By Wendell Barnhouse | firstname.lastname@example.org
SAN ANTONIO – Outside of Syracuse, N.Y., zone defenses aren't regard as the manliest of basketball strategies. Sort of like the familiar phrase, "Those who can, do; those who can't, teach."
To that, Baylor can respond: "We're doing and we're teaching."
The No. 6 seed in the NCAA West Regional, the Bears face the challenge of slowing down the presumptive national player of the year and one of the top shooting teams left in the bracket. Baylor takes on No. 3 seed Creighton at 6:40 p.m. Sunday night in the AT&T Center.
In making runs to the Elite Eight in 2010 and 2012 and winning the NIT last season, the Bears' zone defense has worked because of size and quickness. Baylor has featured forwards and centers who combine height and wingspan to create a swarming nature that covers holes that often appear in zone strategies.
"It's about being active and having energy," Baylor senior reserve guard Gary Franklin said Saturday. "Ideally the zone is to keep the ball out of the paint, but also two of you have a lot of pressure on the perimeter. Then it's hard for them to see and make the right passes and the right reads in the zone."
Creighton is led by senior Doug McDermott, the son of coach Greg McDermott, who was the coach at Iowa State for four seasons. The 6-8 Doug McDermott averages 27.0 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. A four-year starter, he is fifth on the NCAA career scoring list with 3,135 points.
"It's a very good zone, they have length and athletic ability," said Greg McDermott, whose team faced a Providence zone in the Big East Championship game. "Against Providence, we had some good looks and we were 8-of-30 from the 3-point line. If we expect to beat Baylor, that percentage will have to be much better."
The Bluejays average 79.4 points per game, shooting 49.9 percent from the field and 42 percent on 3-pointers. Doug McDermott (96-of-211) and 6-7 senior Ethan Wragge (108-of-228) are both making better than 45 percent of their 3-point attempts.
"There aren't many teams with that sort of size and length," Doug McDermott said of Baylor. "We move and pass so well against man-to-man that sometimes we stand around against a zone. We'll need to get the ball into the middle and create from that.
"We're one of the best shooting teams in the country so we like when see zone."
Baylor coach Scott Drew says that while Wragge (10.8 points per game) is the only other Creighton player in double figures, Doug McDermott is a prolific scorer because of his teammates.
"His teammates are very skilled," Drew said. "They take care of the basketball and do a great job finding him, setting screens for him. The fact that all of them shoot such high percentages, you can't really slough off and put multiple guys on him to make it tough on him. That's why they're a very good team. That's why their offensive numbers are off the charts."
6:40 p.m. Sunday, San Antonio, truTV
No. 6 Baylor (25-11) vs. No. 3 Creighton (27-7)
Probable Baylor starters: Brady Heslip, 6-2 Sr. G; Kenny Chery, 5-11 Jr. G; Royce O'Neale, 6-6 Jr. F; Cory Jefferson, 6-9 Sr. F; Isaiah Austin 7-1 Soph. C.
Probable Creighton starters: Doug McDermott, 6-8 Sr. F; Ethan Wragge 6-7 Sr. F; Grant Gibbs 6-5 Sr. G; Austin Chatman 6-0 Jr.G; Jahenns Manigat 6-1 Sr. G.
Fast breaks: Over the last six seasons, Baylor is 16-3 in the post-season and that .842 winning percentage is the best in the nation. … The Bears are 11-2 since Kenny Chery returned to the starting lineup. … Under coach Scott Drew, Baylor is 32-7 in games against first-time opponents. Baylor and Creighton are meeting for the first time. … Creighton is making its 19th NCAA Tournament appearance but has never won consecutive games. … The Bluejays have won a postseason game for a seventh straight season, and an NCAA Tournament game for the third straight year. … Creighton finished Friday's victory with 18 assists against just six turnovers. For the season, Creighton has 603 assists to just 334 turnovers and that 1.81 assist/turnover ratio ranks first nationally and is on pace to be the second-best mark in NCAA history (since 1993).
What's next: The winner of the Baylor-Creighton game will advance to the West Regional semifinals Thursday in Anaheim, Calif., and will face the winner of the Wisconsin-Oregon game.