Timme, Jalen Suggs and Joel Ayayi. Further, Kispert is averaging 18 points while shooting 58.8% from three in the first two rounds. Timme is coming off a career-high performance of 30 points against Oklahoma. In addition, Ayayi had a 15 point outing versus Norfolk State. However, Suggs is only shooting 1/9 from three in the NCAA Tournament. This season, Suggs is a 33% three point shooter. Creighton has to have a fantastic defensive performance against Gonzaga. With Suggs’ recent three point shooting struggles, this presents an opportunity Creighton must seize.
Creighton must control the pace of play versus Gonzaga. Gonzaga ranks 30th with 61.8 field goal attempts per game. Meanwhile, Creighton ranks 298th allowing opponents to shoot 61.1 field goals per contest. If Creighton plays their typical pace of play, this is a recipe for disaster. Gonzaga is too efficient to allow that many shot attempts, as they lead college basketball shooting 54.9%. At the mark of 54.9%, this is over three percent higher than second place. The Bulldogs might have one of the best offenses in college basketball history. Therefore, Creighton needs to slow down the pace of play. If that requires Creighton to play till the end of each and every shot clock, then so be it. In a roundabout way, this will be another defensive strategy deployed by Creighton.
Players to Watch
Gonzaga has many gifted offensive-scorers. The main players to watch are Kispert, Timme and Suggs. Even though Suggs has struggled from three, he may be due for a big game. He will be likely be guarded by Creighton’s Denzel Mahoney or Damien Jefferson. Both of which stand at 6-foot-5 and average 12+ points. Suggs is 6-foot-4, seeing physical Creighton defenders of similar stature on Suggs will be a key matchup.
Additionally, Timme will likely be guarded by the Creighton forward Christian Bishop. Timme is 6-foot-10 while Bishop is 6-foot-7. In turn, Creighton might have to deploy some double-teaming tactics on Timme. Bishop being undersized versus Timme could be a problem considering Timme averages 18.8 points per game.
Without question. Zegarowski will need a monster game for Creighton. He averages 15.7 points and is averaging 18.5 points in the NCAA Tournament. Also, Zegarowski is shooting 53.8% from three in March Madness. To pull off this monumental upset against the 28-0 Gonzaga Bulldogs, Zegarowski will likely need 20+ points.
As of 3/25, Gonzaga is a thirteen point favorite versus Creighton. Gonzaga’s offense is too deadly. Creighton does not seem to have the height and athletes to guard Gonzaga. Creighton will need to shoot lights out from three and be in a slow-paced game if they are to have a chance versus Gonzaga.
Still, Gonzaga can excel in a slow-paced game by playing through Timme in the post. In this case, Creighton might have to double team Timme which could lead to open threes for Gonzaga’s knockdown shooters. Gonzaga faces Creighton Sunday at 2:10 p.m. on CBS.
Prediction: 83-61 Gonzaga
All stats courtesy of ESPN and Team Rankings.