Previewing Creighton's opening game against the Syracuse Orange.
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Creighton's Marissa Janning vs. Syracuse's Cornelia Fondren. Syracuse asks little from its senior other than to facilitate its offense. Her 2.6 scoring average is two-tenths of a point lower than her assists average (2.8). In contrast, Creighton requires its freshman to distribute, score and defend. Janning has done each to a high degree all season in becoming the first freshman in program history to earn first-team all-conference honors. What's concerning heading into this matchup is that Janning is fighting a shooting slump, having made 12 of her last 39 field-goal attempts and 4 of 19 3-pointers. Getting her back on track would ease some of the pressure on the other parts of the offense. EDGE: Creighton
Syracuse's Brittney Sykes vs. Creighton's McKenzie Fujan. Sykes is one of the talented freshmen in a recruiting class ranked sixth nationally. She's scored in double figures in four of the last seven games and had an eight-game stretch at midseason in which she averaged almost 14 points. Creighton must find a way to keep her from getting to the basket: She's a slasher who rarely looks to shoot beyond the arc. Fujan has made giant strides as an offensive player this season, but it's her ability to defend — and not foul — that will be the key against the Orange. Her size and athleticism are vital to the Bluejays in this matchup. EDGE: Syracuse
Syracuse's Brianna Butler vs. Creighton's Ally Jensen. Butler, like Sykes, was a McDonald's All-American in high school. Butler, unlike Sykes, likes to shoot the 3-ball. More than half her attempts have come from beyond the arc, and her 49 3-pointers lead a team that shoots 29.9 percent from 3-point range. Jensen ranks in the top 100 nationally in both 3-point percentage and 3-point baskets, and will finish her career fifth in program history in baskets from beyond the arc. Though 5-foot-6, she can be a capable rebounder. EDGE: Even
Syracuse's Elashier Hall vs. Creighton's Sarah Nelson. Nelson's versatility has given Creighton a big advantage all season: the Bluejays can pull her away from the basket to take advantage of her shooting and passing skills. Syracuse's zone defense can negate some of what Nelson does best, but the Bluejays will need production from her in all phases of the game to have a chance to advance. Hall, a three-year starter, is a big guard who has a chance to finish her career with more than 1,100 points and 700 rebounds. She has 3-point range but does most of her damage around the basket. EDGE: Creighton
Syracuse's Kayla Alexander vs. Creighton's Alyssa Kamphaus. The Orange rely heavily on Alexander, and the big Canadian rarely fails to produce. She is the Big East's active leader in double-doubles with 30, and she pushed her career scoring total over 2,000 points in the loss to Connecticut in the conference tournament. Kamphaus has done a good job this season in overcoming the foul problems that hindered her development the first two years in the program. She'll need to be on the floor to give Creighton any chance of neutralizing Alexander's ability to dominate inside. EDGE: Syracuse
BENCH: The Orange have relied on a seven-player rotation, with Carmen Tyson-Thomas and Rachel Coffey getting most of the minutes off the bench. Tyson-Thomas arguably is the Orange's second-best player and won the Big East's Sixth Man of the Year Award. She's played some of her best basketball down the stretch, averaging almost 15 points and eight rebounds in her last five games. Coffey provides Syracuse with solid scoring when she takes over from Fondren at the point. Carli Tritz's effectiveness could go a long way in determining how Creighton fares against the Orange. The Bluejays' best player coming into the season has been seriously slowed by a deteriorating knee condition, but her play has picked up since she received a cortisone shot in late February. Alexis Akin-Otiko will give up size in the middle but won't be afraid to mix it up with Alexander. Jordan Garrison and Sammy Jensen are capable scorers from the perimeter, but Syracuse's athleticism could limit their effectiveness. EDGE: Syracuse
THE PICK: As it usually is in matchups with high-level, power-conference teams, Creighton will find itself on the short end in overall athletic talent. The Bluejays have wrung 24 wins out by relying on playing solid team basketball and making 3-pointers. Surprisingly for a team of good shooters, zone defenses have posed problems for Creighton this season, and zone is all the Orange will play. Syracuse also should be able to exploit some mismatches on offense that will ultimately decide this one.
— SYRACUSE 71, CREIGHTON 63