Table of Contents
By mid-December, Creighton was suffering through six-straight defeats. On Jan. 11, the preseason No. 9 team was 9-8. Now in March, the Bluejays are comfortably above .500, third in the Big East, and aiming to win their first-ever national championship.
It took them a while, but the Bluejays came together much better in the back half of the campaign. They have one of the nation’s best big men in Ryan Kalkbrenner and a healthy helping of scoring options to overwhelm opposing defenses. Xavier, UConn, Arkansas, and Providence have all learned this the hard way.
Last National Championship: None
Last Final Four: None
2023 Title Odds: +3500 (as of March 6, 2023)
Why Creighton Will Make a Run
Opponents shouldn’t expect many second-chance opportunities against the Bluejays. This is one of the top defensive rebounding teams in the nation, averaging nearly 29 defensive boards every game. Creighton is a good rebounding team overall, but it especially excels at boxing out on the defensive end. If a team is having a below-par shooting night against Creighton, it probably won’t be able to rely on second-chance points.
Creighton excels on the defensive side in general. Its five starters have all contributed at least 1.5 defensive wins shares this season. The Bluejays don’t generate a ton of steals or block an abnormal number of shots, but they stay in front of the ball, rotate well, and box out after the shot goes up. This team also plays very clean defense – Creighton has committed the third-fewest personal fouls per game in the nation. Its efforts have Creighton in the top 15 for adjusted defensive efficiency in KenPom and T-Rank. Also, Kalkbrenner is a special defender.
Why Creighton Will Exit Early
This isn’t a very deep team. Creighton’s bench averages just 11.84 points per game, the 13th-fewest among Division I substitutes. This is one of the least foul-prone teams in college basketball, but a sloppier night or bad whistle that causes foul trouble would be problematic for Creighton. It’s paramount that its starters keep fouling to a minimum. Fatigue can also become an issue, particularly when players are asked to play twice in three days.
Because Creighton plays a less aggressive style of defense, it gives up a ton of shots, especially inside the arc. Creighton’s opponents have attempted an average of 62.6 field goals per contest and 44.2 shots from the two-point range each game. It usually works out for the Bluejays – they force their opponents into tough, contested shots that they’re likely to miss, then get the rebound. But if Creighton runs into a team that’s shooting well even through those closeouts and difficult angles, then the number of shots it lets up could be cause for tournament expulsion.
What It’ll Take to Win
With a team this thin, you have to have a lot of scorers among your starters, and Creighton does. All five of them have double-digit scoring averages and can put points on the board in a variety of ways. For Creighton to win the national championship, most of these guys will have to step up in every single game. If even just two of the Bluejays’ starters go missing for a night, then scoring enough to keep up would be very difficult. Not everyone has to put up 20, but total duds could be deadly.
The Bluejays are one of the Big East’s better three-point shooting teams at 35.8 percent. It’s nothing amazing, but it’s among the top third of Division I. For Creighton to win the national championship, it will have to stretch the floor with its triples to open up space for Kalkbrenner to do his thing inside. Kalkbrenner is one of the most efficient players in college basketball, shooting a Big East-best 70.4 percent from the field. If he has more room to operate, everything will be better for the Bluejays.