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Creighton and South Dakota: Can the sweet become elite?

The Creighton Bluejays and South Dakota Coyotes are this year’s two March Madness Cinderellas. Emma Ronsiek, Lauren Jensen, Morgan Maly of Creighton and Chloe Lamb, Hannah Sjerven and Liv Korngable of South Dakota are ready for more.

NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament - First Round - Texas
Liv Korngable (left) and Chloe Lamb
Photo by Darren Carroll/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Two No. 10 seeds have advanced to the Sweet Sixteen of the 2022 NCAA Tournament. And it’s not like Creighton and South Dakota haven’t had things to be proud of in recent memory prior to this year’s Cinderella run.

The Coyotes have made three tournaments in a row and would have made it in 2020 as an automatic bid. They were a No. 8 seed in 2019 and a No. 11 seed in 2021. Swish Appeal had them as a No. 6 seed in its 2020 hypothetical bracket, which is nothing to sneeze at.

Creighton had an off season last year, but went 19-11 (11-7 Big East) in 2019-20 with then-senior Jaylyn Agnew averaging 20.8 points per game. Agnew was taken at No. 24 overall in the 2020 WNBA Draft. The Bluejays’ most recent trip to the tournament before this year was in 2018. They also went in 2017.

With South Dakota’s national prominence in recent years (along with rival South Dakota State, it’s made the Summit League a conference to watch) and Creighton’s flashy scorer turned pro in Agnew, these two Cinderellas aren’t exactly strangers to the spotlight. But they have never received as much attention as they are receiving right now with both making their first trip to the Sweet Sixteen.

Let’s take a look at their chances of advancing to the Elite Eight.

Creighton

Faces No. 3 seed Iowa State Cyclones on Friday at 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

DraftKings spread: Iowa State -5.5

Creighton’s leading scorer and rebounder is sophomore forward Emma Ronsiek. She has authored the lone double-double for the Bluejays in this tournament with 13 points, 10 rebounds, four assists and two blocks in the second round against Iowa. Sophomore guard and second-leading scorer Lauren Jensen was of course the hero against the Hawkeyes with 19 points, including the game-winning 3-pointer. Jensen is a 43.6-percent 3-point shooter with 79 makes this year. Yet another sophomore, third-leading scorer at guard/forward Morgan Maly, is averaging 14 points and 10.5 rebounds in the tourney. Senior guard Tatum Rembao leads the Bluejays with 6.1 assists per game and had five helpers against the Hawkeyes.

Iowa State is led by Ashley Joens, who can put up points in a hurry. She is a senior who will be difficult to contain. Emily Ryan has put up ridiculous assist numbers and she and fellow sophomore Lexi Donarski (14.4 points per game) have made Iowa State much more than just the Ashley Joens show this year. This is the first Sweet Sixteen for all of the Cyclone players, as they erased the memory of last year’s heartbreaker in the second round against Texas A&M. They entered last season with Sweet Sixteen aspirations as the No. 15 team in the country, but underachieved their way to a No. 7 seed and then just couldn’t make enough plays down the stretch against the Aggies. But now they seem to be past their mental demons. After they survived a scare from No. 14 seed UT Arlington in the first round, they dominated No. 6 seed Georgia in the second round. They are on a roll and, with all due respect to Creighton, must feel like they have a golden opportunity to make the Elite Eight now that they don’t have to deal with Caitlin Clark and Iowa.

Both teams are among the nation’s best in points per game and 3-point percentage, with Iowa State being first in the latter category. Creighton has the edge in field goal percentage (45.6 percent to 43.5 percent), but will need to have a better than usual night at the line to keep up with a superior free throw shooting team. HerHoopStats gives Iowa State a 65.1 percent chance to win at a neutral site.

South Dakota

Faces No. 3 seed Michigan Wolverines on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2)

DraftKings spread: Michigan -4.5

South Dakota is lead by the big three of redshirt seniors Chloe Lamb (guard), Hannah Sjerven (center) and Liv Korngable (guard). All three average double-figure scoring and Korngable (3.8 assists per game) and Lamb (three assists per game) share distributing duties well. Sjerven leads the team with 7.7 boards per game and 1.8 blocks per game. In this Big Dance, Sjerven and Lamb have been spectacular. Both had 20 points in the first round against Ole Miss and they had 16 and 15 points, respectively, in the second round against Baylor.

Michigan suffered an early exit from the Big Ten Tournament, but has come to play in the NCAA Tournament with wins by 35 and 15 points. In a region with the weakest No. 1 seed in Louisville, the Wolverines seemed to have a shot at the program’s first Final Four. To get there, they may have thought they were going to have to face Baylor in the Sweet Sixteen for the second year in row. Last year, Michigan lost to the Bears in overtime. Instead, they face a South Dakota team that didn’t just sneak past Ole Miss and Baylor — they won their first two games of the tournament by 14 points each.

Senior forward Naz Hillmon is of course Michigan’s superstar and is averaging 25.5 points, 11 rebounds and four steals through the first two rounds. Another stellar performance from her could put this one out of reach for the Coyotes. South Dakota will also have to look out for the Wolverines’ second-leading scorer, Leigha Brown, who is coming off a 20-point performance, as well as Emily Kiser, who nearly averages a double-double, and Maddie Nolan, who is shooting 41.8 percent from downtown with 64 makes.

South Dakota’s scoring defense is much better than Michigan’s, though much of that is against weaker competition. The Coyotes allow just 53.7 points per game (eighth in the nation). They are also second in the country with just 10.9 turnovers committed per game. Michigan is 189th with 15.8. The Coyotes force more turnovers too (18.1 per game to 15.9). The Wolverines’ big advantage in this one will be on the glass. HerHoopStats gives Michigan a 62 percent chance to win at a neutral site.


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