We're just three short days away from the Crimson Tide's return to the NCAA Tournament. As we count down the hours, we'll begin taking a closer look at Bama's opening round opponent, the Creighton Blue Jays of the Missouri Valley Conference. In the next couple of days we'll look at how the two teams match up overall, but to kick off our coverage we'll begin by taking a look at the Creighton players.
#3 - Doug McDermott - 6'7" - Sophomore - Wing
If you haven't already heard of McDermott, you haven't been paying attention to college basketball this year. I've seen a lot said/written about him this season, but one fun fact stood out most: in the history of the Missouri Valley Conference (one of the strongest basketball conferences outside the "BCS" conferences), only two players have scored more points than McDermott in their first two seasons. Their names? Oscar Robertson and Larry Bird.
McDermott averages over 23 points/game, and he does so in a variety of ways. He is one of the rare players in college basketball who can really play almost any position on the floor. For starters, he is a 6-7 player who is deadly from the 3-point arc. He makes 1.6 treys each game while shooting an unbelievable 49%. But that only accounts for about 5 of his 23 points. He can also handle the ball like a guard and drive to the hole and can pull up and knock down mid-range jumpers as well. What really sets him apart though is that he has the size and skills to play as a big man too. He averages over 8 rebounds/game (more than anyone on Alabama's team) and can score effectively in the low post. Really, there's not anything he can't do on offense, and he's a matchup nightmare for any one player to try and guard.
McDermott is expected to be named an All-American at year end, and deservedly so. He is one of the best players in college basketball. To try and give some perspective for just how good a scorer this guy is and just how much 23 points/game is in college basketball, consider that when he goes for 20 in a game, it is an off night and he just brought down his scoring average. Alabama won't be able to stop him, but they can try to make sure he doesn't beat Alabama all by himself.
The Big Man
#0 - Greg Echenique - 6'9" - Junior - Forward
Creighton has a lot of size on the perimeter, but usually just plays with only one true big man. For the majority of the game, that role is filled by Echenique, a Venezuelan native with a huge frame and wide body. Echenique isn't particularly explosive as an athlete but he is very effective using his 270 pounds to rule the paint on both ends. He is second on the team in total rebounds with 7.4/game, but he leads the team in rebounds/minute. He is also third on the team in scoring with 9.8 points/game.
Echenique will be an interesting matchup for Alabama inside. The best comparision in the SEC is probably Mississippi State's Renardo Sidney, as the two players have similar size and skills. The difference is that Echenique is probably in better shape. He's an effective inside player, but nothing that Alabama hasn't faced before in SEC play.
#30 - Antoine Young - 6'0" - Senior - Guard
#10 - Grant Gibbs - 6'4" - Junior - Guard
Starting guards Young and Gibbs don't get much attention in the shadow of McDermott, but they are the engine of the high-powered Creighton offense. Combined, they average a mind-blowing 9.4 assists/game. If I had to guess, I'd say that is the best one-two assist duo in the entire country. Obviously, it helps your assist stats to be playing on the third-best 3-point shooting team in America, but nevertheless both of these guys know how to create on offense and how to get the ball in the hands of the team's scorers.
Speaking of scoring, Young himself is the second-leading scorer on the team, and the only player besides McDermott to average double-figures with 12.8 points/game. Young is probably the best pure penetrator on the team. Like Alabama's own point guard Trevor Releford, he likes slicing into the paint and is very effective scoring going towards the basket, but isn't a great outside shooter.
Gibbs is flourishing in his first year in the program after transferring in from Gonzaga. He is a very solid all-around player who averages over 7 points and 4 rebounds each outing in addition to his gaudy 5.1 assist/game average. Possibly the biggest key to slowing down this high-scoring Creighton offense is to contain these two players. If the Bama defenders can do so, the Tide will should be able to largely disrupt the Blue Jay offense.
#12 - Jahenns Manigat - 6'1" - Sophomore - Guard
#34 - Ethan Wragge - 6'7" - Sophomore - Wing
#5 - Josh Jones - 6'2" - Junior - Guard
With Young and Gibbs carving up the defenses, Echenique manning the post, and McDermott scoring all over the floor, you pretty much have all the ingredients necessary for a good offense. What separates Creighton's offense from "good" to "great" however is their arsenal of 3-point shooters who capitalize on the play-making ability of McDermott, Young, and Gibbs with deadly accuracy from the arc.
Manigat hits 1.7 treys each game at a 47% clip. Wragge hits 1.8 treys each game at a 41% clip. Jones hits 1.1 treys each game at a 41% clip. That's a combined 11 points each game that come from role players who are able to shoot from over 40% behind the arc. With players like these who are able to spot up at the 3-point line, it becomes much more difficult to collapse the defense around players like McDermott, Echenique, or either of the two playmaking guards.
The Role Players
#1 - Austin Chatman - 6'0" - Freshman - Guard
#31 - Will Artino - 6'11" Freshman - Center
#22 - Avery Dingman - 6'6" - Freshman - Wing
A trio of freshmen round out the Blue Jay rotation. Chatman plays the most, averaging over 11 minutes/game spelling Young at the point guard spot. Artino is the primary backup for Echenique in the post. Dingman rotates in as well and is yet another deadly 3-point shooter, hitting 43% from the arc on the year.
We'll take a closer look at the Blue Jays' team strengths and weaknesses in our next piece as we get closer to game time. We'll also examine the biggest keys to an Alabama victory as the Tide seeks to advance in March Madness.
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On that note, as if we needed more incentive to root for Bama, the good folks at Buick have offered to send yours truly and one guest to New Orleans if the Tide makes it to the Final Four. The package includes two flights to New Orleans, a Buick to drive once we get there, a hotel room, and two tickets to the Final Four. It also includes access to Buick activities like media events and parties, so if it happens, we’re going to be able to provide the RBR community both an in-the-stands and behind-the-scenes look at the Final Four, all with that same pro-quality, fan perspective thing you won’t get anywhere else. So if Alabama is fortunate enough to get to New Orleans, I and a guest will be there to lend our support and to provide you with the best coverage we can muster, all courtesy of Buick. So, you know, Roll Tide.
Also check out the exclusive Buick-NCAA Team Badge application found on http://apps.facebook.com/ncaabadges/ which allows college basketball fans to post a college-specific March Madness badge on their profile to show support for their team.