Make no mistake about it, NC State has its work cut out for it on Friday. Creighton is an impressively balanced team, one with few weaknesses that aren’t self-imposed (i.e., stylistic choices).
The Bluejays have been tested by a tough schedule—KenPom ranks it 16th—and they have wins over Final Four-caliber teams. They’re definitely good enough to be a Final Four team. But they gotta get past us first, pal!
Creighton in 2023
|Offense||114.7 (27)||54.3 (27)||16.6 (69)||25.5 (271)||54.5 (29)||36.0 (78)|
|Defense||94.0 (16)||47.3 (42)||14.3 (356)||23.3 (13)||45.6 (19)||34.1 (194)|
The thing that immediately caught my eye when looking at their numbers—you see that extremely low defensive turnover rate? Creighton’s defensive indifference in that respect is something that NC State is built to leverage.
State’s offense ranks fourth in turnover rate at 13.4% and was even better than that (11.9%) in ACC games. State has played several teams in the same neighborhood at Creighton: UNC (343rd in defensive TO%), Notre Dame (360), Vanderbilt (339), Louisville (337). Five games total, and in two of them, State’s turnover rate was under 3.0%. Its worst turnover rate in any of them was 11.7%.
That’s encouraging because NC State is probably going to need an advantage in effective possessions—possessions that end in a shot attempt of some kind—to beat Creighton. Or at the very least, it’d help a lot.
NC State lost four games (out of 16) this season in which it turned the ball over less than 12% of the time—because it wasn’t making shots, and because it just wasn’t any good defensively. Taking care of the ball is important, but obviously there are a few other things that need to happen.
Speaking of that defense, State’s has been worryingly bad down the stretch: 1.1 points per possession or more allowed in its last five games. After spending some time in the top-50 in defensive efficiency this season, NC State enters the NCAAs 87th. In general, State has rarely shown it can give a good offense a bad day. That’s not something I would count on changing tomorrow.
Creighton is really good offensively because of its balance—all five of its starters, who will log the vast majority of the minutes, average in double figures. Nobody’s taking more than 23% of the shots, so there’s no set go-to guy, but all of them are capable of exploiting matchups.
Big man Ryan Kalkbrenner (7’1, 260) actually has the lowest workload of the bunch but is a nightmare to handle, as most seven-footers with actual skill tend to be. Kalkbrenner is shooting 74.3% inside the arc and has dunked the ball 60 times. He is also an excellent free throw shooter, which is, frankly, annoying, and something I disagree with on principle.
No big scores it that effectively without being the beneficiary of good guard play, and Creighton’s got a couple outstanding ones: Ryan Nembhard (6’0, 170) at the point and Trey Alexander (6’4, 190) at the two. Both are versatile scorers, both shoot well over 80% at the free throw line. Alexander is shooting 44% from beyond the arc.
On the wings, there’s Baylor Scheierman (6’7, 205), who’s made 36% of his team-high 212 three-point attempts, and Arthur Kaluma (6’7, 225), who has had his shooting struggles but is adept at getting to the free throw line.
Nembhard, Alexander, Scheierman, and Kaluma each have attempted well over 100 threes—this is an offense that leans on the outside shot, with 42% of their attempts coming from beyond the arc. What makes them tough is there’s not one guy you can point to and say, “okay, this guy only shoots jumpers.” None of them are limited in that way. And you can’t account for those guys all the time while also accounting for Kalkbrenner all the time. Fun, huh?
On the bright side, Creighton isn’t especially interested in offensive rebounds, and it tends not to draw a lot of fouls. (Whether or not NC State commits a lot of fouls is another matter.) I think DJ Burns can give Kalkbrenner some problems and State definitely can match Creighton’s guard play, which really is step one in matching up. Let’s go see.
KenPom likes the Blujays by five.