GAME NOTES: Doug McDermott and the Creighton Bluejays face a tough test in the second round of the NCAA Tournament as they collide with the Cincinnati Bearcats in Midwest Regional action at the Wells Fargo Center on Friday.
This will be just the third meeting in history between these schools and it will be the first since 1989. Cincinnati won both previous encounters.
The winner of this game will take on either Duke or Albany in the third round.
Creighton improved to 27-7 on the season and punched its ticket to the Big Dance with a 68-65 victory over Wichita State in the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship game. The Bluejays also won the outright MVC regular-season title by defeating WSU, 91-79, in their season finale. McDermott is the nation's only returning First Team All-American and has not disappointed in his junior season either, ranking second in the nation in scoring at 23.1 ppg with a 49.7 percent conversion rate from beyond the arc.
Creighton scores an MVC best 75.4 ppg, and its field-goal percentages (.508) ranks first in the nation. McDermott is making a strong case for National Player of the Year, but he has some help. Gregory Echenique has been impressive in the paint at both ends of the floor, logging 9.6 ppg (on 66.7 percent from the field), 6.6 rpg and 1.7 bpg. Ethan Wragge, the conference's Sixth Man of the Year, has excellent shooting touch which keeps defenses honest. Grant Gibbs is a solid floor general and manages to deal out 5.9 assists per tilt.
The Bearcats had a decent campaign themselves as they enter with a 22-11 record. They also have their own star player in Sean Kilpatrick, who nets 16.9 points and 5.2 rebounds per game. Much more than a scorer, Kilpatrick is second on the team with 61 assists and 41 steals. Cincinnati won its first game in the Big East Tournament easily as it coasted past Providence for a 17- point decision, but it was on the other end of a rout its next time out when it suffered a 62-43 loss to Georgetown.
Kilpatrick is joined in the backcourt by Cashmere Wright, who produces 12.6 points and 3.1 assists per outing. Both Kilpatrick and Wright shoot under 40 percent from the floor. JaQuon Parker is a serviceable third scoring option with 11.3 ppg, while Cheikh Mbodj posts 2.7 blocks per outing. The Bearcats score 66.6 ppg against a scoring defense that allows just 58.8 ppg. They shoot 40.2 percent from the field as a team despite the backcourt's shooting woes and outrebound the opposition by an average of 6.5 boards per tilt. Coach Mick Cronin, now in his seventh season at the helm of the program, is 2-3 all-time in the NCAA Tournament, including a Sweet 16 appearance last season.
This is going to be one of the most closely contested matchups in the opening stages of the NCAA Tournament. Cincinnati will need to figure out a way to contain McDermott, which is something very few teams in the country are capable of doing.