The bubble teams can rejoice. Creighton and Murray State were both able to win the conference tournaments, albeit in close fashion, thus giving them automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament.
The best part about that for the bubble teams is that those two squads were going to be locks anyway. If Illinois State were to win the Missouri Valley or Tennessee State win the Ohio Valley, it would have taken a bid away from a team like Miami or Texas.
Illinois State and Tennessee State sure made the bubble teams worry though. After upsetting No. 14 Wichita State the previous day, the Redbirds were in good position to knock off Creighton in the MVC championship. Nic Moore drove coast-to-coast for a layup with 6.5 seconds left to force overtime with the Bluejays. Creighton’s Antoine Young took over in the extra period, however, scoring eight of his 14 points in overtime to preserve the victory for the favorite.
As for Tennessee State, they had already defeated Murray once this year — the only loss of the year for the Racers. They almost did it again, up seven points with just over five minutes left. Murray was somehow able to come back and get the automatic bid. Jewaun Long drove the baseline to scored the winning layup with 4.4 seconds left to win it for Murray.
So what does this mean for the rest of the country? The MVC was going to get two bids regardless of the conference tournament, Wichita and Creighton. Likewise for the OVC, where Murray is a lock. This gives the bubble teams a much better chance at making the Big Dance.
Both Creighton and Murray State are threats to make a run in the tournament and possibly pull off an upset. They both feature stars (Isaiah Canaan for Murray and Doug McDermott for Creighton), they are both deadly from deep and they both rebound well — all of which are key in making a March run.
North Carolina-Ashville and Belmont were the top other squads that punched in their automatic bids over the weekend. Ashville will likely be a 15/16 seed, possibly playing one of the first round games. Belmont could possibly be a sleeper to make a run, having not lost since Jan. 21. In their season-opener they lost to Duke by just one point, 77-76. Depending on who they play, their opposition should be on alert next week.
On that note — next week — that feels good to say. This is going to be a fun week for all of us in Championship Week, but the real fun begins next week.
Here is a quick look at a game each day this week that may catch your attention.
Monday: Syracuse @ Louisville (7pm ESPN) – ESPN’s Big Monday crew rolls into town with Louisville off a win at West Virginia, and Syracuse comes into the KFC Yum! Center with a five game winning streak.
Tuesday: Buffalo at Kent St. (7pm ESPN Full Court) – 2nd and 3rd place in the MAC East Division take the court in a Valentine’s Night game. The Bulls won by one point when these teams met January 7th.
Wednesday: Missouri St. at Wichita St. (8pm ESPN Full Court) – 1st place Shockers host 3rd place Missouri St., the Shockers took the previous match-up at the start of the month by seven.
Thursday: Wisconsin at Michigan St. (7pm ESPN) – 2nd and 3rdin the Big Ten, the Spartans won by three in Overtime last month in Madison.
Friday: Northern Iowa at VCU (7pm ESPN2) – The kickoff game of this years BracketBusters event, two teams that have been busting brackets in March make for a great start to the 10th year of the BracketBusters series.
Saturday: St. Mary’s at Murray State (6pm ESPN2) – The match-up that everyone wanted in BracketBusters. This game should still be a great game even without the Racers being undefeated, plus Dick Vitale is calling the game, should be a great atmosphere.
Sunday: Michigan State at Purdue (1pm CBS) – The Boilermakers get a shot to get a quality win over the Spartans under the lights of CBS.
It might be unfair for Creighton to have Doug McDermott on his team. I mean look at his stats, he averages 23.6 points per game with 8.3 rebounds. Oh and he’s shooting 52 percent — not from the field, that’s too pedestrian for McDermott. The sophomore forward is shooting that good from the 3-point line (62 percent from the field, for the record).
McDermott is a big reason why Creighton is having their best season since the Kyle Korver-era. They stand at 21-3 for the year and 11-2 in the tough Missouri Valley Conference. But as good as the Bluejays’ star is, he isn’t all they’ve got.
Creighton has five guys averaging at least seven points a game, which may not seem a lot, but when you take into account their top guy is one of the leading scorers in the country, that’s pretty good.
One of those players is senior guard Antoine Young, who is averaging 11 points and 4.5 assists for Creighton. He went off for 23 points in their buzzer-beater loss to Northern Iowa on Saturday — the second time he has gotten over 20 against them this year.
He isn’t even their top assist guy either, as Grant Gibbs is averaging 5.8 a game. Gibbs is a Gonzaga transfer who is filling up the statbook, also averaging 7.9 points and 4.5 boards. Led by the guard play of Gibbs and Young, Creighton is second in the country in assists with 19.3 a game, trailing only Iona. Creighton is 17-0 this year when one of their players has at least six assists in a game. Having pass-first guards has been a key in helping McDermott be the prolific scorer he is.
Add in Gregory Echenique (9.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Jahenns Manigat (7.1 ppg) and this is a very formidable team with a chance to make a run in the NCAA’s.
But no mid major can be ranked as high as Creighton is without a little luck.No one on their rotation has missed any time this year, as they have had nine guys play all 23 games this year.
And this team is shooting deadly, and it doesn’t matter where they are on the court. They are first in the nation in both field goal percentage (.514) and 3-point percentage (.449).
McDermott will be the MVC Player of the Year and a possible All-American, but he will be double teamed by the best teams in the nation come March. His teammates have had his back all year, and they will have to keep doing so in order to make a run to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament.