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Bluejay Bracket Analysis: Creighton vs. Alabama

Sunday night’s NCAA Tournament Selection Show came and went, with a few of my thirsts satiated. First, the Creighton Bluejays are back (!) in the Big Dance for the first time since 2007. And the selection committee didn’t pit the Jays against a fellow non-BCS league team or against a program CU has played in recent seasons.

That’s where the glass-half-full thoughts stopped, though. As I knocked back some coffee at Amato’s this morning, I kept telling myself that no matter how the committee could treat Creighton, I would turn the channel from CBS at 6 p.m. still happy just to have my alma mater back in the NCAA Tournament.I won’t get started on the shady situation CU is in, because if I start I won’t stop until I’ve A) typed something I’ll regret, or B) embarrass my fellow WBR contributors by blowing something out of proportion.

Instead, I spent Sunday evening reading up on all things Alabama basketball. The Bluejays drew an 8-seed, and they were the top 8-seed in the field. Their reward? A game against the Crimson Tide out of the Southeastern Conference. The winner will face Lamar, Vermont, or North Carolina, In Greensboro, North Carolina. So, yeah. The Tar Heels.

(Before you get all Doug McDermott vs. Harrison Barnes, just don’t. I did the same thing in 2003, dreaming about a game between Creighton and national powerhouse Duke. Chris Kaman and Mike Manciel ended a matchup between Kyle Korver and J.J. Redick before it could take place. Think I’m still bitter? I dry heave every time I see a Central Michigan logo (not often) or someone mentions a Chippewa to me (less often even).)

Stat Showcase!

ANYWAY, Alabama. Like Creighton, the Tide touts just one scholarship senior. That’s where the similarities end, though. Alabama is one of the toughest defensive teams in the country, whereas Creighton turns heads with its offensive prowess.

Alabama is 9th nationally in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy. The Tide is in the top 100 nationally in blocks (73rd), blocks per game (67th), steals (87th), steals per game (88th), and defensive rebounds (90th) and defensive boards per game (93rd).

Meanwhile, Alabama is one of the worst schools in the country from behind the three-point arc, shooting 28.5% from long range (331st), attempting only 453 three-pointers (305th) and making only 129 (331st). The Tide scores in the mid 60s, on average (64.9 ppg, 244th). Overall, ‘Bama is 109th in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency according to Pomeroy.

The Bluejays, meanwhile, are 5th nationally in Adjusted Offensive Efficiency. They score 80 points per game (7th), score 1.18 points per possession (2nd; Bama’s at 1.02, good for 155th), and do so by shooting the highest field goal percentage in the nation (50.9). Still, CU is 183rd in Adjusted Defensive Efficiency.

Players to Watch

Aside from wreaking havoc on Microsoft Word spellchecking programs everywhere, senior JaMychal Green gives opposing teams fits. The 6-8 forward, an All-SEC performer in 2011 and 2012 and a 2008 McDonald’s All-American, leads Alabama with 14.0 points and 7.4 rebounds per game. He missed a few games early in the season with a shoulder injury. And he missed a few games in February after coach Anthony Grant suspended him for violating team rules. But he’s back. It could be worse; he could be Tony Mitchell, one of the Tide’s best players, a guy who was suspended for the season in early February.

Trevor Releford was also suspended with Green, and also reinstated. A second-team All-SEC performer as a sophomore, the 6-foot Releford scores nearly 12 points per game while leading the Tide in assists (2.7 APG) and steals (2.0 SPG).

Andrew Steele, a 6-4 redshirt junior guard, was also suspended but reinstated. He started nine games for the Tide, chipping in 6.7 PPG and 2.8 APG.

The rest of Alabama’s offense primarily comes from a group of four freshmen, led by starters Levi Randolph (6-5 guard, averaging 6.5 PPG and 3.9 RPG) and Nick Jacobs (6-8 forward, averaging 6.2 PPG and 3.6 RPG). Frosh Trevor Lacey (6-3, 7.1 PPG) and Rodney Cooper (6-6, 5.3 PPG) also contribute, sometimes from the starting lineup but more often from the bench.

As for the Bluejays, if you read this site regularly you need no introduction to Doug McDermott (23.2 PPG, 3rd nationally; 8.2 RPG), Antoine Young (12.5 PPG, 4.5 APG), Gregory Echenique (9.8 PPG, 7.4 RPG), and Grant Gibbs (7.1 PPG, 5.1 APG, 4.3 RPG).

Anthony Grant and his staff will no doubt find plenty of film on McDermott, who shoots 61% from the field, 49.5% from three-point range, and 79.9% from the free throw line. Round those last two up and he’s the first person in college hoops with a 60/50/80 slash line since 2001 (thanks, Dirk Chatelain).

But Young is averaging 16.6 PPG and 4.7 APG (to just 2.3 turnovers per game) during Creighton’s current seven-game winning streak. Echenique, like Young and McDermott, had an exceptional MVC Tournament and is averaging 10 PPG and 7.7 RPG in his last seven games. And Gibbs (6.4 PPG, 2.7 RPG, 3 APG in his last seven games) scored a career-high 20 points against Illinois State in the team’s MVC Tournament championship game win, adding 7 rebounds and 5 assists with no turnovers in his best game of the season.

Joining these four are a stable of shooters who can get hot at any time, including starter Jahenns Manigat (47.0% 3FG%) and bench guys Josh Jones (41.1%), Ethan Wragge (40.8%), and Avery Dingman (43.3%). Freshman Austin Chatman backs Young up at the point, and the two even share the court at times, while frosh Will Artino backs up Echenique and Wragge in the post.

How They Got Here

Alabama started the year 7-0, racking up quality wins against the likes of NCAA Tournament teams VCU, Purdue, and Creighton’s Valley brethren Wichita State. Those last two games took place in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in November. When the Tide rolled back to the continental U.S., the team was #12 nationally and heading into a marquee home game against Georgetown.

Alabama lost that game on a last-second three-pointer by the Hoyas’ Hollis Thompson, sending the Tide into a mini slump.

Alabama lost two of its next three games, at Dayton and at Kansas State, and then rattled off five straight wins spanning the end of 2011 and the start of 2012. That streak stopped with a four-point loss at Mississippi State, and the Tide lost the next three games (vs. Vanderbilt by 10, at Kentucky by 6, and at South Carolina by 2).

Coach Grant suspended Mitchell following Alabama’s win against Ole Miss. In the ten games since, the Tide is 6-4. One of those losses, 67-58 at LSU, occurred with Mitchell, Green, Releford, and Steele all suspended. The Tide went 2-2 in the four games Green missed due to suspension, and 5-2 in games he missed this season overall. They earned an at large bid out of the SEC thanks to strength of schedule and RPI ratings in the 30s.

Visit WBR all week for previews and content leading up to Creighton’s first NCAA Tournament game since 2007.

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