Creighton University looks to extend National Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott’s historic career when the Bluejays battle Duke University late Sunday night in the so-called City of Brotherly Love.
In 2012, a 28-5 Bluejays team — champions of the Missouri Valley Conference — felt they deserved better than a No. 8 seed. When they faced a North Carolina squad at full strength (the only time the Tar Heels actually were during last season’s tournament), Creighton hung tough but fell 87-73 in essentially a UNC home game in Greensboro.
McDermott watched his Ames, Iowa, high school teammate Harrison Barnes win the reunion match.
When Creighton challenges a different ACC power from Tobacco Road, McDermott will face another acquaintance, Ryan Kelly. The two were roommates at Amare Stoudemire’s Skills Academy last June in Chicago.
“I got to know Ryan a little better in the summer, so it should be fun going up against him,” McDermott told GoCreighton.com after Friday’s win over Cincinnati. “We’ll have to do a good job containing him because he can shoot you out of a ballgame, and so can (Seth) Curry.”
Duke will have its hands full trying to contain the best offensive player in the tournament. Only two teams — UAB and Indiana State — held McDermott under double digits points this season. He had 27 Friday and has averaged that same impressive number during Creighton’s current 6-game win streak.
Like any star, the two-time MVC Player of the Year plays his best in the biggest games.
The Blue Devils will need to keep the junior — who shoots nearly 50, 60, and 90 percent from three-point range, the field, and the free throw line, respectively — away from the charity stripe. The Bearcats failed in that regard Friday, and McDermott knocked down 11 without a miss.
Ryan Kelly likely becomes the X-factor.
Whether folks noticed or not, Duke was not a high-caliber team in his two month absence. They beat no Top 25 schools and lost in the only three moderately difficult games Coach K scheduled through that stretch. Kelly famously returned March 2 to bury seven 3-pointers and score 36 as the Blue Devils held on in the final seconds over Miami in Durham. In four games since, however, he is barely averaging 10 points and shooting well below 50 percent. Duke is 3-1.
Kelly is a lanky big man with a large wingspan on the perimeter that could present trouble for McDermott, though the Bluejays handled Wisconsin, California, and other tourney teams this year with similar strengths. On the flip side, Duke has not seen a scorer like McDermott, or an offense like the Creighton’s, very often since late November.
McDermott broke his own single-season scoring record at Creighton Friday afternoon, but he said that “doesn’t mean much.”
“Beating Duke would be a lot better,” he added with a smile.
I don’t pretend to know how kids will play a game on the big stage, though CU has some added motivation. Leave that to the gamblers, the media and bracket-fillers.
Let’s just hope the game is entertaining — and ends before midnight EDT. Some of us work Monday morning.