The fifth-seeded Creighton Bluejays look to bounce back from an ugly loss in the Big East tournament when they face the 12th-seeded UC Santa Barbara Gauchos in a West Region first-round game on Saturday. The Bluejays had their three-game winning streak snapped with a 25-point loss to Georgetown in the Big East tournament championship game on Saturday.
Creighton (20-8) finished second in the Big East standings in the regular season but advanced to the championship game, where it fell to the Hoyas. The Bluejays are back in the tournament for the first time since 2018, though coach Greg McDermott’s squad has suffered first-round losses in its last two appearances. They are 70-1 in the March Madness odds to win it all.
The Gauchos are making their sixth NCAA Tournament appearance, though first since the 2011 tournament. UC Santa Barbara has just one win in its five previous NCAA Tournament appearances, advancing to the second round in 1990.
Coach Joe Pasternack’s squad won the Big West regular-season title with a 13-3 mark in conference play, then swept three games to win the conference tournament as well. The Gauchos are 22-4 overall and have won 18 of their last 19 games.
If you’re going to bet online on this game, the college basketball odds have the Bluejays as 7½-point favorites, with the over/under set at 138.
Coming In Hot
Unlike the Bluejays, the Gauchos aren’t coming off a loss, winning each of their Big West tournament games by double-digits. UC Santa Barbara may not have a lot of NCAA Tournament experience to call on, but it does have the momentum coming into this one.
Senior guard JaQuori McLaughlin was named the Big West tournament Most Valuable Player after leading the Gauchos with 20.3 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.0 steals per game in their three wins. For the season, McLaughlin leads UC Santa Barbara in scoring (16.2 points) and assists (5.8).
Junior forward Amadou Sow is the Gauchos’ best interior scorer, averaging 13.7 points and 7.6 rebounds while shooting 57.1% from the floor. The 6-9 Sow and 6-10 junior forward Miles Norris will need to use their height in this one against a smaller Creighton starting five.
Sophomore guard Ajare Sanni is the third double-figure scorer for the Gauchos, scoring 11.2 points per game. He’s connected on a team-high 41 3-pointers (just ahead of McLaughlin’s 40), playing all but one game off the bench this season.
The Bluejays have five double-figure scorers in their starting lineup, led by junior guard Marcus Zegarowski, who averages 15.5 points and 4.3 assists per game. Zegarowski was the lone effective player for Creighton Bluejays in the loss to Georgetown, scoring 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting from the floor, including 3-of-4 from 3-point range.
The first-team All-Big East selection is shooting 41.2% from 3-point range, hitting 70 from beyond the arc. That’s just behind senior guard Mitch Ballock, who has hit 72 3-pointers on 40% accuracy among his 10.2 points per game.
Senior swingman Denzel Mahoney is another deadly outside shooter, hitting 59 on the season and averaging 12.5 points per game. Senior forward Damien Jefferson fills up the boxscore, averaging 12.1 points, 5.5 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.2 steals per contest.
Inside, junior forward Christian Bishop is very efficient, shooting 67.2% from the floor. Bishop leads the Bluejays with 5.9 rebounds per game while also scoring 10.8 points per contest.
The Gauchos should have the momentum and the interior edge, while the Bluejays have scoring potential throughout their lineup. Creighton has been a bit inconsistent of late, going 3-3 over its last six, but McDermott has a lot of experience in the postseason.
While UC Santa Barbara is going to keep this close, the Bluejays should be able to pull out the victory.