A reported crowd of 1,700 first cheered when Creighton’s name was called in the NCAA tournament selection show. Then it realized the Missouri Valley Conference champions with a 28-5 record somehow slipped to a No. 8 seed in the Midwest Region.
Drawing Alabama was like Jack Lemmon moving in with Walter Matthau. The NCAA’s odd couple will create a number of matchup issues both sides with two completely different styles clashing in Greensboro, N.C.
Creighton coach Greg McDermott was surprised his team was assigned such a challenge after winning seven straight games and beating two ranked opponents on the road this year.
“It’s really hard to figure,” he told reporters in Omaha after the brackets were revealed. “There weren’t a lot of differences on paper on what could have been a 5-seed and a possible 8-seed. You really split hairs to try to figure it out.”
Either way, his Bluejays will see an Alabama team that looks nothing like the view in the mirror.
Simply put, Creighton is a sharp-shooting team with a porous defense while Alabama hasn’t found the touch all season, but defended its way to the tournament.
Led by first-team All-American Doug McDermott, the coaches’ son, the Bluejays lead the nation shooting 50.9 percent from the field. Their 3-point percentage (42.5) is only slightly behind Alabama’s overall shooting accuracy rate of 45.2 percent. The Tide hasn’t even made enough 3s to make the official NCAA statistical rankings, but if it had, the 28.5 shooting percentage would be fourth-worst in the 282 qualifying teams in Division I.
Alabama will counter the third-ranked 3-point offense with the nation’s No. 6 perimeter defense that allows just 28.3 percent shooting from behind the arc. Its last loss, however, saw Florida make 10 3-pointers in the SEC quarterfinals when Alabama twice fouled perimeter shooters late in the second half.
Tide coach Anthony Grant said Monday morning he was still gathering information on his opponent, but he’s already seen film of the Bluejays’ 83-79 win over Illinois State in the conference title game. He saw Creighton make 12 3-pointers in the overtime win while committing just six turnovers. Doug McDermott scored 33 points from all over the floor.
“I’m a little bit familiar with the things they do,” Grant said. “As the day goes on, I plan to do a little bit more.”
Extended film study will also reveal Creighton’s defense lends itself to Alabama’s style. Man-to-man coverage is the preferred style for the Bluejays and would be a relief for the Tide offense.
Starting with its first loss of the season to Georgetown in early December, teams threw a zone defense at Alabama. It dared inconsistent 3-point shooters to pull from long range while clogging driving lanes for point guard Trevor Releford.
But Greg McDermott had little to offer in terms of Creighton’s experience with that style.
“That isn’t exactly our cup of tea,” he said. “It’s not what we like to do, but it’s obvious that the key to being successful against Alabama is making sure you don’t turn the ball over and give them easy baskets in that regard and also keep them out of the paint. They’re very explosive going to the basket.”
Creighton does a good job avoiding turnovers. It hasn’t committed more than eight in the past four games and averages 12.3 to rank 68th nationally.
Alabama players JaMychal Green and Andrew Steele said they’ve seen Creighton play a few times on television. Neither, however, watched with the eye of a future opponent.
“I’ve watched some of their games and never imagined we’d be facing them but it’s a great feeling,” Green said. “They are one of the top 25 teams in the nation so it’s good to get to play a team that’s ranked, get our name out there and compete.”