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Creighton Matchup

I did a bit of a deep dive because I am taking PTO this week, and my high level is:

  1. Creighton plays the sort of style that would lead to an upset typically (high 3’s, good team defense).
  2. However, the specific things they are good at do not hurt Gonzaga, specifically they do NOT appear to leverage free throws, fouls, and offensive rebounds.
  3. It is probably overall a good matchup for the Zags because they are likely to still be able to score in transition and at the rim against a Creighton team without significant shot blockers.

I think I fall pretty close to inline with the bookmakers on this one, giving Creighton ~10-15% implied probability of winning the game. A Creighton win would imply high shooting skew (for both teams, Creighton UP and GU DOWN) and probably Creighton playing out of character in terms of generating free throw chances or getting specific Zags in foul trouble (looking at you, Suggs).

Okay, now the nitty gritty (most advanced stats from haslametrics.com or the official NCAA website, but I'm going to refrain from linking them because I don't need to prove that I have the ability to source material):

  • Creighton plays a high skew game, taking the 6th most 3pt fga in ncaa. This typically leads to less consistent outcomes, or in other words a chance for the underdog. This is the Creighton hope in this game. Primarily, this falls to Zegarowsk (11), Ballock (24), and Mahoney (34). If these shooters do not have a spectacular game (and likely in conjunction with additional non-standard performances that favor Creighton), it is unlikely they win the game.
  • Bad news for Bluejays: The Zags play better against teams that shoot from beyond the arc. In the "curious trends" section of the Gonzaga haslemetrics page, it says this: "When facing teams that prefer the outside shot, Gonzaga often performs better than normal." That falls in line with my evaluation of the Zags too, as they have very good perimeter defenders this year who can make things hard for guys like Creighton's who have a tough time as "Scorers" and instead are mostly "shooters."
  • Building on the above, Creighton does NOT generate foul shots, and when they do, they have poor shooters who get them. Their FT rate is in the mid 200s and their ft% is nearly at the bottom of D1, in large part because the "shooters" are not good at generating foul shots. This does not hurt Gonzaga, who struggles to protect the rim at a high level and also runs a 7 man rotation that can be impacted significantly by foul trouble. If the Zags keep their hands to themselves and do not allow cheapy fouls and bs bonus trips to the line, the odds tilt even farther towards GU.
  • Creighton does not create additional opportunities via the offensive glass, prioritizing instead transition defense. While you might think this could slow down Gonzaga, the lack of an offensive rebounder that could grab some of the long 3pt misses is likely to favor the Zags. They will find ways to score in transition still, and unless they change the way they play in this one, Creighton will be 1-and-done on the offensive end and semi transition for Suggs, Ayayi, and Timme early post ups are highly efficient scoring mechanisms for Gonzaga.
  • Though a good defensive team, Creighton does not have spectacular individual defenders and instead does their work through team defense and generating progressive opposing shot charts. They do not allow a ton of rim attempts but DO allow a ton of 3s. They've "defended" the 3 well at 30%, but watching them play this might be more luck than skill as they allow SO MANY attempts and it doesn't seem like they only allow them to poor shooters either. Look for Gonzaga's secondary shooters to dictate the game (Ayayi, Suggs, Cook, Nembhard). They will likely get a large number of chances to jack and if they shoot average to above average, that's probably game over.

This post does not reflect the views of the blog authors or SB Nation.

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