Busting Brackets

Creighton vs Tennessee: 2023-24 NCAA Tournament game preview, TV schedule

March 23, 2024, Charlotte, NC, USA; Tennessee Volunteers guard Dalton Knecht (3) passes the ball
March 23, 2024, Charlotte, NC, USA; Tennessee Volunteers guard Dalton Knecht (3) passes the ball / Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

An exciting Sweet Sixteen showdown has Tennessee facing off against Creighton; will it be the Volunteers or Bluejays getting one step closer to the Final Four?

TV schedule: Friday, March 29, 10:09 pm ET. TBS/TruTV

Arena: Little Caesar’s Arena in Detroit, Michigan

There’s been a lot to like about Creighton (25-9) in recent years, especially after last season’s run to the Elite Eight. The Bluejays were on the precipice of their first Final Four in program history and might have that opportunity again twelve months later. The biggest pieces of last season’s run are back and even better, with the Bluejays winning against Akron before surviving a double-overtime thriller against Oregon in the Big Dance already.

The first name to know is Baylor Scheierman (18.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg), the former South Dakota State star who’s been an elite shooter and rebounder in the last two seasons for Creighton. Almost as important to the cause is Ryan Kalkbrenner (17.4 ppg, 7.6 rpg), one of the nation’s best defensive players who’s a threat to score from all over the court. Junior guard Trey Alexander (17.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 4.7 apg) has taken on an even bigger role this season while Utah State transfer Steven Ashworth (11.0 ppg, 4.2 apg) is another valuable asset in this backcourt.

Creighton is currently 11th in the KenPom ratings with their offense similarly 11th in the efficiency ratings. These Bluejays play smart basketball; they don’t commit a lot of fouls and they make their shots when they get chances. Kalkbrenner is a possession killer down low while the veteran experience on this program cannot be overlooked.

There’s a great time on the other side, as Tennessee (26-8) has put up some impressive numbers this season in a tough SEC. The Volunteers were on quite a roll before stumbling to end the regular season but have played impressively in the NCAA Tournament. This fantastic defensive squad played elite offensively against Saint Peter’s before holding on for a tough win over Texas in the second round.

If there’s anything to know about Tennessee it’s the impact of Dalton Knecht (21.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg), the Northern Colorado transfer who’s been amazing with the Volunteers on offense this season. The Volunteers are glad that Zakai Zeigler (11.7 ppg, 6.0 apg) is healthy in the Big Dance this season, as the talented point guard was injured last season. In the interior, Jonas Aidoo (12.0 ppg, 7.6 rpg) does a lot for Tenessee on both sides of the ball, while Josiah-Jordan James (8.2 ppg, 6.5 pg) is another impact presence to watch.

These Volunteers are 8th in KenPom right now, boasting the 3rd-best defense in the nation according to the efficiency ratings. Tennessee hasn’t been perfect this season and was certainly challenging in SEC play, but this program has been much more consistent on offensive this season and that’s a big reason why this year could be different for Rick Barnes and company.

This is one of those games where the defenses will tell the story. Tennessee doesn’t just boast one of the nation’s top defenses, but they really challenge opponents, especially when Knecht is on his game. He’s the type of player who can single-handedly take over a game, even in the Sweet Sixteen. If Creighton can contain him and hit their shots, then this might just be their game to win.

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The script could easily be flipped, as the Volunteers have handled their own against offenses like Creighton this season. It boils down to how Tennessee handles those big scoring threats on the Bluejays. Barnes and company will have a plan, but how effective will they be? This Creighton team has been here before and knows how to win these games; we’re leaning on a slight upset with the Bluejays, though Tennessee will give them one incredible fight.

Prediction: Creighton 73, Tennessee 70