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No. 3 Seed Creighton to Face No. 14 Akron in NCAA Tournament

by Mar 17, 2024Creighton Mens Basketball

No. 3 Seed Creighton to Face No. 14 Akron in NCAA Tournament
Photo Credit: Brandon Tiedemann

The Creighton men’s basketball team earned the No. 3 seed in the Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament, tying the 2013-14 team for the highest seed in program history.

The Bluejays will take on No. 14 Akron in the first round in Pittsburgh Thursday. The other Midwest quadrant in Pittsburgh features No. 6 South Carolina and No. 11 Oregon, led by Creighton coach Greg McDermott’s predecessor in Omaha, Dana Altman.

“Obviously excited to be able to secure a three seed, tied for the best in the history of our school,” McDermott said. “It’s a real credit to these guys and their work ethic. Obviously, Akron is a really good team. I’ve known John Groce for a long time. He’s been a terrific coach everywhere that he’s been and I’m not surprised that he’s done as well as he’s done at Akron.

“Interestingly, I’m a Steeler fan and I’ve never been to Pittsburgh, so I’m kind of looking forward to that. Obviously we’ve had two coaches in the last 30 years at Creighton and we’ll both be in Pittsburgh in the same quad. That’s pretty cool stuff.”

Creighton (23-9) went into Selection Sunday 11th in both the NET and KenPom, but the committee tabbed the Bluejays as the 10th overall seed, second on the three-line.

Akron went 24-10 this season and hit two free throws in the final seconds of the MAC Tournament to take down Kent State and punch its ticket to the Dance. The Zips sit 116th in KenPom and 108th in the NET.

“We did some did some good things in the regular season this year, but when March comes around, every team is good around this time,” Trey Alexander said. “We’ve seen a lot of teams lose in the first round that are supposed to win in the first round. So we’re just going to take it one game at a time. This is my third time, [Ryan Kalkbrenner’s] fourth time in the NCAA Tournament; we’ve grown to know that you have to take it one game at a time and focus on the game at hand because the moment you start to look forward, then that’s when teams can lose and get upset.”

Creighton’s entire starting five and sixth man played in the NCAA Tournament a year ago. Alexander and Kalkbrenner have qualified every year they’ve been in Omaha as this is Creighton’s fourth-straight bid. But even for the grizzled veterans, the jitters of playing in the NCAA Tournament never quite go away.

“I think there’s always a little bit of it,” Kalkbrenner said. “Definitely less jitters than like my freshman or sophomore year, but there’s, for me at least, you’re never going to get to the point where you never get a little bit of, I don’t want to call it nerves, but jitters. It’s just a special time of year to play. So there’s always kind of a little jitters.”

Alexander said the Bluejays are grateful they still get a chance to play after their quarterfinal exit from the Big East Tournament. That isn’t the case for eight other Big East teams as the conference only received three bids: No. 1 seed UConn, No. 2 seed Marquette and the third-seeded Jays. Seton Hall was among the first four out.

“It’s kind of taken a little of the buzz off,” McDermott said. “Hard to believe and, I certainly recognize that the committee’s got a very difficult job and the events of the last couple of days with some upsets in conference tournaments has almost made it unprecedented for this tournament. But we’re the second-best league in the country and we have three teams in the top three seed lines, and a team that went 13-7 is not worthy to get in? Seton Hall, St. John’s, Providence, Villanova, they all had great wins during the course of the season.

“So it’s disappointing. Obviously it’s viewed favorably because of the seed lines of UConn, Marquette and ourselves, but disappointed that we weren’t able to get a couple more teams in because those teams are certainly deserving and they all had terrific years. I feel for their coaches and their players because if you win half your games in the Big East, you should be playing in the postseason.”

Moving forward, there aren’t any at-large bids remaining. It’s win or go home, and Kalkbrenner shared the Jays’ takeaway from the loss to Providence.

“Take that loss, you watch film, you learn from it and figure out how to fix it,” Kalkbrenner said. “A lot of that for us is going to be figuring out how to be on point on defense for 40 minutes straight and not have stretches where our defense isn’t as good and as locked in. So just getting that ironed out so we play 40 straight minutes of really good, solid defense.”

Alexander also highlighted defensive effort as the key to a deep run.

“Just being able to make sure our defense is on point,” Alexander said. “I think that’s the biggest thing going throughout the tournament, just letting our defense carry us and being able to win games even when we’re not able to make shots and things of that sort. So I think the defense is going to be the biggest key throughout this tournament.”

Creighton and Akron till tip off at 12:30 p.m. CT on Thursday. TNT will televise the game.

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