Creighton has been maddeningly inconsistent this season, taking a rather circuitous route to amass their 21 wins. Central Florida has also been wildly inconsistent, but its a lot easier to detect their peaks and valleys. The Knights started the season 14-0, rose as high as #19 in the polls, and were the darlings of SportsCenter’s Top Plays with their acrobatic dunks and highlight reel plays. Then they lost eight in a row to plummet from the polls, the national spotlight and at-large consideration to the NCAA Tournament. They’ve followed that stretch with a 7-3 run that has them at 21-11 entering tonight’s game.
So which team will show up in Omaha tonight, the one that started 14-0 and was poised to join BYU and San Diego State as “outsiders” crashing the Top 10, or the one that lost eight in a row?
In trying to figure that out, it became clear that injuries played a huge role in the 0-8 skid. In fact, the rash of injuries the Knights suffered midseason this year reminds me of the 2005-06 Jays squad who seemed to lose players left and right — except the Knights may have been even worse off.
Junior point guard A.J. Rompza suffered stress fractures in both feet, causing him to miss a couple of games in January. He has yet to return to the starting lineup, though he is playing a ton of minutes off the bench. Sophomore forward Dave Diakite had season ending knee surgery on January 31. Michigan State transfer Tom Herzog fractured his left wrist in December, and suffered a concussion in late February against UAB after a vicious blow that also knocked one of his teeth out. Senior center A.J. Tyler had a hip injury that sidelined him for a couple of games. 6’8″ forward Keith Clanton had a groin injury that forced him to the bench for a time. And Marcus Jordan had suffered through both an ankle injury and a sore back.
All of those players are now back and at something close to 100%, with the exception of Diakite. However, injuries aren’t the only explanation for the 0-8 stretch, as their beat writer from the Orlando Sentinel, Iliana Limón, told WBR’s Patrick Marshall. “The Knights also faced teams with tougher defenses drawn up by coaches who were very familiar with UCF’s strengths and weaknesses.”
Their desire to press, and their ability to play aggressive defense in the half court were certainly hampered by the injuries though, and they scrapped the press entirely for a time due to lack of personnel. As they’ve gotten healthy, they’ve returned to that style of play, and no surprise, they’re winning again — hence the 7-3 stretch to end the season. So, getting back to the original question, which team shows up in Omaha tonight? Unfortunately for Creighton, its the full-strength Knights squad that is 21-3, and undefeated outside of C-USA. A pretty good case can be made that UCF is the best team in the CBI, and you could even argue that they’re the best team in the three non-NCAA Tournaments.
Forcing them to run a half-court offense and limiting their scoring opportunities in transition are two keys to beating UCF, as Limón told WBR in our Q&A with her. That’s one thing the Jays did pretty well during the course of the season, but so far in the CBI, they’ve turned in two of their worst defensive performances all year. It would be tempting to say if this game is played in the high-70s or into the 80s, UCF has the edge…except Creighton has also turned in two of their best offensive performances of the year in the CBI so far. Lets go with this: if this game is played in the high-70s or into the 80s, Creighton will need to shoot the ball like they did against Davidson and San Jose State to win.
UCF averages 69 points a game, but that’s horribly deceiving. They averaged 76.2 points per game during the 14-0 start, which included wins over Florida, Miami, Princeton and UMASS. During the 0-8 stretch, their average plummeted to 63.1 per game as available personnel dictated they slow things down. The current 7-3 stretch has seen their average climb back into the mid-70s.
Sophomore guard Marcus Jordan is their leading scorer, averaging 15.3 points a night. He’s second on the team with 41 three-pointers made, and hits at a 32.8% clip from downtown. He’s also the youngest son of arguably the greatest player of all time, Michael Jordan, and has a bit of his slashing style to his game; he’s shot the most free throws (199) on the team by a healthy margin, and that’s mostly a bad thing for opponents as he makes almost 79% of them. Jordan leads them in assists, averaging 3.3 a game, but is not a true point guard — he was thrust into the spot when Rompza went down to injury, and has maintained the starting gig. Jordan turns it over nearly three times a game, on average, and isn’t a great distributor of the ball in the halfcourt as he thrives in the transition game.
Fellow sophomore Keith Clanton is second on the team in scoring, averaging 13.8 a night. He leads the team in rebounding at 7.8 per game, and also has 59 blocks and 32 steals. His defensive presence is big reason the Knights allow just 62.4 points a night, on average.
Shooting guard Issac Sosa is their best three-point shooter, connecting on nearly 40% of his attempts from behind the arc (60-153), and he averages 8.25 points a night. After him, the Knights attack opponents with depth over firepower — no other player averages more than 7 points, but they have seven players who average between 3.5 and 6.5 points a night.
UCF is an athletic, slashing team that thrives when it can play an up-tempo style. That’s precisely the style Creighton has used in winning two highly entertaining games in the CBI so far. Tonight’s semifinal game should be another wild one.
About the Knights: Central Florida rolled over Rhode Island in the CBI Quarterfinals, 66-54, after outscoring the Rams 39-24 in the second half. They shot 68% after halftime, making 17-25 from the field … In that game, the Knights scored 48 of their 66 points in the paint, and dominated the glass 44-28 … Four Knights are averaging double digits in scoring in CBI play, and six players are averaging at least 7.0 points per contest in postseason. Keith Clanton is averaging a team-high 12.0 points in the CBI, followed by Marcus Jordan (11.0), A.J. Rompza (10.0) and Tom Herzog (10.0) … UCF’s reserves have been outstanding in CBI play, averaging 35.5 points in two contests … Despite coming off the bench, A.J. Rompza is averaging 29.5 minutes in CBI action, and paces UCF in assists with 5.0 per game after averaging 5.9 points and 3.0 assists during the regular season … UCF is 9-8 against teams that made the postseason this season, which includes a 3-4 mark vs. NCAA Tournament qualifiers (wins over Florida, Alabama State and Princeton), a 1-1 mark vs. NIT teams (a win over Miami of Florida), a 2-0 mark vs. CBI qualifiers (wins over St. Bonaventure and Rhode Island) and a 3-3 mark over CIT teams (wins vs. Furman, Marshall and SMU).
One Big Paragraph with Lots O’Dots™: Tonight is Creighton’s eighth consecutive game against a team that reached the postseason, and they’re 4-3 in the first seven games of that run … Creighton’s 2-0 performance in the 2011 CBI, presented by Zebra Pen has extended the program’s streak to 10 straight wins in events promoted by the New Jersey-based Gazelle Group. Creighton went 4-0 in both 2002 and 2004 in the Guardians Classic (promoted by the Gazelle Group), and is now 2-0 in the 2011 CBI … Of last year’s CBI “Final Four”, VCU, Princeton and Boston all reached this year’s NCAA Tournament, and six teams playing in this year’s NCAA Tournament participated in last year’s CBI … Last year’s two wins in the CIT marked the first time in school history that Creighton won consecutive postseason games, and tonight, they try to win three straight for the first time in the history of their program … Antoine Young, who averages 13.2 points per game, leads the MVC in assists (168), assists per game (4.8), assist/turnover ratio (2.47) and minutes (1,258). He’s been even better in the CBI, with 17 assists and no turnovers … Doug McDermott leads the Jays in scoring (15.0 ppg.) and in rebounding (7.7 rpg.), has been in double-figures in 29 of 35 games and paces the MVC with nine double-doubles. He too has been even better in the CBI, averaging 28.5 points and 9.5 rebounds in two CBI games.
The Series / The Last Time They Played: Creighton and UCF have never met, and Greg McDermott and Donnie Jones have never coached against one another.
However, UCF coach Donnie Jones was an 11-year assistant coach at Florida from 1996-2007. While with the Gators, his teams went 0-2 against Creighton. Creighton beat Florida 75-73 in Puerto Rico on Nov. 29, 1996 and downed the Gators 83-82 in double-overtime on March 15, 2002 in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Gratuitous Linkage: Here’s an absolutely fascinating piece on band names, including a breakdown of some of the worst band names from this year’s SXSW.
Out of Context Simpsons quote: “This is the greatest case of false advertising I’ve seen since I sued the movie ‘The Never Ending Story.’” – Lionel Hutz
This Date in Creighton Hoops History: Kentucky All-American Jodie Meeks converted a three-point play with 10.6 seconds left to lead the Wildcats to a 65-63 victory over host Creighton in second-round action of the NIT. The Jays led for 36 minutes of the game, and appeared to be in control when Kenny Lawson Jr.’s three-point play off a feed from P’Allen Stinnett lifted CU to a 63-60 lead with 1:26 to play. UK answered with a lay-up by Meeks with 1:09 to play. The teams would trade turnovers before Justin Carter was fouled by Meeks with 36 seconds to play. Carter, a 68.6 percent shooter at the line, would miss both attempts, giving UK the ball for a last shot trailing by just one…leading to the game-winning three point play from Meeks.
Completely Random, Totally Rad Music Video of the Day: I’m a superstitious guy. Always have been. And so, having played Billy Idol videos in the first two Primers of the CBI this year, I’m compelled to continue doing so.
The Bottom Line: UCF is probably the best team in the tournament. They’ll also be travel weary after arriving in Omaha mere hours before tip. That, and the Jays enthusiasm for a potential matchup with former coach Dana Altman’s Ducks in the finals, lead to a win tonight.
Creighton 79, UCF 72