Opposites clash when Alabama meets Creighton

GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Alabama coach Anthony Grant says his team’s identity is its defense.

It’s how the Crimson Tide (21-11) earned a trip to their first NCAA tournament since 2006 and what they will rely on against Creighton Friday at the Greensboro Coliseum. It should be an intriguing eight-versus-nine matchup featuring teams with contrasting styles and strengths.

Led by sophomore forward Doug McDermott, the nation’s third-leading scorer, Creighton (28-5) is averaging 80 points per game.

That’s seventh-best in the nation.

But the big question will be if the Bluejays can score at will against a smothering Alabama defense that allowed just 58.1 points per game, the fewest in the Southeastern Conference this season.

“Alabama’s length and athleticism across the board is something that we haven’t really seen this year,” said Creighton coach Greg McDermott. “They can disrupt things on the perimeter. So they’re different than what we have seen in the Missouri Valley Conference without question.”

Like many teams from mid-major conferences, Creighton will rely heavily on the 3-pointer in the NCAA tournament.

They shoot the ball extremely well, hitting 42.5 percent from beyond the arc and more than 50 percent of their shots overall from the field.

Doug McDermott, son of the coach, is the Creighton’s unquestioned leader at 23.2 points per game, the third-best mark in men’s Division I basketball. He’s a magician when it comes to finding ways to get off a shot.

The question will be if he’s able to get off those shots against a long and athletic Alabama team.

Doug McDermott has seen his fair share of gimmick defenses this season and chances are the Crimson Tide will have something in store for him.

“Coach Grant just preaching to us just like our defense intensity is bringing it every day and trying to stop the opponent from scoring,” said Alabama’s Trevor Releford. “That’s what we live off of — our defense. That’s what we’re going to try to bring to the game.”

Crimson Tide teammate Jamychal Green doesn’t seem too worried. He said Alabama has seen a lot of great offensive teams this season including Kentucky and Vanderbilt.

“I believe Creighton is kind of similar to Vanderbilt,” Green said. “We just got to do a good job of defending the 3-point line and it just comes from the will to want to.

“I think that all of us have that will to get the job done.”

Creighton has worked extensively on its offense this week, at times practicing against seven and eight defenders on the floor.

And they’ve worked extensively on breaking the press.

“Dead ball, they like to press a lot, like to deny our point guard,” said Bluejays guard Antoine Young. “So they’re going to put a lot of pressure on us full court on especially on dead balls. So we have got to probably put in a football playbook of sets for that. So we’re pretty prepared for that.”

Added the 6-foot-7 Doug McDermott: “Yeah, Alabama’s definitely going to give us a much different look with their size. So it should be a tough challenge, but we just got to be aggressive and not be scared of making the extra pass.”

For Alabama it’s been a rocky road to get here.

They’ve endured the suspensions to Green, Releford, Andrew Steele and Tony Mitchell for conduct detrimental to the team. Releford and Steele missed two games, Green returned in late February from injuries and a suspension and Mitchell was declared out for the season.

“Every program at some point during the year, whether it’s injuries or illnesses or something, you go through adversity,” Grant said. “Every coach you talk to says your team’s going to face adversity and how you handle that adversity. Sometimes that adversity can come through losing, sometimes it comes through winning. But that’s just a part of the game. So our team’s no different.

“And I think our guys have grown and matured over the course of the season individually and collectively.”

The winner likely has a date Sunday with North Carolina, providing the Tar Heels can get past 16th-seeded Vermont.

“It’s win or go home now, so we’re just going to leave it all out there on the floor and whatever happens, happens,” Doug McDermott said. “But we feel like we can play with anybody, we’re real confident bunch of guys, so I think it will go well.”