When what some people prefer to call the “new Big East” was formed in advance of the 2013-14 season – mostly, that’s a term used by people who spent a lot of time around the “old Big East – there was some discussion regarding whether it would be prudent to invite Gonzaga to join.
Gonzaga is one of the best basketball programs in any conference. The Zags would have been a prize for the Big East. But however big the Big East might be, it probably was a stretch to attempt to annex Spokane, Wash.
So instead we get Gonzaga vs. Creighton in the NCAA Tournament Sweet 16. Gonzaga enters as the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, still carrying an undefeated record, and Creighton arrives having defeated two mid-major opponents after losing by a boatload of points in the Big East Tournament final.
So we don’t know if the Blue Jays have repaired all that went wrong in the championship game against Georgetown. They beat two fine teams, UC Santa Barbara and Ohio U., but neither presents the sort of challenge that arrives in Gonzaga uniforms.
The Zags are the best team in the country. Whether they will be champions will be decided in four games. Or fewer.
Here’s everything to know about betting on Gonzaga vs. Creighton in the 2021 NCAA Tournament, including updated odds, trends and our expert’s prediction for the Sweet 16 game.
Gonzaga vs. Creighton odds
Three betting trends to watch
— Depending on how one classifies BYU, Gonzaga is 5-1 ATS in games against major-conference opponents. (The Zags did not cover in any of their three victories over BYU).
— Creighton has been an underdog only three times previously this season and was 2-1 in those games.
— No undefeated team has lost a Sweet 16 game since 1971, when Marquette fell to Ohio State in the Mideast Region semifinals. Eight teams took perfect records into this round since and advanced to the regional finals.
Gonzaga key players
Guard Jalen Suggs could be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, depending on who holds it and what sort of player they wish to land. He is the most complete guard prospect in Division I, with the elite athleticism one would want from a modern NBA player as well as a solid shooting stroke and the ability to deliver a scoring pass on target. Wing Corey Kispert is a better shooter in the college game. Big man Drew Timme is not an above-the-rim guy and rarely takes his game to the perimeter, but he has a great knack for scoring in the post and moves nimbly enough to defend away from the basket.
Creighton key players
Shooter Mitchell Ballock could be the key player for Creighton, even though he comes in as the team’s fifth-leading scorer. He hits 39.5 percent of his threes, and he had big days in some of the team’s biggest wins (20 against Villanova, 29 against Seton Hall). Point guard Marcus Zegarowski was a first-team All-Big East choice. The undersized Blue Jays start two other 6-5 players (Damien Jefferson and Denzel Mahoney) and 6-7 Christian Bishop at center. Bishop excels at using his ballhandling ability to drive it on bigger defenders.
Best individual matchup: Kispert vs. Mahoney
It’s difficult to know which of Creighton’s perimeter players will match up with Kispert, but let’s start here because containing Kispert is so important to staying in the game with the Zags. Few have done either, of course, but when BYU held a double-digit lead at halftime of the WCC championship game, Kispert had scored only three points. He quickly warmed up in the second half and wound up scoring 14 in the final 20 minutes. Kispert is shooting 54.5 percent from the field and 45.8 percent on threes. Attempting to deny Kispert his favored spots on the floor, particularly just to the right of the top of the key, is important to containing the Gonzaga attack. Mahoney has not had his best shooting year and connected only on 32.8 percent from deep. But he has the strength to bother Kispert and perhaps even things up a bit.
Gonzaga vs. Creighton stat to know
Creighton is well known as a 3-point shooting team largely because of the trio of Zegarowski, Ballock and Mahoney, who have combined to make 205 threes this season. But the Blue Jays actually are a more effective team on 2-point attempts, where they rank 10th in the nation compared to 52nd in 3-point accuracy, according to KenPom.com. The 3-point shot is important to the Blue Jays attack, but they rank 32nd in the share of their field goal attempts that are from 3-point range. So it’s not like that’s their only way to score.
Get to know … Marcus Zegarowski
Zegarowski led Creighton to a share of the Big East title as a sophomore and was projected as an All-American in the preseason. There was a slight decline in his key stats (15.7 ppg, 4.4 apg). The Blue Jays were slightly less effective as a team without guard Ty-Shon Alexander, who turned pro after last season and has spent most of the year in the G League. So it wasn’t the dream season many imagined, but this one’s not only ending in the NCAA Tournament, Creighton is playing in the Sweet 16. Zegarowski has been a better player in March Madness, averaging 18.5 points and 5 assists through two rounds.
Gonzaga vs. Creighton prediction
After what Gonzaga center Drew Timme did to Oklahoma in a second-round game Monday, which has multiple big man including a legit shot-blocker in 6-10 Kur Kuath, Creighton is confronted with a difficult job defending the post. Timme was 9-of-12 from the floor and scored 30 points, and he also passed for four assists. Creighton starts 6-7 Christian Bishop at the center spot. They do have a shot-blocker in Ryan Kalkbrenner to come off the bench, but he’s thin and inexperienced and may struggle to deal with Timme’s balletic footwork. Creighton’s best chance: make a lot of shots and find away to make the Zags miserable on the perimeter. They guard the 3-point line very well. They’ll need to in order to have a chance.
Final score: Gonzaga 89, Creighton 75
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