DePaul, Marquette, and Creighton get set to represent the Big East in the NCAA Tournament
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There’s no doubt that we are in the midst of an extremely difficult time right now, and even though both the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournaments were canceled, we are going to brighten up March with our Simulation Madness.
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The Big East finds three teams in this year’s field, as DePaul (3-seed), Marquette (8-seed), and Creighton (10-seed), get set to make a run to the final four. Let’s take a look at their first round matchups.
Portland Region: No. 3 DePaul vs. No. 14 SE Missouri
It was another banner year for the Blue Demons of DePaul as they finished 28-5 and won another Big East regular season and tournament championship. Led by head coach Doug Bruno, their style of play continued to be fast and exciting. They finished 2nd in the country in scoring offense at 84.9 PPG, trailing only Oregon in that category.
Beyond just the ability to score the ball, the Blue Demons do a terrific job of sharing and protecting the ball as well, as they ranked 3rd in the country in assist/turnover ratio, trailing only Oregon and Baylor. Chante Stonewall (17.4 PPG), Sonya Morris (15.6), Lexi Held (15.4), and Deja Church (10.8) are all averaging double figures, while their fifth starter Kelly Campbell, is shooting the three at 46%. This team can fill it up quickly.
For the Redhawks of Southeast Missouri, junior Tesia Thompson is the player to watch. Thompson is averaging 19.3 PPG, which includes a 39-point performance against Belmont just two weeks ago. Redshirt senior Carrie Shepard can also score it, averaging just under 17 PPG for Rehka Patterson’s team.
“Yay Redhawks and congrats on an impressive run and beating No. 1 seed UT Martin in the OVC tournament to snag the automatic bid,” basketball analyst Cindy Brunson told High Post Hoops. “Hopefully those good vibes will bring you joy after DePaul ends your NCAA tourney run.”
The Redhawks finished the season with a 25-7 record and won the automatic bid with an Ohio Valley Conference tournament championship. They entered that tournament as the No. 3 seed. Now, they will take on a different No. 3 seed in DePaul. A great season by the Redhawks, but they don’t have the firepower to stay with DePaul.
Prediction: DePaul- 95 SE Missouri- 64
Dallas Region: No. 8 Marquette vs. No. 9 James Madison
The 8-9 game in the Waco pod of the Dallas region promises to be a great one. Marquette, a team with a new coach in Megan Duffy, and virtually an entirely new starting lineup, has found themselves back in the Big Dance following a 24-8 season.
One returner from last year’s team that did receive starting minutes is Selena Lott. Lott, a junior, averaged 34.4 minutes per game this season and led the Golden Eagles in scoring at 15.5 PPG. Redshirt junior Lauren Van Kleunen and senior Isabelle Spangola are also averaging double digits for Duffy’s squad.
James Madison is led by head coach Sean O’ Regan, and the Dukes finished the season with a 25-4 record, including a notable non-conference win over St. John’s, and a near miss, losing to Maryland by just two points. The Dukes are one of the best mid-major programs in the country, led by seniors Kamiah Smalls (18.6 PPG) and Jackie Benitez (13.4 PPG). It’s definitely worth keeping an eye on freshman Kiki Jefferson in this one. The newcomer is averaging just under 10 PPG, but shooting the three at nearly 40% on the season.
This game could very well be determined on the glass. Marquette and JMU are two of the best rebounding teams in the country. Marquette is 4th in the country in rebounding margin at 10.7, while the Dukes are 22nd with an 8.1 margin.
At the end, it may come down to which team can get one more stop than the other. JMU is a top-15 scoring defense in the country. Marquette isn’t far off, but the Dukes have really guarded this year. I think that continues in a mild upset.
Prediction: James Madison- 65 Marquette- 63
Fort Wayne Region: No. 7 Florida Gulf Coast vs. No 10. Creighton
FGCU finished the season with a 30-3 record, regular season Atlantic Sun championship, and a trip to the conference championship game. The Eagles only losses this season came to Princeton on the road, North Alabama, and LSU. They flirted with the AP top-25 all season and have a team that is capable of reaching the Sweet-16.
The Eagles are 15th in the country in scoring offense and 1st in 3-point field goals made. This team loves to get up and down the floor, push tempo, and score. Keri Jewett-Giles, Davion Wingate, and Nasrin Ulel lead the offensive charge for FGCU, while Wingate leads the team in 3-point FG% at just under 43%. It isn’t just an offensive theme for the Eagles, as they rank 48th in scoring defense. According to head coach Karl Smesko, defense will be key in this one. “They run a lot of good stuff, and they have great movement. We will need great communication and we can’t get separated from shooters,” he told High Post Hoops.
As is the case in many 7-10 games, the Eagles will take on a formidable opponent in Creighton. The Blue Jays are led by Jaylyn Agnew, who is averaging just under 21 PPG, while shooting the three at 37%, and has amassed a 95% shooting clip from the free throw line. Three other Blue Jays, are also averaging double figures in scoring for Jim Flanery’s team–a team that finished with a 19-11 record and is 12th in the country in 3-point field goals made.
Creighton will look to their star to carry them through in this one and that is not lost on Smesko. “The biggest key is defending the three-point line and limiting Agnew’s touches,” Smesko said. That will be key for FGCU, as Agnew is the type of scorer that is capable of winning multiple games for this Blue Jays team as a double digit seed.
“I have always enjoyed watching Coach Flanery’s teams. This could be the best matchup of the first round,” Smesko said. Not only could this be the best matchup in the first round, I think it will be. it will certainly be the one with the most 3-point shots. This should be a fast-paced, exciting matchup, with the winner likely getting Louisville on their home court in with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line.
Prediction: FGCU- 81 Creighton- 74
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