Creighton vs. Tennessee Game Preview and Pick: Back the Bluejays as Underdogs

Rooting for underdogs in the NCAA Tournament is essentially a tradition, as it gives people a common interest to rally around. This year, there is only one double-digit seed playing in the Sweet 16, and while that takes away the potential for a Cinderella story to root for, it does set up some of the best matchups a college basketball fan could ask for.

To round out the Sweet 16 on Friday night, the third-seeded Creighton Bluejays will take on the two-seed Tennessee Volunteers. Both teams escaped the first weekend with narrow victories in the Round of 32, and even if you ignore all the history of Rick Barnes-led teams struggling this late in the season, I still think Creighton is the right play to make.

Game Preview

The second half of NCAA Tournament games is when boys become men. Teams are 20 minutes from either ending their season or advancing closer to the ultimate goal, and sometimes, that pressure can be felt through the TV screen. I say all this because Tennesee nearly folded in the second half of their matchup with Texas.

After going into halftime with a 28-19 lead, the Volunteers were outscored 39-34 in the second half, which resulted in a narrow 62-58 win. Most of the game was spent waiting for Dalton Knecht to take over down the stretch, but that never really came as he finished 5-18 from the field and 1-8 from three. Rough shooting games will eventually happen, even for pure scorers like Knecht. The only problem was that no one on Tennesee stepped up on the offensive end while he was struggling.

The Volunteers ultimately ended the game with a 34% field goal percentage and 12% three-point percentage. With shooting numbers like that, it’s a good thing Tennesee is still third in the country on Bart Torvik in adjusted defensive efficiency rating. For as good as Tennesee is defensively, Creighton is an interesting matchup for them since the Bluejays like to live behind the three-point line.

In their overtime win over Oregon in the Round of 32, the Bluejays attempted 39 threes and knocked down 15. The trio of Steven Ashworth, Baylor Scheierman, and Trey Alexander combined to make 13 threes, finishing the game with 18 or more points.

Defensively, Creighton has done an excellent job of limiting shooters all season, ranking 10th in the country in opponent effective field goal percentage. Even with that, though, the Bluejays struggled to stop Oregon’s two biggest scoring threats all game, so there are flaws that Tennesee can look to attack.

Pick for the Game

In this two vs. three matchup, Creighton is listed as a (+3) point underdog on some Tennesee sports betting apps, and it’s hard to imagine the Bluejays don’t take this game to the wire. Sure, the Volunteers are a good defensive team, but their tendency to allow their opponent to live beyond the arc could burn them.

According to Bart Torvik, the Vols are 309th in the country in opponent three-point rate. While Texas couldn’t capitalize on it, this is a Creighton team that is 17th in the country in three-point percentage vs. the average opponent (38.1%)(Haslametrics). The Bluejays are also 2nd in near-proximity field goal percentage vs. the average opponent, so even if Tennesse adjusts their defensive style, they should still be able to find scoring opportunities.

Defensively, it all comes down to how well the Bluejays can guard Dalton Knecht. I don’t expect Knecht to struggle like he did against Texas, but even if he gets off to a hot start, I trust Coach McDermott and his ability to adjust, much like he did in overtime against Oregon. With Creighton also ranked 22nd in opponent three-point percentage, they are just a tough matchup for the Vols.


  • Creighton Bluejays (+3)(-112) on DraftKings

*odds subject to change

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