Busting Brackets

Big East Basketball: UConn, Marquette, & Creighton all secure Sweet 16 spots

Multiple-time Big East Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Creighton's Ryan Kalkbrenner, is one of the nation's best rim-protectors. Using his height (7'1") , discipline, and attention-to-detail, Ryan alters, discourages, and blocks more shots in-total than any player in the nation; besides Purdue's Zach Edey.
Multiple-time Big East Conference Defensive Player of the Year, Creighton's Ryan Kalkbrenner, is one of the nation's best rim-protectors. Using his height (7'1") , discipline, and attention-to-detail, Ryan alters, discourages, and blocks more shots in-total than any player in the nation; besides Purdue's Zach Edey. / Joe Sargent/GettyImages

Without a doubt, the Oregon Ducks and the Colorado Buffaloes were close to moving on-to the Sweet 16. That said, “close” only counts in horseshoes and (for) hand-grenades.

When the game was on-the-line, the inferior PAC-12 teams, Oregon and Colorado, showed their true colors; accepting their fate, rolling-over, stepping aside, and (finally) letting the big-boys (in the Big East) play.

Even though the 11th-seeded Oregon Ducks and the 10th-seeded Colorado Buffaloes were red-hot entering the 2024 NCAA March Madness Tournament’s Round of 32, the class of the Big East Conference is a different animal; a step up in competition that proved to be a task of the highest order for the PAC-12 underdogs. Having won 10 of their previous 11 games (since mid-February) including their play-in & first-round victories over Boise State & Florida before drawing the 2nd-seeded Marquette Golden Eagles, the herd of Coloradans was on a serious heater; a fine stretch of play that would not have been possible without junior guard KJ Simpson and senior forward Tristan Da Silva. Colorado’s only loss during that span came against the Ducks; a 68-75 defeat in the PAC-12 Tournament Championship that guaranteed Oregon an automatic bid to the Big Dance.

Before the Ducks shared the floor with the 3rd-seeded Bluejays in the Round-of-32, Jermaine Couisnard and N’Faly Dante gave us a preview of what was to come by combining for 63 points on 21-for-31 shooting in Oregon’s 14-point shellacking over the 6th seeded South Carolina Gamecocks. After rattling off 3 wins in 3 days en route to the PAC-12 Tournament title, Oregon was as dangerous as dangerous comes; albeit a less impressive version of the ACC Tournament champs, the 11th-seeded NC State Wolfpack.

A lot like Jay Wright’s Villanova Wildcats during the ‘Cats’ heyday, Greg McDermott’s Creighton Bluejays take pride in jacking up a good amount of 3-balls, shooting the long ball at a high percentage, playing fundamentally sound basketball, and defending without fouling. Also like Jay Wright’s teams, however, the Bluejays are one bad shooting night away from being eliminated; as those who “live by the 3 (-ball), die by the 3”. In the first half of their Round-of-32 matchup, things got a bit hairy for the 3rd-seeded Jays when they made just 6 of their 23 3-balls; coming up empty on several (possessions where they had) wide-open looks against the Ducks’ middling transition defense. Able to (still) tread water against an athletic Oregon team, the so-so Bluejays had a 2-point lead at intermission, 36-34, with no better than their C-game through 20 minutes of play. Sporting a wry smile during his halftime interview, McDermott calmly pointed out his team’s obvious shooting woes before shifting his focus to the other end of the floor alongside his belief and confidence in his players.

With 5 minutes remaining in regulation, Creighton’s poise was put to the ultimate test when Oregon seized their largest lead of the game at 58-52. Thanks to the Ducks’ stellar 2-man game between Couisnard & Dante, Oregon had the nation’s 11th-best team on the ropes; fighting for their (tournament-) lives and trailing by 4 points with under 30 seconds left in regulation. Once Creighton’s Baylor Scheierman drilled a pair of big free-throws to cut Oregon’s lead down to 2 (62-60), Oregon was handed the ball for inbounding purposes with a 1-possession lead and no more than 28 seconds (standing) between them and the Sweet 16. While it is true Oregon could’ve chosen a better in-bounder than they did (/the freshman) and (then) had a better chance of getting the ball into their best free-throw shooter’s hands (instead of Dante’s), it’s ludicrous to blame the freshman in-bounder (and) for his decision to simply hit the open-man with the ball, Dante.

Also, Dante had an unbelievable game; (meaning) the kid felt like he was ready to knock down what would’ve been the game-sealing free throws with 27 seconds left after Creighton’s Kalkbrenner fouled him. Yes, Dante missed the front end of the 1-&-1, and Baylor Scheierman was (then) able to force-OT by tying the game with a step-back jumper from 12 feet. In a situation that requires must-make free throws, of course, Dante being at the line as a 61 percent free-throw shooter was far from ideal, but this wasn’t the inbounder’s fault. Oregon’s head coach could’ve done more to ensure that Dante wouldn’t receive the in-bounds pass by way of play-design or taking him out; not to mention Dante himself could’ve stayed near half-court rather than sprinting towards the in-bounder asking for the ball. Oh, and Dante finished the game with 4 makes and 1 miss from the line; another reason to be okay with him (being) at the line at that moment.

That unfortunate situation aside, the Creighton Bluejays eventually wore out the Ducks in OT and double-OT. Once McDermott altered his team’s defensive strategy on Couisnard & the Ducks’ high screen-&-roll (w/ him) by blitzing it well above the 3-point line with multiple defenders in order to get the ball out of his hands and (to) prevent him from bringing the ball into the paint, the Ducks had serious problems protecting the basketball and, consequently, their offense sputtered. Amazingly, Dante and Couisnard combined for 60 points on 25-for-53 shooting; a more than impressive performance that rivaled theirs against South Carolina.

As for the Buffalo, they can’t guard their way out of a wet paper bag; but boy can they score the basketball. They competed with Marquette ‘till the end and although the Golden Eagles were winners by just 4 points, Colorado had no answers for Tyler Kolek; who's Marquette’s best player and is still looking to get back to 100 percent healthy following a torn oblique that kept him out of the lineup for an extended period. In the Golden Eagles’ second-round victory, Kolek played a lot of minutes and was clearly not in his best shape; huffing and puffing his way back on defense and even taking possessions off defensively knowing his teammates needed his scoring and playmaking ability. Like the Bluejays were against Oregon, the Marquette Golden Eagles didn’t have their A-game on either end of the floor; but they did enough to move on.

Ranking the Sweet 16 teams. Ranking the Sweet 16 teams. dark. Next

Ah, time to add the U’onn Huskies to the list of Big East teams (3) that are moving on to the Sweet 16; thanks to the Huskies’ dominant 17-point win over Northwestern.

Obviously, the Big East got screwed.