This week, we are profiling five players currently under the national radar who could become breakout stars of the NCAA tournament. Other profiles include:
Creighton has proven this season that it was ready to make the jump from the Missouri Valley Conference to the Big East. The Bluejays finished in second place behind Villanova, and they have given the top-ranked Wildcats their only two losses in conference play. Most people credit National Player of the Year favorite Doug McDermott for Creighton’s success. They do not give enough credit to Grant Gibbs, the Bluejays' unsung hero.
The sixth-year senior Gibbs’s eligibility was in question prior to the season. The NCAA granted Gibbs eligibility for another season last summer, since he sat out due to a medical redshirt his freshman year and sat out an additional year after transferring from Gonzaga to Creighton. Even coach Greg McDermott was surprised to hear this news.
Creighton is driven by its high-powered offense. The Bluejays value possession of the ball and wait to take good quality shots. Given that Gibbs accounts for 17.7 percent of Creighton's possessions, tied for third-most on the team, it is fair to say he is a key contributor to this achievement. Additionally, the Bluejays are the top three-point shooting team in the nation, shooting 42.1 percent. Gibbs doesn't contribute a lot to the team's total, having taken just 37 threes, but he's hit 18 of them, good for 48.6 percent.
Gibbs has developed great chemistry with Doug McDermott over the years. Besides being roommates, they have played significant minutes together for three seasons. Gibbs seems to always know when and where McDermott is open on the court, as he tends to set McDermott up for easy looks.
The veteran Gibbs leads the Bluejays by example because he does a little bit of everything. He scores (7.6 PPG), passes (4.0 APG), rebounds (3.4 RPG), and takes care of the ball (2.0 turnovers per game). He gives his teammates and example of versatility and well-roundedness to replicate on the court.
The veteran Gibbs leads the Bluejays by example because he does a little bit of everything.
The combination of Gibbs skill and intangible leadership qualities inspires his teammates to play cool, calm, and collected. Most teams that make runs in the tournament have a Gibbs-like player who adds these types of intangible qualities.
One of the Bluejays’ weaknesses is their defense. Creighton certainly lives and dies by the three, but its mediocre defense can be neutralized when its shooters get hot, especially when Gibbs does all the little things, such as setting screens, spacing the court, and making the extra pass.
Creighton’s other weakness is its lack of size in the frontcourt. Opponents who score a lot of points in the paint and are exceptional rebounders will be a threat to the Bluejays. The 6'5" Gibbs acts as a swingman in most lineups, and leads by rebounding, boxing out, and playing help-side defense.
Assuming Creighton doesn’t play many teams with a dominant low post threat, the Bluejays have great potential to make a Final Four run. A large component of the Bluejays’ identity is defined by Gibbs's intangible skills and versatility. Had the NCAA ruled him ineligible this season, Creighton’s offense and would not be the same.
As Creighton advances in the NCAA tournament, opponents will devote most of their preparation to slowing down McDermott, who drives the offense. They will not be focusing directly on Gibbs, the team's engine. Gibbs's versatility and understanding of the game will keep the Bluejays’ offense rolling, even if its driver isn't at his best.