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2019-20 Big East Basketball Summer Check-In: Creighton Bluejays

Let’s see how our western neighbors are doing this summer, shall we?

NCAA Basketball: Nebraska at Creighton Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

I jumped at the opportunity to write the Creighton summer check-in for a few reasons.

  1. I considered going there myself at one point.
  2. A buddy of mine from high school DID go there.
  3. They’re one of the other Midwestern teams in the Big East
  4. Hell yeah other Jesuit schools. The Ignation Situation needs to catch on as a nickname for a Jesuit-on-Jesuit school matchup.

Let’s catch up.

Team: Creighton Bluejays

2018-19 Record: 20-15 overall, 9-9 in the Big East

2018-19 Big East Finish: 3rd, technically, but let’s not talk about the clusterf*** that was third through sixth in the Big East. Each team finished 9-9. Creighton ended up with the fifth seed in the conference tournament.

Final 2018-19 KenPom Ranking: #55

Postseason? #2 seed in the NIT. They beat Loyola-Chicago and Memphis before falling in the quarterfinals to TCU

Key Departures: Martin Krampelj (13.5 PPG, 6.9 RPG [writer’s note: nice], turning pro).

Key Returners: Ty-Shon Alexander (15.7 PPG, 4.0 RPG, 36.5% 3P%, All Big East Honorable Mention); Marcus Zegarowski (10.4 PPG, 21.2% assist rate, 40.6% 3P% ); Mitch Ballock (11.1 PPG, 42% 3P%).

Key Additions: Freshman guards Shereef Mitchell and Jalen Windham, neither of whom are top 200 recruits; Idaho St. grad transfer forward Kelvin Jones (10 PPG in the Big Sky, top 100 in DR% and Block % according to KenPom); traditional transfer Denzel Mahoney (17.0 points, 4.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists in 64 games at Southeast Missouri State)

Coach: Current Indiana Pacer forward Doug McDer...(puts finger to earpiece)....I mean Greg McDermott, going into his 10th year in charge of the program. He has a record of 207-109 in Omaha and 487-304 overall as a head coach.

Outlook: Martin Krampelj turning pro might be the literal worst thing that could have happened to Creighton. His ability to threaten hitting a jump shot (35% from long range last year, 36% in league play) combined with his array of post moves made him an offensive threat and opened up a lot of space for Creighton’s vast array of shooters to go lights-out against teams. With both him and notably-still-a-Froling-but-not-Harry Sam Froling both leaving, Creighton will have grad transfer Kelvin Jones and Jacob Epperson and his giant medical history to play at center, which leaves....well, a lot to be desired. According to an anonymous source, “they don’t have a big man other than a tall stack of bags of dried leaves.”

We made the joke on the Anonymous Eagle Podcast (click the link at the bottom of the page) that Creighton last year was Marquette of a few years ago: a nigh-unstoppable shooting offense if it clicked (although it still only averaged out to 47th best in country according to KenPom) and a not so great defense (although they ended up being 83rd in the country by the end of the year). Basically, Creighton played 3 guards, a shorter wing, and one big man, and then hoped that they could outscore you.

It would appear like they are headed in that direction again. And don’t get me wrong, Creighton returns some absolutely lethal guys, but man, none of them are inspiring defenders. Ty-Shon Alexander should rightfully be a preseason All-Big East team member, and he’ll lead the line of talented shooters (including rising sophomore Marcus Zegarowski and rising junior/unfortunate spoonerism owner Mitch Ballock), but Creighton’s weaknesses as a team last year will be more exaggerated in the coming year. They were 275th in the country in effective field goal % defense, and barring any of their new guys becoming the next Justin Simon, Quincy McKnight, or Sacar Anim, they just lack high-level defenders to run with the scorers in the Big East that are coming back next year.

That’s not to say that they’ll be a bad team. They’ll just have to follow the Marquette 2016-2017 model: outscore everybody and don’t throw late game inbound passes where they can’t catch them. They’ll be one of the top overall offenses in the league, and they’ll just need enough stops when it matters to squeak out wins. They’re a live-and-die-by-the-3-ball team, so they’ll need their scorers to not regress, but if regression doesn’t happen, they’ll compete for a tournament bid and a top 5 slot in the Big East. It’s hard to deny that the core that is returning isn’t elite; Davion Mintz, Mitch Ballock, Ty-Shon Alexander, and Marcus Zegarowski is a hell of a core to build around. It’s just hard to see where the space that they had last year with a healthy Krampelj, Froling, and Epperson will come from with the bigs left on the roster. Epperson has the potential to be a good 4 year Big East player, but after having missed half of each of his two years on campus due to injury including needing knee and back surgery to end last year, we’ll see how quickly he matures and/or stays on the court. If they can’t find the lanes for Alexander to exploit or the spacing around the perimeter to open up their shooters, they might struggle to find buckets, especially against teams like Providence, Georgetown, and Marquette, who can play better athletes and better defenders in almost every lineup slot against them.

I think I’m higher on Creighton than most, but that’s mainly because I see them falling squarely in the middle of the Big East this year. There’s two obviously top teams: Villanova and Seton Hall. You have Marquette, Providence, Xavier, Georgetown, and Creighton, who all could be one of the best teams come the end of the year and all who will compete for a tournament bid, and then DePaul, St. John’s, and Butler at the bottom. If Creighton can hit their shots and find enough stops, they should hear their name called come Selection Sunday 2020. And if not?

Well, 2020-2021 will be a great year for Bluejay fans.