NCAA Tournament Predictions: Creighton vs. Rhode Island

Photo provided by the University of Rhode Island

The Rhode Island Rams and Creighton Bluejays will square off Friday afternoon in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Here’s a look at the matchup.

6. Creighton (25-9, 10-8/Big East)– The Bluejays looked like one of the best teams in the country during the first two-plus months of the season, racing out to an 18-1 start and spending some time in the Top 10. But everything changed when point guard Maurice Watson, who was leading the nation in assists at one point, went down with a season-ending injury and was later arrested and charged with felony sexual assault.

Creighton has gone 7-8 since that point, though they did run all the way to the Big East championship game at MSG, which may help explain the 6-seed.

Creighton’s Justin Patton (23) celebrates after dunking during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Xavier. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The ‘Jays still like to get out and run, though they’re more reliant now on 6-3 junior guard Marcus Foster (18.3 ppg). Seven foot center Justin Patton has given the team some help inside (13.1 ppg), and it helps that this team ranks 10th nationally in assists per game (17.3) and 19th in points per game (82.1).

11. Rhode Island (24-9, 13-4/Atlantic-10 )– The Rams are basically the polar opposite of the Bluejays, finally getting healthy at the right time and using that momentum to moonwalk into the Big Dance. URI ran off eight straight wins to close the regular season, and won three in a row to take the A-10 title, silencing all of the bubble talk for good.

This team had a lot on its shoulders in the preseason, chosen as a Top-25 pick by several national outlets. But after beating Cincinnati in November, injuries began to take their toll. The Rams are finally fully healthy, and this looks like the best URI team since Lamar Odom was in uniform the last time they went to the tournament back in 1999.

Rhode Island’s E.C. Matthews (0) shoots past VCU’s Samir Doughty during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in the Atlantic 10 tournament championship. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

Rhode Island is a stingy defensive team, allowing just 64.9 points per game to opponents. You’d expect nothing less from a Danny Hurley-coached team.

They’ve got a truckload of talented players, including 6-5 junior E.C. Matthews (14.8 ppg), 6-7 senior Hassan Martin (14.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg), 6-3 junior Jared Terrell (12.3 ppg) and 6-9 senior Kuran Iverson (Allen’s cousin, 9.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg).

PREDICTION: The Rams enter the NCAA’s on fire, and we think they’ll stay hot against Creighton. At full strength, they’ve got more weapons than the Bluejays, and their talent was on display in a wire-to-wire win over VCU in the A-10 championship. We’ve got them moving on here, before falling to Oregon in the Round of 32.