Team: Creighton Bluejays
2016-17 Record: 25-10, 10-8 Big East
2016-17 Big East Finish: Five-way tie for third place
Final 2016-17 KenPom Ranking: #28
Postseason? Yup. Lost to Rhode Island in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Key Departures: Maurice Watson, Jr. (12.9 points, 2.6 rebounds, 8.5 assists); Justin Patton (12.9 points, 6.2 rebounds, 1.2 assists); Cole Huff (9.1 points, 3.9 rebounds)
Key Returners: Marcus Foster (18.2 points, 2.9 rebounds, 2.4 assists); Khyri Thomas (12.3 points, 5.8 rebounds, 2.0 assists)
Key Additions: Kaleb Joseph (point guard, 6’3”, 180 lb., transfer from Syracuse, averaged 5.9 points, 2.2 rebounds, 3.8 assists as a freshman); 247 Sports’ #22 recruiting class (3rd best in the Big East): Jacob Epperson (center, 6’11”, 210 lb., #73), Mitchell Ballock (shooting guard, 6’5”, 185 lb., #90), and Ty-Shon Alexander (shooting guard, 6’4”, 190 lb., #109)
Coach: Greg McDermott, in his fifth season at Creighton, 24th season overall (165-81 at Creighton, 445-276 overall)
Outlook: This check-in almost turned into something completely different, as Ohio State came relatively close to luring Greg McDermott away from Creighton last week.
Instead, we are right where we expected to be when the season ended: Creighton will have to deal with losing big man Justin Patton to the NBA Draft along with dealing with figuring out who will be the long term replacement for Maurice Watson at point guard. The good news is that the Bluejays essentially replace one freshman star big man with another, as Jacob Epperson and his top 100 ranking comes to town. Of course, you have to wonder if McDermott will think about wanting to redshirt Epperson like he did with Patton. You can’t argue with the results there, and if Epperson is barely over 200 pounds at nearly seven feet tall, that might not go well for the Aussie.
The point guard issue is the big question. Creighton was on track to make noise in the NCAA tournament before Waton tore his ACL while leading the country in assists per game. The Bluejays never quite regained their mojo after that, although that shouldn’t be terribly surprising. It’s hard to re-create that kind of offensive production out of thin air. Davion Mintz is the guy who vacuumed up the Watson minutes as the season progressed, and Ronnie Harrell had his best game of the season while playing point guard in the NCAA tournament after not playing all that much all season long. The solution may be Kaleb Joseph. He has the bonus of redshirting this past season, and between Patton, Watson, and Marcus Foster, we’ve seen the benefits of redshirting under Greg McDermott. He was perfectly acceptable as a freshman point guard for Syracuse, but his minutes evaporated in his sophomore campaign. If Joseph can step in and replace 75% of what Watson was giving the Jays, that would be a huge development.
If the Bluejays want to get back to the NCAA tournament again next March, they’re going to need big seasons from both Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas. While both guys were pretty great last season, Creighton went just 7-9 without Watson and now they’ve lost Patton, too. With point guard still a question mark, Foster and Thomas will have to be better to counterbalance those personnel losses.