March Madness

2014 NCAA Tournament Preview: (3) Creighton vs. (14) Louisiana Lafayette

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Creighton Blue Jays 26-7, 14-4
For the third consecutive season, the Blue Jays have earned a spot in the Big Dance thanks largely in part to the 3000-point man in Doug McDermott. One of the best players in college basketball history, the one thing McDermott is missing from his resume is a deep tournament run. They missed the tournament his freshman year and have only gotten to the Round of 32 in each of the last two seasons. This year, though, they come in equipped to make far more noise with one of the most potent offenses in the country. Led by McDermott’s 26.8 points a game, the Blue Jays score 79.9 points a night on 49.6 percent shooting from the field and 42 percent from distance, the top mark in the country. They also are second nationally in assists per game with 17.9 and first in assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.79:1. Defensively the Blue Jays are no slouch either, limiting the opposition to 67.3 points a game, which is particularly impressive considering they’re in the bottom 10 nationally in steals and blocks per game. Against the RPI top 100 they went 13-6 with their top win coming against Villanova, who they beat twice in very convincing fashion. With the best senior class in the history of their program, the Blue Jays are a strong bet to survive past the opening weekend this year and set a school record for tournament wins, which is two, a feat they’ve accomplished twice, but not since 1974. It will take a monumental defensive effort to out them; they’re 16-0 when scoring 81 points or more.

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Louisiana Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns 23-11, 11-7
The Georgia State Panthers won the Sun Belt regular season championship with a 17-1 record, while the Ragin’ Cajuns were six games off of that pace. However, after an overtime thriller on Selection Sunday it’s the Ragin’ Cajuns who are dancing. Prior to upsetting the Panthers they knocked off the second-ranked Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, also by a single point. They have their defense to thank for their 10th ticket to the Big Dance and first since 2005. They allowed 66 a night during the regular season, but most importantly got stops when they needed them the most during the most important games of the season. It’s going to be a real treat to watch Elfrid Payton and Shawn Long, two of the best mid-major players in the country, play on the national stage. Payton, a 6’3 junior point guard, is a legitimate NBA Draft prospect and a true stat stuffer, averaging 19.1 points, six rebounds, six assists and 2.3 steals. Meanwhile sophomore big man Shawn Long is an absolutely dominating presence in the interior, putting up 18.9 points, 10.4 rebounds and 2.8 blocks a night. In their big-clinching defeat of Georgia State Xavian Rimmer scored a career-high 27 points. He’s extremely streaky, but if he can come through with another big effort in the tourney, the Ragin’ Cajuns could be one of the tougher draws for a higher seed in the opening round. Ragin’ Cajuns head coach Bob Marlin, who is making his second appearance in the tourney as a head coach, is not afraid to go deep into his bench, but their depth took a hit when Kasey Shepherd was lost for the year due to a torn meniscus. Their record against the RPI top 100 was 1-5; they were beat handedly by Baylor and Louisville back in late 2013. To stand a chance to survive and advance they have to take better care of the basketball after averaging 13.9 turnovers a game.