Taking a Closer Look: Creighton's Offense
On Sunday night the Creighton Bluejays took on the Baylor Bears with a Sweet Sixteen bid on the line. Coming into the game Baylor's offense was ranked #2 in the country (per KenPom), but it was Creighton's offense that stole the show. The Bluejays scored 85 points, a Top 10 total of their season, with a 30 point performance from their point guard Ryan Nembhard. Let's take a closer look at Creighton's offense and how they were able to attack and expose this Baylor defense.
Terminology: This article will focus on Creighton's Pick n Roll offense and how Baylor defended it. Blitzing a ballscreen is a term for when the defending big man steps up and attempts to disrupt the ballhandler in a Pick n Roll. There are other names for this defensive scheme, but we will stick with blitz.
Now let's take a look at Creighton vs Baylor:
Here is the first Creighton possession of the game and the Bluejays immediately go into a Pick n Roll with Ryan Nembhard and Ryan Kalkbrenner. Baylor #0 blitzes the ballscreen and Baylor #4 tags off of Scheierman and onto Kalkbrenner. Nembhard makes the first pass to Alexander and Baylor #1 is forced to commit leaving Scheierman open in the corner. Alexander makes the great extra pass and Scheierman knocks down the triple over the contest. This is great offensive execution against a defense that is blitzing ballscreens.
One minute later and here is Kalkbrenner setting a screen for Trey Alexander. Baylor again blitzes the ballscreen and Baylor #4 quickly tags Kalkbrenner before attempting to recover to his own man. Alexander recognizes that Kalkbrenner is open and delivers the tough pass for the easy bucket. Two minutes in and Creighton is dissecting Baylor's defense.
Couple minutes later now and Creighton continues to run Kalkbrenner in simple ballscreen actions. Alexander does a nice job repositioning here to force a long close-out for Baylor #1, who ends up flying by on his attempt to contest the shot.
Less than a minute later and Creighton is running a roll and replace action. King rolls hard to the basket and Baylor #4 is forced to commit to cover the roll. Nembhard reads the defense and finds Farabello open in the corner. Four minutes into the game and Baylor has made no adjustment.
Later in the First Half now and Baylor has finally changed their defensive scheme. This time instead of Baylor #23 blitzing the ballscreen (and requiring backside help), he will stay in the lane. King sets the ballscreen and Nembhard is now able to get downhill. Again Nembhard reads the coverage and takes what the defense is giving him, pulling up for the midrange floater.
Skipping to mid-way through the Second Half and Baylor is still looking for a defensive answer to Creighton. Kalkbrenner sets a ballscreen for Nembhard late in the shot clock and Baylor switches the screen. But the defensive communication is poor and it is unclear if they are attempting to switch back. Nembhard recognizes he's open and spots up for the easy three-pointer. Too easy.
Lastly here is Creighton running a screen with Scheierman, Nembhard and Kalkbrenner. Nembhard reads the defense, realizes there is no backside help and delivers the easy lob to Kalkbrenner over the top.
Coach McDermott is one of the most creative offensive playcallers in the country, but on Sunday night he did not need to go very deep into his playbook. Creighton was able to pick apart Baylor's defense repeatedly by getting Ryan Nembhard into simple Pick n Rolls and allowing him to read the defense and react. What makes Creighton's offense so dangerous even in simple actions?
The Bluejays have assembled a roster of players who understand and fit perfectly into their role. Ryan Nembhard is a prototypical pass-first point guard with excellent court-vision and an improved jump shot. Ryan Kalkbrenner, in addition to what he brings on the defensive end, is one of the most dangerous lob threats in the country. And McDermott has surrounded them with elite shooters, up and down the roster, who space the floor and force the defense to stay honest. Any defense that plays against Creighton is forced to pick their poison, and each member of the team is ready to make them pay.
Creighton will face the Princeton Tigers on Friday night at 9 pm ET. Another game of intelligent and precise offensive execution like this may see the Bluejays in their first Elite Eight in 82 years.