Photo Credit: Michael Ciaglo-USA TODAY Sports
Ryan Kalkbrenner could pose a matchup problem for his next opponent as sixth-seeded Creighton, and third-seeded Baylor prepare for a second-round showdown at the NCAA Tournament on Sunday in Denver.
Both programs are eyeing a return to the Sweet 16 via the South Region. Baylor and Creighton each made the second weekend of the tournament in 2021, when the Bears went on to win the national championship, but both lost in the second round in 2022.
Kalkbrenner, the 7-foot-1 center who leads Creighton (22-12) in scoring at 15.9 points per game, is coming off a career-high 31-point showing in the Bluejays’ 72-63 first-round win over North Carolina State.
Kalkbrenner had six dunks and seven rebounds in that game and finished 11-for-14 from the floor. He leads Division I in field-goal percentage at 71.4%, with a 74.4% rate from two-point range.
That spells trouble for the Bears (23-10), despite their higher seed and championship experience. Their weakness is guarding the interior; they rank outside the top 300 nationally in two-point defense, allowing 53.4% shooting inside the arc.
“They do a great job getting (Kalkbrenner) the ball,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “They can shoot it, which spaces the floor. And like any good team, they got two or three things, so if you collapse on them, they can hit the 3; if you stay out, they hurt you inside.”
Baylor’s tallest rotation players are starting forward Flo Thamba and freshman reserve Josh Ojianwuna, both 6-foot-10. Drew said the Bears would stick to what they know, given the lone day to prepare for Kalkbrenner in practice.
When asked how to simulate playing against the taller Kalkbrenner, Drew said, “We got cowboy boots for Flo, so we’re good.”
The Bears received a fight from 14th-seeded UC Santa Barbara in the first round and trailed 36-35 at halftime before running away for a 74-56 victory.
Adam Flagler and LJ Cryer combined for Baylor’s final 15 points while the Bears held UCSB to four points over the final nine-plus minutes. Flagler finished with 18 points and five assists, Cryer had 15 points, and Caleb Lohner provided a season-high 13 points off the bench.
The backcourt trio of Flagler, Cryer, and Big 12 Freshman of the Year Keyonte George has Creighton’s attention.
“It’s gonna be a challenge for us just to be able to guard all three of them and kind of contain all three of them,” Creighton guard Trey Alexander said, “but … we just got to play the way that we play, and play our brand of basketball, and they have to guard us as well.”
Humorously, Creighton has a “Baylor” of its own — starting guard and leading rebounder Baylor Scheierman.
“The past 24 hours, you know, the coaches have been saying ‘Baylor’ a lot. It’s kind of throwing me off a little bit,” Scheierman cracked.
After winning Summit League Player of the Year at South Dakota State last season, Scheierman transferred to Creighton, which helped make the Bluejays a preseason top-10 team.
Scheierman has averaged 12.7 points and 8.3 rebounds over 34 starts. He finished the NC State game with 10 points, six rebounds, and four assists, sinking a crucial 3-pointer with 2:25 left that made it a multi-possession game the rest of the way.
Creighton leads the all-time series 3-2, but Baylor has won the past two meetings — including in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament when the sixth-seeded Bears crushed the third-seeded Bluejays 85-55.
–Field Level Media