Kansas State +1.5 vs. Creighton O/U 144.5
Recommendation: Kansas State
Creighton’s backstory entering the NCAA Tournament this season follows a similar script as last season. The Bluejays lost arguably their best player midseason a year ago when senior PG Maurice Watson Jr. went out and Greg McDermott’s squad was never quite the same from that point on. They limped to the finish line of the regular season and were bounced by Rhode Island in their first NCAA Tournament game by a score of 84-72. This season, Creighton suffered another harmful midseason injury in January when their best frontcourt player Martin Krampelj who averaged 11.9 points and 8.1 boards per game for the Bluejays suffered a season ending torn ACL. It’s no surprise to see their rebounding rate (which is at 50.5% on the season) fall downward into the mid to high 40% range since that injury. From the time in which Krampelj went out, Creighton again sputtered down the stretch to the tune of 5-7 SU, 3-9 ATS in their last 12 games inside the Big East and much like last season, I think Creighton could be poised for another ‘one and done’ performance in the NCAA Tournament. The Bluejays have not much to speak of in terms of building up a quality resume away from home against tournament bound squads. Creighton went 1-7 SU and ATS in road/neutral games against tournament squads during the season with the only win coming all the way back in November when they beat UCLA 100-89 in Kansas City. That is not the track record I am ready to trust Creighton with as a favorite here in their NCAA Tournament opener. Kansas State isn’t that “stylish” team people fall in love with but it has been a solid season for Bruce Weber’s squad and I was impressed with their toughness in last week’s Big 12 Tournament rallying from a deficit to beat TCU in OT and then despite being without their two best players and top two scorers in Barry Brown and Dean Wade, they never folded the tent against Kansas and battled valiantly before finally running out of gas down the stretch of that game. Wade and Brown are both listed as probable for Friday’s game against Creighton and should be on the floor.
In what should be a close game, I look at the fact Kansas State is giving up a 49.5% effective defensive FG percentage compared to Creighton’s 50% and the Wildcats stand at 0.995 PPP allowed while the Bluejays have surrendered 1.006 PPP on the season. The difference is minimal but Kansas State has the slightly better defensive numbers across the board and they had to do it against the always rough and rugged Big 12 schedule. Another very important, under the radar element to this game that I noticed when looking at it is Creighton’s recent struggles at the FT line. The Bluejays are only shooting 63.9% at the free throw line over their last 5 games compared to the Wildcats who have shot 70.2% at the line during that same span. That could make all the difference in the world in what has the potential to be a close game. I’m not sure Creighton deserves to be the chalk here as I give Kansas State an equal or even slightly greater chance to win this game which has me siding with the Wildcats as a slim underdog.