This is one of those dangerous NCAA Basketball tournament games. Number-3 seed Creighton is pitted against number-14 seed Louisiana-Lafayette. The Big East conference takes on the Sun Belt conference. Creighton is favored by 14 points in the West Regional matchup in San Antonio. How could the Ragin’ Cajuns possibly beat the big bad Bluejays? One would only need to look at how programs like Ohio State, Oklahoma and Cincinnati fared on Thursday to know the answer.
If hot teams are dangerous teams, then ULL fits the bill. Since February 1 the Ragin’ Cajuns (23-11 overall) have gone 11-2, including three-straight to win the Sun Belt conference tournament. They finished third in the conference standings in the regular season, and their Sun Belt championship included wins over the two teams who finished ahead of them, Western Kentucky and Georgia State. Their average in points per game is 81.4, which is no. 13 in the nation. This is their first trip to the post-season NCAA Basketball tournament since 2005, and they have not won a game in the tourney since an upset over Oklahoma in 1992. They have played three tournament teams this year, losing to Baylor and Louisville and beating Coastal Carolina.
For Creighton it is the last year for Player-of-the-Year candidate Doug McDermott, son of Creighton head coach Greg McDermott. Greg took over four years ago when Dana Altman left for Oregon. He had expected Doug to leave for the pros last year, and is enjoying the bonus NCAA year he’s been given with the 6-8 senior forward. The younger McDermott is averaging almost 27 points per game and 7 rebounds. He is not Creighton’s only weapon though. Ethan Wragge is a 6-7 senior forward who specializes in the 3-point shot, hitting at a pace of 47 percent while averaging 10.5 points per game. The Bluejays are 26-7 on the season, and played 14 of those games against teams that are playing in the tournament this year. Finishing second in the Big East in the regular season, Creighton made it all the way to the finals of the conference tournament before being upset by Providence.
On paper, Louisiana-Lafayette and Creighton look like a pretty good match. The Cajuns have the edge in average points (81.4-79.5), rebounds (41.1-37.5) and blocks (4.1-1.4). The Jays have the edge in assists per game 17.7-13.6. In experience, Creighton has the advantage with four seniors and a junior in their starting lineup. Creighton’s schedule also has to be taken into consideration. Besides playing 14 games this season against NCAA Basketball tournament teams, the Bluejays have eight wins against teams in the top-50 of the RPI. They have beaten Big East regular-season champion Villanova twice this year by more than 20 points. For the Ragin’ Cajuns to have a chance in this game, it is evident that they must hold McDermott in check. It would also be a good idea to guard the 3-point line. As a team, the Bluejays hit over 42 percent from long distance. With their momentum in the latter part of the season and their ability to score points, Louisiana-Lafayette will keep it closer than the 14-point spread. Look for Creighton, however, to win the game and move on to play Baylor or Nebraska on Sunday.
Commentary by Chuck Podhaisky