Previewing Creighton's third-round game against the Duke Blue Devils.
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Creighton's Austin Chatman vs. Duke's Quinn Cook
Chatman long ago alleviated any fears about his readiness to take over the starting job but still needs to show he's ready for the challenge posed by an elite opponent. The sophomore handled the hand-to-hand combat of Cincinnati's pressuring defense, committing just three turnovers in 37 minutes and stepping up to make clutch free throws down the stretch. Like Chatman, Duke's Cook went from playing cameo roles as a freshman to running the show this season as a sophomore. The Blue Devils rely on him to be more of a scorer than Creighton does Chatman, and he's scored in double figures 19 times this season. Quinn is coming off an eight-point, 11-assist game against Albany in which he committed just one turnover in 36 minutes. He's not easily rattled, committing three turnovers or less in 17 of his past 21 games.
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Creighton's Jahenns Manigat vs. Duke's Seth Curry
The Bluejays will have to embrace that old coaching saw about guarding Curry the minute he steps off the bus. The senior is one of the purest shooters around, and he's not afraid to put shots up from anywhere on the court. He scored 28 points against Albany on 10-of-14 shooting. He made both of his 3-pointers and he's shooting over 43 percent from behind the arc. Manigat is adept at chasing good shooters, but the question becomes whether he's good enough to stay with a talent like Curry. Manigat had seven assists in the win over Cincinnati, but his shooting was shaky, and his turnover when he got tied up in the final minute caused some anxious moments in all corners of Bluejay Nation. Creighton will need a steadier effort from him on Sunday.
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Creighton's Grant Gibbs vs. Duke's Rasheed Sulaimon
Gibbs makes the Bluejays tick, a savvy senior who's as quick with a quip as he is with a pass to the post. His role is to get the Bluejays settled when things get hectic on the court and to keep things loose off of it. Coach Greg McDermott says from the shoulders up, Gibbs is one of the smartest he's ever been around. From the shoulders down, Gibbs must cope with a variety of injuries that have sapped some of his basketball skills. He's still got enough to be a dangerous weapon when teams pay too much attention to Creighton's inside guys, and his slick passing gets those players plenty of good looks. Duke is counting on Sulaimon to counter Gibbs by making him uncomfortable with his defensive skills and stressing him with an offensive game that has produced 20 double-figure scoring efforts this season. Sulaimon has the ability to pull Gibbs away from the basket with his 3-point shooting but is also adept at getting to the basket. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski says this could be the key matchup of the game, the one that provides an X-factor for one team or the other.
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Creighton's Doug McDermott vs. Duke's Ryan Kelly
Kelly, a 6-11 senior, missed 13 games with a foot injury but has averaged 15.6 points and 5.6 rebounds since coming back with a bang in a March 2 win over Miami. Kelly scored 32 points, making 10 of 14 shots, against the Hurricanes. Kelly's size will pose a different problem for McDermott, who hasn't had to go up against many players that tall this season. Still, McDermott has had his way with just about every opponent, big or small, he has faced the past two seasons. He beats teams inside, outside and from the foul line — he's made it there 204 times this season and made 177. McDermott's scoring ability often overshadows his rebounding, which has picked up as Creighton has gotten deeper into its season.
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Creighton's Gregory Echenique vs. Duke's Mason Plumlee
Echenique gives Creighton a chance to neutralize Plumlee, a double-double machine. The 6-10 senior is one of 14 players nationally to average a double-double per game in posting team-leading averages of 17.4 points and 10.2 rebounds. Plumlee is four blocked shots shy of becoming just the third player in program history to score 1,000 points, grab 1,000 rebounds and block 200 shots. Echenique's size and strength could pose plenty of problems for Plumlee but he must avoid the foul trouble that sometimes hampers his effectiveness. Echenique is playing some of his best basketball as a Bluejay, and he's always been a player who performs his best when the stakes are the highest and the lights are the brightest. If Echenique can win this matchup, the Bluejays could be tough to beat.
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The Blue Devils are not a team that relies heavily on reserves, given their five starters average in double figures. Duke will count on Tyler Thornton to eat some minutes in the backcourt, while 6-8 freshman Amile Jefferson and junior Josh Hairston will spell Kelly and Plumlee up front. Jefferson ranks second on the team with 41 offensive rebounds, while Thornton's forte is in his playmaking (76 assists). Ethan Wragge's quick trigger and unlimited range provide Creighton with a defense-spreading weapon that opens things up inside for McDermott and Echenique. Wragge tends to be a bit streaky with his shooting but the good news for the Bluejays is he's riding another hot one right now, having made 13 of his past 21 3-point attempts. Creighton must get productive minutes out of guards Avery Dingman and Andre Yates when they're spelling Gibbs, Manigat and Chatman. Sophomore center Will Artino didn't play against Cincinnati after spraining his ankle in practice but Greg McDermott said that was more a matter of the effectiveness of Wragge, Echenique or Doug McDermott than Artino not being healthy enough to play. Artino had been one of Creighton's most effective players down the stretch, with his skill set being a huge change of pace from Echenique's power game.
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Creighton has been on a mission since losing to North Carolina in a third-round game last March. The Bluejays are driven to make the most of this moment, and don't expect them to get cheated in their bid to earn a first Sweet 16 appearance since the tournament began expanding in 1975. To get there, Creighton must get through the tournament's all-time leader in winning percentage (.752). To make the task even more difficult is that the Blue Devils have plenty of motivation themselves after they got bounced out of the tournament last year when 15th-seeded Lehigh scored a massive upset.
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Creighton's magical run has produced the most victories (57) over a two-season span in school history. In Doug McDermott, the Bluejays have one of college basketball's most efficient scorers, and Creighton's supporting cast is capable of holding its own even when matched up with the elite players that Duke can put on the court. At one time, the thought of Creighton knocking off a program with the tradition and talent of Duke would be a basketball pipe dream. Not this year, when plenty of things more wild and wacky have transpired.
CREIGHTON 77, DUKE 75
— Steven Pivovar