Here is everything you need to know about the Kansas Jayhawks and the Creighton Bluejays in our Kansas vs. Creighton NCAA Tournament men’s basketball preview.
Midwest Region – Second Round
No. 1 Kansas (29-6) vs. No. 9 Creighton (23-11) Saturday, 1:40 p.m. CT, CBS
How They Got Here: Kansas won the Big 12 Conference tournament. Creighton received an at-large bid out of the Big EAST.
Winner gets: A trip to the Sweet 16 next week in Chicago.
Projected starting lineups
Kansas: G Christian Braun, G Dajuan Harris Jr., F Jalen Wilson, G Ochai Agbaji, F David McCormack.
Creighton: F Keyshawn Feazell, G Alex O’Connell, G Arthur Kamala, F Trey Alexander, F Ryan Hawkins.
Players to watch
Kansas G Ochai Agbaji: On Thursday Agbaji and the Jayhawks learned he was a consensus All-American, the first for the Jayhawks since guard Devonte’ Graham in 2018. What that means is that the NCAA’s four recognized selectors of an All-America team picked Agbaji to be on the first team. It basically means that everyone thinks the senior is one of the five best players in the country. It’s hard to argue that if you’ve watched him play all season. Along with the all-America honor, he’s the consensus Big 12 Player of the Year, one of the country’s top 3-point shooters and an emerging defender. Against Texas Southern, because Kansas got out to such a big lead on the Tigers, the Jayhawks didn’t have to rely on him. He only scored 11 points, well off his 19.7-point season average. Don’t expect Agbaji to have a game like that on Saturday.
Creighton F Ryan Hawkins: He entered the NCAA Tournament as Creighton’s leading scorer and rebounder, with 13.9 points and 7.8 rebounds. He was just a smidge ahead of 7-foot-1 center Ryan Kalkbrenner, but since it’s unlikely that Kalkbrenner will play due to a knee injury, more of the load will fall on Hawkins, a 6-foot-7 forward. Hawkins played Division II basketball last season at Northwest Missouri, where he scored 22.6 points and 8.8 rebounds per game and was the Most Outstanding Player of the Elite Eight (that division’s version of the Final Four). The Bearcats won the national championship and it was their third in five seasons. So Hawkins stepped up from one of the best programs in D-II to one of the best programs in the Big East and earned Second-Team All-Big East. That’s a terrific season.
Kansas: The Jayhawks have a manageable road to get back to the Final Four since 2018, and it may be more manageable with a short-handed Creighton team directly ahead. Kansas started this NCAA Tournament with a relatively easy 83-56 win over Texas Southern, a team it beat in its last meeting, 114-71. Kansas is a long-timer in the NCAA Tournament, as its making its 32nd consecutive appearance. That’s the longest active streak in the tournament. Kansas is 40-13 all-time as a No. 1 seed and has been a No. 1 seed in four of the last six tournaments. Kansas had such a big lead by halftime against Texas Southern that coach Bill Self was able to empty his bench and manage his roster, which is rare in the NCAA Tournament, even in the first round. Eleven different Jayhawks played, and perhaps the most important thing is that banged-up big men David McCormack and Mitch Lightfoot played a combined 30 minutes.
Creighton: Head coach Greg McDermott has turned the Bluejays into one of the most consistent programs in the country since he arrived more than a decade ago. He’s won more than 275 games in Omaha and led Creighton to seven NCAA Tournament bids, which includes last year’s run to the Sweet 16. He rebuilt Creighton this year with no returning starters. Along with Hawkins, McDermott and the Bluejays got a big boost from freshman Ryan Nembhard, who averaged 11.3 points and 4.4 assists per game to earn Big EAST Freshman of the Year honors. Unfortunately, he’s out with a wrist injury he suffered on Feb. 23. O’Connell was averaging 11.5 points and Kamula was averaging nearly 10 points entering the NCAA Tournament. Both scored in double figures against San Diego State. In fact, the entire starting lineup hit double figures. Thing is, the Bluejays only went seven deep and if Kalkbrenner can’t play, it may be just six players on Saturday. McDermott said there was one remaining scholarship player he didn’t play on Thursday.
Creighton head coach Greg McDermott is 0-9 all-time against Kansas head coach Bill Self.
Kansas 82, Creighton 59. I would love to know how this game would go if the Bluejays had Nembhard and Kalkbrenner. But we don’t have that luxury.
You can find Matthew Postins on Twitter @PostinsPostcard.