Bobcats, Bluejays clash with long-awaited return to the Sweet 16 on the line
The magic of March Madness comes from its unpredictability. So, when someone comes along suggesting Creighton can be avoided in your bracket because of some late-season missteps or projects UC Santa Barbara to knock the Bluejays out of the First Round, it will have zero impact on what transpires on the hardwood.
Thanks to Christian Bishop's clutch free-throw shooting and the team's collapsing defense on Amadou Sow's lay-in attempt before the buzzer, Creighton advanced on. The Bluejays draw an intriguing Second Round matchup against Ohio, which unseated the last national champion, Virginia, with a strong performance.
The Bobcats are looking to get back to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2012. For Creighton, a win sends it to the second weekend for the first time since the NCAA Tournament's expansion.
West Region: No. 13 Ohio (17-7) vs. No. 5 Creighton (21-8)
Time: Monday, March 22 at approximately 6:10 p.m. ET
Where: Hinkle Fieldhouse (Indianapolis)
Spread: Creighton -5.5
Keys for Ohio
Jason Preston's near-triple-double and Ben Vander Plas stepping up for 17 points were critical to MAC champion Ohio's upset of Virginia. The Bobcats are a nationally top-30 KenPom.com adjusted offensive efficiency team and played enough of their game to trudge through the proverbial quicksand that is playing a Tony Bennett-coached team.
It's an entirely different style in the Second Round against Creighton, which can and will push the tempo more. Ohio ranks 11th in the nation shooting from inside the 3-point line, getting outstanding looks thanks to unselfish ball movement — the Bobcats rank in the top 25 of all teams for the distribution of assists-per-field goals made.
Ohio can score with Creighton, but an important question is how much? The Bobcats must find a way to generate stops against an equally efficient offense. Opponents shoot better than 51 percent inside the arc against Ohio but are closer to 33 percent from beyond the arc.
Keys for Creighton
Creighton is one of the nation's 10 best shooting teams from inside the 3-point line, so it's no wonder the Bluejays rode a better than 57 percent day from the field against UCSB to win.
Creighton will need to find similar scoring success on the interior against an Ohio team vulnerable to giving up points on the inside. Big-time players come through in the most high-pressure situations, and Marcus Zegarowski was clutch in the First Round. His ability to create scoring opportunities beyond the arc or slashing inside it will dictate the Bluejays' fate.
After surviving a scare from UCSB, Creighton faces a much more favorable matchup to its style of play. Ohio's scoring took Virginia out of its comfort zone in Round 1, but an up-tempo affair plays to Creighton's advantage. This West Region showdown figures to be one of the more exciting pairings for spectators who enjoy offense and the Bluejays are poised to shoot their way into a historic Sweet 16 appearance.
Prediction: Creighton 83, Ohio 76
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.