BOTH CREIGHTON AND CINCY CRAVE CINDERELLA STATUS WITH DUKE ON DECK
One of the compelling questions heading into Selection Sunday was wear the Creighton BlueJays would fall on the brackets. They were a team that was highly thought of by the press and by the most respected publicly available computer assessments. Would Creighton be regarded as highly as Saint Louis and New Mexico, worthy of a seed in the #3-5 range? Or, did their Bracket Buster loss to St. Mary's doom them to a spot much lower on the grid. Remember, last Sunday afternoon, St. Mary's was a bubble team.
Once the brackets were locked in stone, Creighton got a respectable #7 seed that was positioned to make a big splash in the Midwest regional's Group of Death.
They would play Cincinnati from the respected Big East in their opener
They would very likely get #2 seed Duke if they took down the Bearcats
An upset of Duke (far from impossible) would probably lead to Michigan State
Butler's gone deep twice in recent memory. VCU reached the Final Four a few years ago. Could Creighton be the next mid-major to make that kind of splash?
This is definitely a team that deserves further study. Luckily they're playing in the showcase game early Friday that will allow us to bring out the gauntlet to better quantify expectations. Duke is always vulnerable in the Dance because of soft inside defense and more balanced officiating. Let's see if either Creighton or Cincinnati has what it takes to cause mayhem in the Midwest.
Cincinnati: 22-11 (9-9 in the Big East)
Creighton: 27-7 (13-5 in the Missouri Valley)
You have to ask yourself how Creighton would do in the Big East if they suffered FIVE losses in the Missouri Valley. And, you have to ask if Cincinnati would win the Missouri Valley if they were magically transferred over. It's very reasonable to assume the two teams would at least equalize with 11-7 records had they been "traded." If you love the Big East and are skeptical of mid majors, then you could even make a reasonable case of those records that Cincinnati should be favored Friday.
Cincinnati: #35 with Sagarin, #40 with Pomeroy
Creighton: #21 with Sagarin, #15 with Pomeroy
You can see that the computers thought more highly of Creighton than the committee did. College basketball guru Ken Pomeroy had them equal to a #4 seed (!). Jeff Sagarin of USA Today had them as a #6. Our own proprietary numbers had them lower than that because of the five league losses and the failure at St. Mary's. Plus, the team is soft inside defensively and we penalize for that. Cincinnati would have been a #9 seed with Sagarin, and #10 with Pomeroy, which was pretty much in line with the committee.
COMPUTER STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE RANKINGS
Cincinnati: #25 with Sagarin, #46 with Pomeroy
Creighton: #99 with Sagarin, #83 with Pomeroy
Cincinnati gets a big edge in this category because they play in the tougher conference. Creighton barely cracks the top 100. They didn't really challenge themselves outside of league action this year. Not as much as they could have anyway. That's part of why they didn't crush the Missouri Valley the way the market had expected.
WON-LOST RECORDS VS. SAGARIN'S TOP 50
Always a conundrum when you're trying to handicap a Dance encounter. Do you respect the team that played a lot of tough games but lost too many of them...or the team that had a winning record in limited tests they had a lot of time to prepare for. Comparing 15 to 5 suggests Cincinnati is A LOT more big game ready than Creighton is. But, 60% to 40% clearly favors Creighton. It is a good sign for Blue Jays fans that Creighton won the tough Missouri Valley tournament. Cincinnati split out two games in the Big East tourney.
POMEROY'S ADJUSTED OFFENSE RANKINGS
Creighton had one of the best offenses in the country according to Pomeroy, who adjusts for pace factor and schedule strength. As we've said before, we think his adjustments for mid majors leave something to be desired. Also, Creighton is very much a "live by the three" team...which can earn you big wins in the Dance, but rarely earns anyone deep trips in the Dance because nobody can stay hot from long range all the time. If the bombs don't fall, the team goes home! This means Creighton absolutely can get hot and win 2-3 games in a row vs. big name opponents. It also means they'll get squashed if they shoot 5 of 20 or 6 of 24 from behind the arc. Cincinnati struggled on offense this year vs. quality defenses in Big East play, leading to a lot of grinders.
POMEROY'S ADJUSTED DEFENSE RANKINGS
So, Cincinnati has to play grinders to win because of their weak offense. Creighton has to hit treys to win because of their weak defense. We're confident Creighton's defense would be a lot worse than #78 if they played in a major conference. If you believe that defense wins championships...then you're going to be on the dog here. If you believe Cinderella hits her treys...then you can make a good case for Creighton having more potential to go further in the brackets.
POMEROY'S ADJUSTED TEMPO RANKINGS
There's not much difference between those rankings, less than it would seem at first glance. Creighton is slightly below average because they try to work for good looks on treys. Cincinnati is slower, but not glacial like Wisconsin or the most extreme grinders. This game is projected to be close, which could lead to a slow second half where every possession takes at least 20-25 seconds. That would probably favor Cincinnati who's more used to playing high pressure grinders.
You can almost book it that Creighton will win and cover if they shoot well from long range, and Creighton will get sent packing early if they don't. Everything swings on that one key. As handicappers, you must study the possible influences for that one dynamic. JIM HURLEY has been working closely with his on-site sources and with his computer quants to account for all the possibilities. He'll only ask his clients to bet this one if there's a true edge in play. He's aware that there are other great options on the Friday card.
Early Friday in the Dance:
Ole Miss vs. Wisconsin
NC State vs. Temple
Colorado vs. Illinois
Friday Night in the Dance:
Iowa State vs. Notre Dame
Villanova vs. North Carolina
Oklahoma vs. San Diego State
Minnesota vs. UCLA
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Back with you tomorrow to preview the most exciting Saturday matchup as the Round of 32 begins. We'll do the same thing Sunday for a marquee game involving Friday's winners. Get ready to park yourself back in front of the TV for another day of BIG, JUICY WINNERS. For more than 25 years, customers have been WATCHING AND WINNING through the Big Dance with JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK!
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