Our Baylor Bears (3 seed) face off against the Creighton Blue Jays (6 seed) in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday evening. Creighton leads the all-time series 3-2, but Baylor has won the last two meetings, including an 85-55 dismantling in the Round of 32 in 2014 and 65-59 win in the 2017 Hall of Fame Classic.
Read on for everything you need to know about the game!
How Creighton got here
Creighton started the season with six straight wins, including an eleven point victory over Texas Tech and three point victory over Arkansas, before losing to Arizona by two points in the Maui Invitational. That loss kicked off a six game losing streak, including a five point loss in Austin to the University of Texas and eleven point loss in Milwaukee to Marquette to open conference play.
The Blue Jays played well for the remainder of the year, ending the regular season with a 20-11 record (14-6 Big East), and splitting the series with Connecticut, Xavier, Villanova, beating all three at home. They beat Villanova for a second time in the first round of the Big East Conference Tournament but lost convincingly to Xavier in the quarterfinals.
Xavier dominates Creighton to advance to the Big East Tournament final.— Banners on the Parkway (@BannersParkway) March 11, 2023
Xavier’s defense found a gear that it had not prior to tonight and overpowered the Bluejays to set a date with Marquette. https://t.co/nIYISsz6XM
Earlier this week, Creighton defeated the South Region’s eleventh-seed, NC State, 72 to 63. The Blue Jays led the entirety of the first half and never trailed after the 12:04 mark in the second half. Center Ryan Kalkbrenner led both teams with 31 points (a career-high) on 10 for 13 shooting. He also led Creighton with 7 defensive rebounds and 3 blocks.
NC State falls to Creighton in NCAA tournament, 72-63 https://t.co/LQCj3BP19U— Big Brick Energy (@BackingThePack) March 17, 2023
How Baylor and Creighton match up
Baylor’s offense versus Creighton’s defense is strength against strength; according to KenPom, Baylor’s offense is the second best in the country and Creighton’s defense is 13th. Creighton is especially adept at avoiding fouls (second in the country), defensive rebounding (12th in the country), and contesting interior shots (20th in the country).
An interesting game-within-the-game is how often Baylor gets shots off from behind the three point line. While the Bears rank 22nd in three point attempt rate on offense, the Blue Jays rank 9th lowest in three point attempt rate allowed on defense.
A welcome relief for Baylor fans will be Creighton’s inability to force turnovers — they are the 8th worst Division I team in the country with a 14% turnover rate on defense.
Ranking-wise, the gap between Baylor’s offense and Creighton’s defense is smaller than the gap between Baylor’s defense and Creighton’s offense. The Blue Jays are 29th in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency according to Ken Pom while the Bears are 99th (hey, they jumped a few spots after the UCSB game!).
What Creighton does best is make a high percentage of their shots; they are 22nd in the country in two point shooting percentage and 99th in three point shooting percentage. Stylistically, they are similar to Baylor with over 40% of their shots coming from deep. This is good news for the Bears, though, as Baylor is near the bottom of the country in two point shooting percentage allowed but respectable in defending the three point line.
Both teams will be surprised to learn they are evenly matched on the glass. Creighton is ranked 285th in the country with a 25% offensive rebound rate, and Baylor is 286th in the country with a 31% offensive rebound rate allowed. What happens when a stoppable force meets a moveable object? We’ll find out!
Creighton players to watch
Obviously Ryan Kalkbrenner is the biggest threat for Baylor to scheme against, and it’s not just due to his size. At 7’1”, Kalkbrenner leads the Blue Jays with 15.9 points per game and 2.2 blocks per game. More impressively, he leads all of Division I with a 72.8% effective field goal percentage.
If Baylor doubles Kalkbrenner, they leave themselves open to any one of a trio of solid guards. Trey Alexander is the most accurate three point shooter on the team hitting 43% from deep (45% overall) and leads the guards with 13.5 points per game.
Just behind him is Baylor Scheierman with 12.7 points per game. Scheierman attempts a whopping 63% of his shots from deep and converts on 36% of them. At 6’7”, Scheierman also poses a particularly difficult matchup for Baylor (the team, not himself) on the glass. He leads Creighton with 8.3 rebounds per game, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he rebounds well tomorrow.
While Ryan Nembhard trails the other guards with only 11.9 points per game, he shoots the ball just as well as Scheierman and leads the team with 4.9 assists per game. Notably, he also leads Creighton’s guards with 38% of his shots coming at the rim.
Forward Arthur Kaluma rounds out the starting line up. He scores as much as Nembhard, rebounds as well as Kalkbrenner, and is good for 1.6 made three pointers per game. Look for Kaluma to stretch out the defense and take open threes if Baylor lets him.
If you wonder why I listed every Creighton starter as a player to watch, it’s because Creighton is 350th in the country in bench minutes with only 20% of their minutes coming from non-starters. This might be a factor given the #altitude in Denver.
KenPom predicts Creighton will win a close one, 75-74. FiveThirtyEight gives the edge to Creighton with a 54% chance to win. Finally, our friend Evan Miyakawa also predicts a close one, with Creighton winning 52% of the time.
I can see this game going a lot of ways. Someone might tell Flo Thamba that Creighton already has champagne in their locker room, and Drew Timme will have a new adopted brother in Kalkbrenner. Keyonte George could shake his month-long shooting slump and join Adam Flagler and LJ Cryer in scoring 70 combined points and beating Creighton in a shoot-out. Dale Bonner could come up with a clutch steal and hit Caleb Lohner for a game-winning three as time expires!
But if we’re being honest, the most likely thing is Kalkbrenner gets a quick 8 points, we mix in some zone to try and stop the ball from getting to him, Nembhard finds an open Scheierman or Alexander in the corner as we rotate late on defense, and the game comes down to the one thing most games do — who can make their shots, and who can’t.
Baylor 80, Creighton 77.
All statistics courtesy of ESPN, KenPom, and Hoop-Math.