Bluejays look to make most of their first Sweet 16 appearance with an upset of the undefeated Bulldogs
UNLV in 1991 couldn't do it; neither could Kentucky in 2015. Gonzaga now finds itself just four wins shy of becoming college basketball's first undefeated national champion since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers, and the Zags' pursuit of history takes its next step against a tough Creighton team.
The Bluejays survived on a missed shot in the paint to avoid a first-round exit against UC Santa Barbara, then waxed Ohio to earn their first-ever Sweet 16 appearance since the expansion of the NCAA Tournament. Creighton's thus already made significant history this March: Can it do so again at the expense of Gonzaga's chase of immortality?
West Region: No. 5 Creighton (22-8) vs. No. 1 Gonzaga (28-0)
Time: Sunday, March 28 at 2:10 p.m. ET
Where: Hinkle Fieldhouse (Indianapolis)
Spread: Gonzaga -13.0
Keys for Creighton
Creighton has thrived this season with one of the most efficient offenses in college basketball, ranking No. 23 in adjusted efficiency per KenPom.com advanced metrics. When the Bluejays can push the tempo offensively a bit, they flourish. However, the nation's offense with the 42nd-shortest length of average possession might consider going a bit more methodical in its approach against Gonzaga.
Mark Few's Zags employ a style reminiscent of the late 1980s and early '90s college basketball juggernauts like Arkansas and UNLV, which used aggressive, trapping defenses to feed high-scoring offenses. With Gonzaga ranked fourth in adjusted tempo and having the second-shortest average length of possession, Creighton would be well-served taking the air out of the ball as much as possible.
Creighton's defense already accomplishes this feat; opponents' possessions last an average of 18.3 seconds per KenPom.com, among the very longest in the country. Bringing down the overall tempo with a deliberate offensive approach may be key to dragging Gonzaga into a rock fight.
Of course, Creighton will need to score points and the most reliable method for a March upset is traditionally the 3-pointer. Marcus Zegarowski's better-than-42 percent shooting from deep leads the Jays, but Mitch Ballock will be an interesting x-factor to follow. He's Creighton's second-most productive 3-point shooter, but was key to the offense in the first two Tournament wins with his distribution, recording nine combined assists. Moving the ball against Gonzaga's length and aggressiveness on defense will be critical to Creighton's upset prospects.
Keys for Gonzaga
Gonzaga has had some absolutely loaded rosters in recent years. The 2017 squad with Nigel Williams-Goss, Johnathan Williams and Zach Collins off the bench came just a few plays away from winning a national championship. But even that Zags lineup can't match the top-to-bottom athleticism of the 2021 squad.
Three different Bulldogs — Drew Timme, Corey Kispert and Joel Ayayi — rank in the top 20 for KenPom.com offensive rating among all Div. I players. And that doesn't include the production of Jalen Suggs, the most coveted NBA prospect of this Gonzaga bunch. With an abundance of weapons and an array of ways to score — Gonzaga leads the nation in 2-point field-goal percentage and is top 30 shooting behind the arc — it's not surprising that the Zags are the highest-scoring team in college basketball.
Gonzaga's keys to a 29th consecutive victory are pretty simple: create turnovers, push the pace of the game, and attack from all five spots on the floor.
Gonzaga has made the NCAA Tournament for two straight decades, been to at least the Sweet 16 in every March Madness since 2015, and reached a national championship game. Until the Zags win a title, though, a loud contingent will continue to downplay the program's accomplishments. It's awfully difficult to watch this Gonzaga team and not see one of the all-time great college basketball squads, though.
It will take a special night from a highly athletic squad to bounce Gonzaga out of this NCAA Tournament. Creighton's run to the Sweet 16 deserves praise, but the Bluejays will need a historic showing to advance to the Elite Eight.
Prediction: Gonzaga 90, Creighton 68
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.