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2022-23 Big East Women’s Basketball Summer Check-In: Creighton Bluejays

Jim Flanery’s team is coming off the program’s first ever Sweet 16 & first ever Elite Eight. What’s next?

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 20 Div I Women’s Championship - Second Round - Creighton at Iowa
What are Emma Ronsiek and the Bluejays capable after their first ever Elite Eight?
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Team: Creighton Bluejays

2021-22 Record: 23-10, 15-5 Big East

2021-22 Big East Finish: Third, one game behind Villanova in the loss column.

Final 2021-22 Her Hoop Stats Ranking: #29 out of 356 teams.

Postseason: After losing to Seton Hall in the quarterfinals of the Big East tournament on a shot with two seconds remaining, the Bluejays bounced back in a big way. They took advantage of their at-large bid to the NCAA tournament by downing #8 Iowa and #10 Iowa State to advance to the Elite Eight before falling (by 30) to eventual champion South Carolina.

Key Departures: The Bluejays lose two players from last year’s squad. Payton Brotzki started in all 30 games that she appeared in as a senior, averaging 3.7 points, 3.0 rebounds, and nearly two assists a game. She was a starter for the Bluejays, so by default that makes her a pretty notable component to lose.... but we have to acknowledge that because Creighton went nine deep pretty much every game, that left Brotzki only averaging 15.6 minutes per game. Between that and her box score output, it seems reasonable to think that that’s something that the Jays can easily figure out how to replace.

Tatum Rembao is a completely different deal, even though she only averaged 7.1 points per game last year. She led the team in minutes per game and her 6.1 assists per game were more than twice as many as anyone else on the squad. It was also enough to rank 11th in the country per, and the crazy part about that is that she didn’t lead the Big East.

Key Returners: Emma Ronsiek sticks in my head as the biggest and most notable name coming back for the Bluejays, but as I look at the box score, it’s actually hard to make that point. Ronsiek, Lauren Jensen, and Morgan Maly all averaged between 12 and 14 points per game, between four and five rebounds a game, and between one and three assists per game. All three shot north of 33% from long range. Pretty much the only thing truly separating them is the fact that Maly started just one game all season while Jensen and Ronsiek were in the first five every night except once each for both of them, and the one for Jensen was on Senior Day to give Chloe Dworak the spot.

I’m not trying to say that they’re interchangeable, but I am saying that when you bring back your top three scorers who were also three of your top four rebounders and your top trio of three-point shooters, that’s a good way to go about setting yourself up for success next year.

That fourth rebounder left out of the mentions there a second ago? That’s Carly Bachelor, who had 4.2 a game to end up second on the team behind Ronsiek a year ago. There’s also Molly Mogensen, who had the role of “sniper off the bench,” as she didn’t start, but played over 20 minutes a game while appearing in every contest and led the squad in three-point shooting percentage. We wrap up the department here with Rachael Saunders, who chipped in 5.4 points a night, mostly off the bench, along with 3.4 rebounds and 1.5 assists. At a glance, it certainly seems like Bachelor and Saunders need to step up their three-point shooting heading into next year as they’re the only sub-par shooters returning.

Key Additions: The Bluejays have no transfers on the roster heading into next season, but they do have three freshmen. Brittany Harshaw is a 6’1” guard from Kansas, Kiani Lockett is a 5’8” guard from Minnesota, and Kennedy Townsend is a 5’10” guard out of Kansas City. I’d love to tell you more about them, but CU doesn’t have bios up on their roster pages yet, and I have a hard enough time learning things about Marquette’s freshmen.

Coach: Jim Flanery, entering his 21st season at Creighton and overall as a Division 1 head coach. He has a record of 379-253.

Outlook: On the day the NCAA tournament started, Creighton was 20-9 and coming off two really not great losses. The Seton Hall loss in the Big East tournament was obviously much worse than the loss to DePaul in the regular season finale on Senior Day, as at least the DePaul win helped lock the Blue Demons into the First Four. Seton Hall remained relegated to the WNIT, and for a Creighton team that ended up as a #10 seed with a NET ranking that you’d think would have landed them a better seed, taking that loss was not well timed.

They still got into the NCAA tournament, which is the key thing, though. More importantly, they made the most of their opportunity. After dropping #7 seed Colorado by 10 points in the opener, they had an awesome battle with #2 seed Iowa on the Hawkeyes’ home floor because that’s how things go in the NCAA tournament.... and Lauren Jensen canned the triple to beat Iowa and send the Jays on to the Sweet 16 for the first time every in program history.

AND THEN they topped that by knocking off #3 seeded Iowa State, wrecking the month for Iowans everywhere, powered by 19 points from Tatum Rembao. That gave them their first ever Elite Eight appearance as well to wrap up this dream run, and the fact that it ended in a smashing by South Carolina doesn’t really matter all that much, does it?

So the question becomes: How much of their March run was “right team, right time, right day, right whatever else you want to say,” and how much of it was catching fire for three games? Honestly? Very little of it was catching fire.

Yes, Creighton shot 51% overall against the Buffaloes, and shot over 42% from behind the arc against both Colorado and Iowa State. These are good things, and yes, they were numbers that are better than their season averages. Maybe by definition, this is “catching fire.”

But is it really catching fire when Her Hoop Stats has you as the #10 three-point shooting percentage team in the country and the #8 team when it comes to how many of your shots come from behind the three-point line? Yeah, they made a lot of shots in those two games.... but Jim Flanery’s offense is designed to get his women those shots. This is What Creighton Does, and the shots went in.

Also? The Iowa game? 36% from the field, and a woebegone 29% from long range. That’s not catching fire, that’s figuring out away to gut out a road win against a team with national championship aspirations. Was a large part of gutting that out getting Hawkeye superstar Caitlin Clark to shoot 4-for-19 from the field? Probably! Creighton was an obviously great offensive team last year, you can’t not be when you shoot and make so many threes, but they were not an outstanding defensive team. Good, maybe, but not “let’s lock down Iowa” great. But they figured it out, and that’s more important than anything else.

So now they’re going to get their flowers in terms of preseason expectations because they bring back too much to not get that attention. However, losing two starters isn’t good news for them, and losing Tatum Rembao’s ability to distribute the ball is definitely going to be a giant question mark for them in 2022-23. On one hand, only Molly Mogensen and Emma Ronsiek averaged more than two assists a game last season amongst the returning players. The other hand is holding a sign pointing out that Creighton led the country in both raw assists per game and assist rate. Is there someone on the roster that can step into Rembao’s passing production numbers? Can they replicate the assists just by everyone sharing the ball a little bit more?

Wanna know the really scary part about the Bluejays? If they can solve the riddle of replacing Payton Brotzki and Tatum Rembao, Creighton might be looking at a long term run in the top third of the Big East. Rachael Saunders is on a COVID bonus year here, but she’s the only one who’s definitely done with their time in Omaha after this coming season..... and Carly Bachelor is the only player on their fourth year with the Jays. This year’s roster is junior heavy, and if they can get the freshmen going enough both this year and next year..... yeah, Jim Flanery might have something cooking here.