Creighton super-scorer Doug McDermott sent his third-seeded Bluejays to the round of 32 on Friday, pouring in his usual 30 points to beat Louisiana-Lafayette. The 76-66 win sets up a date with sixth-seeded Baylor, a prospect that can only have the All-America senior licking his chops.
The Bears’ greatest strength—especially in Friday’s romp past Nebraska—is a smothering 2-3 zone that features tremendous length inside and good quickness outside. There isn’t a player in the country who can wreck a zone as well as McDermott can.
Indeed, McDermott’s newest record (per ESPN Stats and Info) might be about to fall in Sunday's game:
A classic solution to a zone is to shoot the other team out of it, lobbing three-pointers over the top while the big men watch from the paint. McDermott, with his .454 shooting percentage from beyond the arc, will get every opportunity to demonstrate that principle against Baylor.
Another of the traditional weaknesses of a 2-3 zone in particular is a hole at the free-throw line, where a power forward can slip behind the guards and bring the center away from the rim. From there, he can shoot the jumper if left open or pass for an easy layup. The Bluejays star, a skilled-if-little-used passer, will dissect Isaiah Austin and the Bears back line given any room from that spot on the floor.
In addition, McDermott the scorer transitions smoothly to being McDermott the rebounder, as he showed with 12 boards (three offensive) against the Ragin’ Cajuns. Stopping his first shots will be tough enough for Baylor, but if he piles up second- and third-chance points, the game will get out of hand quickly.
The last team to hold Division I’s leading scorer under 20 points was Georgetown, a defense with similar length but very different strategic options compared to Baylor. The Hoyas could chase McDermott with a variety of mobile forwards his own size. While the Bears have the personnel for a similar approach, it would require discarding the defensive mindset that’s served the team well for 36 games.
On top of all that, even if Baylor does go box-and-one or some other man-to-man look to slow McDermott, finding an optimal matchup won’t be trivial. Cory Jefferson has the athleticism but not the perimeter savvy, while Austin (for all his 7’1” length) is vulnerable to being outmuscled by the experienced Bluejay.
This situation is where Baylor's lack of an elite small forward (such as defensive ace Winston Shepard of San Diego State) becomes a real concern. Shepard had the combination of length and athleticism to make McDermott scramble all day in a Wooden Legacy win over Creighton, but Baylor doesn't have any one player who can fill that role.
Though McDermott did score 30 points against San Diego State, he had just four points in the last 7:41 of the game. Shepard's defense wore him down.
As Providence proved a week ago, shutting down McDermott isn't a prerequisite for upsetting Creighton. That’s the best hope for Baylor to grasp at right now, because the Bears’ chances of shutting down the Bluejays superstar are looking just short of nonexistent.