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2021-22 Big East Women’s Basketball Team Preview: Creighton Bluejays

The Bluejays had a rough year last year in terms of record and continuity, but bring back an awful lot of players.

NCAA Womens Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-Seton Hall vs Creighton
Is Emma Ronsiek ready to lead the Bluejays?
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Team: Creighton Bluejays

2020-21 Record: 10-12, 6-7 Big East

2020-21 Big East Finish: Sixth, three games behind Villanova in the win column, but only two in the loss column.

Final 2020-21 Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #133

Postseason? After losing to Marquette in the Big East semifinals, the Bluejays were left out of the NCAA tournament but did make it into the WNIT. They beat Bowling Green in the first round of the 32 team event all held in Rockford, Illinois, before bowing out in the second round to Northern Iowa.

Key Departures: Well, the list clearly has to start with Temi Carda. Last year’s leading scorer averaged 15.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, and ended up with the highest number of total assists on the squad while shooting 40% from downtown. She was the only Bluejay to start all 22 games and one of just four players to appear in all 22 as well. Given the short list of women who actually did that, it’s notable that DeArica Pryor, one of the other three, is no longer on the roster. She averaged 12.7 minutes per game last season, but her 3.7 points and 1.0 rebounds per game weren’t anything terribly impressive. Mykel Parham started in 20 of CU’s games last season, but she had even less of an on court impact than Pryor. Gracey Griglione had a bench role last season, but she did appear in 16 games for an average run of 9.1 minutes, and that’s not nothing.

Key Returners: With Carda gone, the title of Leading Returning Scorer falls to Emma Ronsiek. 11.6 points per game is the top mark amongst the actually very long list of women back for this season, and the sophomore from South Dakota averaged 5.1 rebounds and just over an assist per game as well.

Let’s knock out the remaining two women who did appear in every game last season. Morgan Maly started in two contests and ended up averaging 7.7 points, 3.9 rebounds, and just over an assist per game in just under 17 minutes per contest. Payton Brotzki also struggled to crack the starting lineup while appearing in every game while only starting four of them. 13.5 minutes per game was the average for the 5’11” Nebraska native, and she gave the Jays 3.2 points and 2.3 rebounds per game.

When Tatum Rembao was available last season, she started. That was only for 11 games, but she chipped in 9.9 points, 2.5 rebounds, and 3.6 assists in over 26 minutes per game when she was available. The “starting when available” thing applies to Rachael Saunders as well, but she saw just six games of action and contributed 8.2 points, 3.2 rebounds and a bit over an assist per game.

We have to mention Carly Bachelor before we get too deep into things here, because when you’re the leading rebounder on last year’s squad and you’re back again this year, you have to be mentioned. Bachelor missed five games overall last season and only started 12 of the 17 games that she did play. She also added 5.6 points and 1.0 assists per game to the proceedings in a little over 21 minutes a night.

Key Additions: There are just two new names on the Creighton roster. One is freshman Lexi Unruh, a 6’1” guard from South Dakota. Given the number of women returning for the Bluejays, I don’t know if the only freshman on the team has a real chance to crack the rotation, but when you set your high school’s single season record for steals and already have the career record heading into your senior season, there’s a real chance that you can contribute on defense right away.

The other newcomer is Lauren Jensen, a 5’10” guard from Minnesota. She transferred in from Iowa after one season. Jensen appeared in 17 of 27 games for the Hawkeyes but was limited in her production when actually on the court. She was a recruiting target for the Bluejays before committing to Iowa, so it’s clear that CU coaching staff knows what to expect from her in their system.

Coach: Jim Flanery, entering his 20th season at Creighton and overall as a Division 1 head coach. He has a record of 356-243.

Outlook: I don’t think it’s a stretch on any level to say that last year was a complete mess for Creighton. There’s the base level messiness where only one player started in every game and only four women appeared in every game. It’s basically impossible to achieve any kind of coherence as a basketball team when you’re nearly picking names out of a hat to see who is and is not available on a game by game basis.

On top of that, COVID did a number on the Bluejays’ schedule. Between November 25th and December 22nd, Creighton played eight games. Between Christmas and January 29th, the Bluejays played one game, a January 3rd road game against Xavier. They went 27 days between games, starting back up on January 30th with a home game against Georgetown. Because of timing issues as a result of that COVID related layoff, Creighton played just 13 of the 20 Big East games that were supposed to be on the schedule last season.

And yet.

They still advanced to the Big East semifinals, upsetting #3 seed Seton Hall to get there. In the Big East semis, Creighton was inbounding the ball with 13 seconds left down just two to Marquette. Sure, they didn’t win for REASONS, but they did keep fighting all the way to that point. They still went to the WNIT with a record of 9-11, and sure, we can make an argument that the WNIT was filled up with 32 teams that actually wanted to keep playing at that point which helped the Jays get in. But they still got in and won a game before losing on a layup with four seconds to go.

Here’s the big question for Creighton and particularly for head coach Jim Flanery for this season: Did all of that “let’s just keep fighting” and “next player up” and “we’re all in this together” and “just keep working” from last year make them a better basketball team this year? If you want to handwave actual results from last season, go ahead, it was weird and bad. But they were still just 7-10 when the Big East tournament started and 9-11 heading into the WNIT. That’s not good..... but again, they were stapling a game day roster together out of scraps of construction paper that they found on the floor of the gym.

Last year’s team was supposed to be right around the middle of the Big East, and even with all of their messiness, that’s where they ended up when it was time to seed the tournament. Is that what they are again this year? Are they a better team now because so many people had to do so many things across last year’s 22 games? This year’s team is mostly just last year’s team in terms of production, just without Temi Carda. Can the Jays overcome that loss thanks to all of the lessons they learned about overcoming players missing time last year? Will merely getting a full season out of Tatum Rembao and Rachael Saunders make Creighton a better basketball team?

If you’re looking for a reason to look on the bright side here, it’s Jim Flanery. 19 seasons of hoops have come and gone under his guidance in Omaha, and 15 of them — we’ll give them credit for 2020 — involved a postseason appearance. The odds of it are that Flanery and his coaching staff are going to figure this out. They seemingly usually do. Maybe that doesn’t mean an NCAA tournament. Maybe that doesn’t mean that they come close to challenging Connecticut for the conference title. That doesn’t mean that Creighton won’t be a tough out in the league and a pretty good team by the end of the year.