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2020-21 Big East Women’s Basketball Team Preview: Creighton Bluejays

Our friends in Omaha lose the Big East Player of the Year, but return an experienced core.

Creighton v Georgetown
Can Temi Carda lead the Bluejays back to a postseason berth?
Getty Images

Team: Creighton Bluejays

2019-20 Record: 19-11, 11-7 in the Big East

2019-20 Big East Finish: Part of a five-way tie for third place, but ended up as the #6 seed in the conference tournament thanks to tiebreakers.

Final 2019-20 Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #70

Postseason Projection: High Post Hoops had the Bluejays in the field of 64 as a #10 seed.

Key Departures: Just two, with both heading off the roster after their senior year last season. Jaylyn Agnew is the obvious one after being named Big East Player of the Year last season. She averaged 20.8 points, 6.3 points, and 3.3 assists per game, all of which led the Bluejays. She missed four games, but still did enough to be tabbed the best player in the conference, so yeah, that’s a pretty big loss. The other senior that saw minutes last season was Olivia Elger. She was third on the roster in scoring at 10.1 points per game, and she chipped in 3.4 rebounds and 2.3 assists, too. Between the two of them, Creighton is looking at replacing more than half of their made three-pointers from a year ago from two women that combined to shoot 36.6% from long range.

Key Returners: Creighton returns four women who played in all 30 games a year ago and three more that averaged at least 12 minutes while appearing in north of 20 games. We lead the discussion with Temi Carda, who represents the Jays on the preseason all-conference team. She was second on the team in scoring a year ago at 12.9 points per game, and in her free time added 4.4 rebounds and 2.7 assists. She was Creighton’s other big time shooter behind Agnew and Elger. Tatum Rembao missed a chunk of the season around the holidays, but still averaged 10.0 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 3.3 assists. Gracey Griglione started all 30 games for the Bluejays, making her one of two women on the roster to do that last year. However, she only averaged 11 minutes per game and as a result didn’t do too much damage to the ol’ stat sheet.

That does it for returning starters, or at least returning full time starters. Thanks to weirdness in the lineup all season long, Rachael Saunders played in just 24 of Creighton’s 30 games but she did start 10 times, too. She gave the Jays 6.6 points and 5.1 rebounds per game. Carly Bachelor appeared in all 30 games, including three starts. Her 3.9 points weren’t all that much, but 3.5 rebounds per game is pretty good for just under 18 minutes per appearance. Payton Brotzki turned up in 28 of Creighton’s games and gave them 12 solid minutes off the bench on average. Mykel Parham averaged just over 10 minutes per game while appearing in all 30 games, so that’s pretty solid experience for a freshman. Chloe Dworak and Dearica Pryor played in a heavy majority of Creighton’s games (27 and 24 games respectively), but didn’t get that much playing time. I’m mentioning them anyway because the coaching staff kept using them nearly every night for spot minutes.

Key Additions: There are five freshmen on the roster, and they don’t even warrant a roster page on Prospects Nation. However, ESPN does. None of the five are top 100 prospects, so I don’t want to lean into anything particularly interesting about how four of them are graded as 90. That’s starting to seem an awful lot like “well, they’re not top 100 so whatever” stuff.

Three of the five — Mallory Brake, Morgan Maly, and Emma Ronsiek — are at least 6 feet tall, and given that only three other women on the roster hit that height as a minimum, that seems like it might be important. Without too much in terms of notable information about them from the recruiting trails and with seven very experienced vets coming back, we will have to wait and see if any of the five earn their way on the floor in major roles this season.

Coach: Jim Flanery, entering his 19th season at Creighton and overall as a Division 1 head coach. He has a record of 346-231.

Outlook: This is a weird balance of a season for Creighton, at least as we head into it. On one hand, if I told you that a team was bringing back seven women who were regular rotation players last season, you’d say that the team in question was probably set up to be just as good as they were the year prior if not a little bit better because of all of that experience. On the other hand, when you return seven women who averaged at least 10 minutes a game but you lose the Big East Player of the Year and the #3 scorer on the roster, well, that’s probably not a great sign for what those seven returning women were actually contributing themselves.

The good news, if you’re a Creighton fan, is that Jim Flanery is in charge. 18 seasons running the show in Omaha, 17 where there was actually a postseason to participate in, and the Bluejays have participated in 14 of them. Sure, if you want to nitpick, yeah, only four of them are NCAA tournament appearances. That’s maybe not great, but it is consistent. The other part to remember is that Creighton was coming out of the Missouri Valley Conference for Flanery’s first 11 seasons, and boosting up to the Big East has benefitted the squad in terms of postseason abilities. 11 MVC years, two NCAAs. Six Big East years, two NCAAs. See? The point of the story is that if we can rely on one thing here, it’s that Flanery’s regular consistency in guiding his teams to a postseason appearance will probably go a long way in papering over the losses of Jaylyn Agnew and Olivia Elger.

It is, of course, going to require multiple Jays to step up this season. The big one is obviously Temi Carda. She’s the leading returning scorer on the squad and the 5’9” Minnesota native is the only returning player on the roster that had the greenest of lights from Flanery to shoot from the outside a year ago. She ultimately led the Bluejays in minutes last year because Agnew and Elger ended up missing time, which makes Carda one of just two women to start every game and four — all of whom return for 2020-21 — to play in every game. The upside here is that Carda had to be a unifying force on the floor for Creighton last season when Flanery was forced to work around various players missing time for one reason or another. If she can translate that aspect of her game into being the star of the show, things will probably work out well for the Bluejays.

Carda is the obvious name that needs to step up, but she also doesn’t need to step that much more up from 13 points, four rebounds, and three assists a game. The Bluejays are going to need big contributions from, well, really from all six of the other returning rotation players. Tatum Rembao is a top candidate for taking a whole bunch more shots this season after shooting a team high 37% from long range last season. However, she’s going to have to do a lot better elsewhere on the floor, as Rembao shot under 37% inside the arc. That’s really bad, and as a senior, she’s going to have to do more this year.

At 5’9”, I don’t know how much better Rachael Saunders can do rebounding the ball for the Bluejays than the 5.1 she pulled down last season. As a sophomore, she got the start 10 times as Creighton needed to fill spots that were opened up by people missing games, so she seems like a shoo-in for a starting spot this year. If she’s going to get Creighton nearly a steal per game again, then Saunders’ offense might not be the primary reason she gets on the floor.

Carly Bachelor and Payton Brotzki seem to be in prime positions to grab hold of a bigger role this year. They were every day performers for Flanery a year ago, but because of the talent in front of them in the lineup, they didn’t have to be relied on to do all that much. The thing that may hold them back is their ability to shoot the ball. Last year, Creighton derived 46% of their field goal attempts from behind the arc. Bachelor went 1-18 on the season while Brotzki hit 27% of her 71 attempts. One of those is Small-ish Sample Size Theater, while the other is bordering on an actual problem. With Agnew and Elger gone, Creighton is losing 47% of their long range attempts from last season. If Bachelor and Brotzki can’t be relied on to hit the shots, even just as the third or fourth option on the floor, then Flanery is going to look elsewhere for playing time.

Gracey Griglione and Mykel Parham are fascination comparison figures from last season. Griglione was a sophomore a year ago while Parham was a freshman. Both played in every game, both averaged right around 11 minutes, both weren’t asked to score, hovering in the 2-3 points per game range, neither one rebounded all that much, although Parham’s three per game in limited minutes is actually kind of impressive. In a lot of ways, they were basically the same person on the floor for Creighton........... except for the fact that Griglione got her name called as a starter every night. Is that going to continue in 2020-21? If it is, I would have to figure that she’s going to have to start giving CU way more than 11 minutes a night in order to hold onto that spot. Just being a 6’1” forward isn’t enough to hold down that starting spot when three of the five freshmen fit that height bill just fine, too.

As far as the five freshmen on the roster go, I don’t know what to make of them. Obviously, none of them are tippy top notable recruits, so you wouldn’t think that the Bluejays are going to immediately turn to them to fill major roles, not with this much returning ability. However, Flanery isn’t afraid to dole out key spots to freshmen if he needs to, so we’ll see who gets a chance to run around out there and who spends most of the year learning from the bench.