Sure, Creighton scores 80 points a game. But they’ve never seen a 94-foot defense like Alabama’s. The first-team All-American couldn’t remember facing a single full-court trap outside of end-game situations.
So the Bluejays spent considerable time in practice simulating the pressure they expect in the NCAA tournament opener for both. They sent as many as eight defenders to the floor to simulate the disruption expected this afternoon in Greensboro.
It, however, is just one of the cultural differences between teams from the Missouri Valley Conference and the SEC.
“There’s teams in our conference that have — that can guard and pack it in,” McDermott said. “But they just don’t have the athletes and probably not the length that Alabama presents.”
Alabama (21-11) wins by speeding up the opposition, forcing mistakes, and scoring in transition.
Creighton earned its 28-5 record by taking care of the ball. It averages 12.3 turnovers a game, but gave it away just 8.5 times in the last four games. In four of the five games it lost, the opposition outscored the Bluejays in points scored off turnovers
Creighton players spoke at length about the time spent learning the new attack. Guard Antoine Young said the dead-ball, full-court defense was the focal point.
“We have to put in a football playbook of sets for that,” he said. “So we’re pretty prepared for that. Obviously, it’s going to be different than having our scout team run it with the length.”
Some of the plays are old favorites, but Creighton added a few new wrinkles to deal with something they haven’t seen this season. The closest replica was Long Beach State, an NCAA team the Bluejays beat 81-79 on Feb. 18.
The concerns extend beyond the backcourt for Creighton coach Greg McDermott, the father of the sophomore leading scorer.
“They can disrupt things on the perimeter, (Trevor) Releford is great on the ball, (Levi) Randolph causes a lot of havoc on the ball,” Greg McDermott said. “And yet they erase a lot of their mistakes inside because (JaMychal) Green’s ability to block shots and challenge shots in the paint. So they’re different than what we have seen, without question.”
On the other side, Alabama hasn’t seen many offenses like Creighton’s. The Bluejays have the nation’s top shooting percentage (50.9) and scores the seventh-most points (80.0).
Tide junior Andrew Steele sees notable differences between the styles he’s used to seeing in the SEC.
“I think they may be a little more offensive-minded, not necessarily a bad thing though.” Steele said. “I think you look throughout the conference, they got a lot of shooters and they like to space the floor. They’re very similar to what teams like Florida and Vanderbilt like to do.”
That might not be a good thing for Alabama.
Three of its 11 losses came against the Gators and Commodores. The Tide faced large deficits in each of the losses and Florida turned it over just five times when beating Alabama 66-63 in last week’s SEC quarterfinal.
Grant agreed with the comparison between Florida and Vanderbilt, though he acknowledged the Missouri Valley Conference doesn’t have quite the size as other leagues.
“But I think you look at Creighton’s team and they have got physically a team that would fit right in with what we see in the SEC with their size and physicality,” Grant said.
The Bluejays have adjusted their defense to resemble more of the SEC model in recent days. Though Greg McDermott said the zone defense was “not our cup of tea” on Tuesday, his team is experimenting with it.
“We have definitely worked on that the last couple days in practice,” the younger McDermott said. “We worked on our rotations and really communicated. Hopefully, we’ll give them problems. It has in the past, so we might present that to them.”
Alabama has struggled with zone defenses that dare it to shoot long while clogging the middle where it has thrived.