A fascinating contrast in styles will be in play when Kansas State and Creighton clash in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The Bluejays are a team that loves to score in bunches and does their best to shoot opponents into submission. The Wildcats are a team that focuses on defense to get the job done. They force turnovers and disrupt opposing offenses at will.
Creighton stumbled down the stretch in the regular season. The Bluejays lost four of their last six games – including an overtime loss to Providence in their Big East Tournament opener. One of their wins in that stretch, however, was an overtime win over No. 1-seed Villanova, so they are capable of beating anyone.
Kansas State has a bit more momentum entering the Big Dance. The Wildcats sewed up an at-large bid after winning six of their last nine games – which included a sweep of No. 10-seed Texas and a win over No. 6 TCU in the Big 12 Tournament.
South Region: No. 9 Kansas State Wildcats (22-11) vs. No. 8 Creighton Bluejays (21-11)
Time: 6:50 p.m. ET (Friday)
Where: Spectrum Center (Charlotte, N.C.)
Keys for Kansas State
Slowing the tempo is critical for the Wildcats. Creighton can turn it into a track meet in a hurry and Kansas State isn't equipped to keep up with that offense at full steam. The Wildcats need to crash the boards and limit second-chance baskets. Creighton hits the glass hard at times, so this is easier said than done.
Kansas State needs to figure out a way to generate consistent turnovers. The Wildcats have a knack for collecting steals and disrupting passing lanes. Creighton is typically a good passing team, so if Kansas State can disrupt the Bluejays’ rhythm, the Wildcats can take advantage of a defense that allows 74.2 points per game.
Having Dean Wade and Barry Brown back on the court is huge. Wade (16.7 ppg) and Brown (16.6 ppg) were sidelined during the Wildcats' loss to Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament semifinals.
Keys for Creighton
The Bluejays need to get their shots to fall early to ease the defensive pressure Kansas State can apply. Creighton is certainly capable of getting it done. This is a team that boasts one of the most potent offenses in the nation. Creighton ranks in the top 15 in the NCAA in points per game (84.3) and field-goal percentage (49.7). The Bluejays have scored 90 points or more in 10 games this season.
Creighton's fortunes will hinge on what backcourt stars Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas can do. Foster, who played for Kansas State earlier in his career, leads the Bluejays with 20.3 points per game. He led the Wildcats in scoring as a freshman and sophomore before being dismissed from the team for rules violations. Thomas is equally dangerous on offense (15.3 ppg). Both guards are capable shooters who can burn opponents from the perimeter. They will need to be in peak form against a Kansas State team that excels at guarding the perimeter.
This should be one of the best games on Friday. It presents an intriguing battle of the wills. Which wins out: explosive offense or tenacious defense? Creighton has the firepower to shoot anyone into submission. But the Bluejays give up points just as easily. Kansas State has a good enough perimeter defense to give Creighton's shooters fits for the bulk of 40 minutes. The Bluejays haven't advanced past the second round since 1974 and won't make it even that far this time.
Prediction: Kansas State 75, Creighton 70
— Written by John Coon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Coon has more than a decade of experience covering sports for different publications and outlets, including The Associated Press, Salt Lake Tribune, ESPN, Deseret News, MaxPreps, Yahoo! Sports and many others. Follow him on Twitter @johncoonsports.
(Top photo courtesy of GoCreighton.com)