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

Will the Bluejays need to replicate last year’s defense to win again next year? Is that even possible?

NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament - First Round - Buffalo - South Dakota State v Providence
Is this the face of the newest “my god would someone defend that guy” Creighton shooter?
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Team: Creighton Bluejays

2021-22 Record: 23-12, 12-7 Big East

2021-22 Big East Finish: Fourth, a game behind UConn and a game in front of Marquette.

Final 2021-22 Ranking: #50

Postseason? After scrapping their way to the Big East tournament championship game before falling to Villanova, Creighton earned a #9 seed in the NCAA tournament and advanced to the second round thanks to an overtime win against #8 seed San Diego State. They gave eventual champion Kansas absolute fits for 40 minutes, keeping it to a one possession game with just a minute to play, but the Jayhawks pulled away for the 79-72 win.

Key Departures: Two very big ones and one more worth mentioning. We have to start with Ryan Hawkins, the D2 grad transfer that ported his game to the Big East with almost zero difficulty. He led the Bluejays in scoring and rebounding — just barely by the end of the season — and connected on nearly 36% of his long range attempts, too. He was a major component of who and what Creighton basketball was last season, but we’re going to hold off on digging deeper into that until we get to the Outlook section.

Alex O’Connell maybe doesn’t jump off the page as a major contributor last year, at least not at the level Hawkins was, but the Jays are still going to miss him. #3 on the team at 11.8 points per game, and at 6’6”, he was sneaky tall (I didn’t realize he was that tall, tbh) and a pretty good rebounder (5.3 per game) for his position, too. He was also one of just three Bluejays to average more than two assists, which does help make up for the fact that he was a sub-par three-point shooter last season at 32.7%. There’s also KeyShawn Feazell, who departs the program after spending his COVID bonus season in Omaha. He wasn’t a big role guy, but he was a role guy after appearing in all 35 CU games and averaging 9.9 minutes a night. That number is propped up by a string of double digit games in November and December, but as Big East play wound on, he was usually under 10 minutes a night…. But the 6’9” big man from Mississippi did get to start Creighton’s NCAA tournament game against Kansas.

Key Returners: There’s A LOT of them, including five of their top seven scorers from 2021-22. Let’s start with the pairing of Ryan Nembhard and Ryan Kalkbrenner, who are entangled heading into next season not just because of their shared first names. Both men did not finish the season as part of the healthy active roster and so there’s at least a tiiiiiny bit of question marks on them right now. Nembhard broke his wrist against St. John’s on February 23rd and missed the final eight games of the year, while Kalkbrenner suffered a knee injury during the overtime session of Creighton’s NCAA tournament game against San Diego State and thus missed the Kansas game two days later when the season ended. Kalkbrenner finished #2 on the team in scoring and rebounding, losing out on both team titles to Hawkins just barely at 13.1 and 7.7 respectively. Nembhard had an objectively great freshman year, taking home the Big East Freshman of the Year trophy even while missing CU’s final three regular season games. He averaged 11.3 points, one of five guys on the squad north of 10 per game, along with 3.1 rebounds and a team high 4.4 assists per game.

Arthur Kaluma is the last of the three returning guys who averaged over 10 points a game last season, and he might be the returning guy who will have to step up the most this coming winter for the Bluejays to be successful. As a freshman, he started in 30 of his 31 appearances, missing four games in February due to a knee injury. The Arizona product added 10.4 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per game.

Trey Alexander was the not the most heralded addition to Creighton’s roster last year, but he ended up being a starter by the end of the season and a pretty notable contributor at least in terms of minutes played all year long. The 6’4” guard slipped into the starting lineup when Kaluma went down with an injury and then Nembhard’s injury kept him in the first five when Kaluma was ready to take his spot back. 7.3 points, 3.7 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game aren’t blow away numbers, but Alexander did play double digit minutes in every game and was turning into an Iron Man for the Jays by the end of the season. Rati Andronikashvili is the last guy we need to mention, and his first official season of Division 1 action was….. fine. The best ranked Creighton recruit this century when he committed and signed missed the 2020-21 season with a knee injury but bounced back to average over 13 minutes per game while appearing in 33 games this year. That’s not nothing, although his stat sheet contributions aren’t really worth mentioning…. But he did straight up win Creighton a game himself by locking up Darryl Morsell when the Golden Eagles needed a bucket.

Key Additions: The conversation here starts with Baylor Scheierman, as his transfer from South Dakota State is a big reason why the Bluejays are receiving high praise from national media heading into next year. After a perfectly fine freshman year for the Jackrabbits, Scheierman followed that up with two great seasons, averaging 15.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.2 steals, and shooting a whopping 45.6% from long range. He is an offensive firehose to say the least.

He’s also not the only transfer inbound on the roster. Francisco Farabello joins the team after three seasons at TCU. The 6’4” Argentinian was A Guy for Jamie Dixon’s Frogs, averaging 4.4 points and just under two rebounds and two assists in his 73 career appearances. He is a career 40% long range shooter though, and those kind of guys always have a chance to make a major impact for Creighton.

There are also five freshmen on the roster this season, although two of them are Mason Miller and Zander Yates, both of whom redshirted a year ago for the Bluejays. Miller was a top 75 prospect that redshirted for Creighton last season, while Yates, who was high school teammates with Miller in Tennessee, appears to have not even existed in the eyes of 247 Sports. They both count as “additions” to the team since they present the possibility of change from last year’s roster, but both are familiar with what the coaching staff is asking of them. The other three guys are... just guys, with point guard Ben Shtolzberg coming in as the most notable one at #161 in the 247 Sports Composite rankings. We should point out that Fredrick King (6’10”, 236 pounds) was an April addition to the signing class and while he is listed as Not Applicable in 247’s rankings, he does come from the Latin American division of the NBA Academy.

Coach: Greg McDermott, entering his 13th season in charge at Creighton and 22st at the Division 1 level. He has a record of 272-135 with the Bluejays and 552-330 overall when you mix in his seven seasons coaching in Division 2.

Outlook: Well, let’s just get it out in the open, shall we?

Last year, I said that there was “a very real chance” that Creighton was going to be very bad because they effectively returned nothing from the most successful team in program history and were going to be incredibly reliant on not just newcomers but specifically on freshmen. I also attached eight Maybe’s to that statement that maybe, just maybe, head coach Greg McDermott, who I like as a coach, could figure it out and steer it into a positive direction.

Breaking News: Those maybes pretty much nailed exactly what happened to Creighton last year and the Bluejays turned in a season worthy of a #9 seed in the NCAA tournament. Maybe it would have actually been better than that if Ryan Nembhard hadn’t gotten hurt in the closing stretch of the regular season, because maybe they get an extra win (hello, Senior Day loss to Seton Hall) and the committee doesn’t ding them a little for Nembhard’s absence.

So they were good, maybe better than anyone outside of Nebraska expected, and that’s great news for this coming year since they’re returning a bunch of core players. Mix in the fireworks show that is Baylor Scheierman to a team that’s usually a great offensive squad anyway, add a dash of “hey, what’s going on in the Big East this year?” and a spritz of “Jay Wright retired” and you can easily get to thinking that Creighton’s the favorite in the Big East this season.


Creighton finished last year with KenPom’s #19 ranked defense. That’s obviously very good, no questions asked. That defense helped win them a lot of games last season, especially since the offense struggled at times. Here’s the thing, though: That was also the first time in the KenPom era that Greg McDermott has ever coached a top 20 defense. His previous best? #21 in the country.... back in his last year at Northern Iowa in 2006. #3 was, admittedly, the 2021 season, when the Bluejays finished at #32, but McDermott’s teams have only finished as a top 50 defense in five of his 21 seasons as a head coach as listed on

In short: Greg McDermott’s teams aren’t historically known for locking you down, so expecting them to be able to do it for a third straight season feels very unlikely just in the “the odds and history are against them” way.

It’s also feeling unlikely because of 1) the departure of Ryan Hawkins and 2) the arrival of Baylor Scheierman. Now, yes, at a glance, trading a 6’7”, 220 pound guy who can shoot it and rebound it for a 6’6”, 205 pound guy who can really shoot it and rebound it can sound like a pretty close straight replacement situation, and if you like Scheierman’s skill set more than Hawkins, then you see big upside for the Bluejays.


Let’s turn our attention to our friends at Hoop Explorer. Here we find that Creighton was more than 20 points per 100 possessions worse on offense — adjusted for competition level, by the way! — when Hawkins was off the floor as well as more than 15 points per 100 possessions worse on defense. Basically: Ryan Hawkins had a major impact on everything the Bluejays did, especially on defense.

South Dakota State?

Uh. Well. The Jackrabbits got a teensy bit — 3.3 adjusted points per 100 possessions — better on offense when Scheierman was off the floor and then nearly nine points worse on defense. For the purposes of our conversation about defense, it’s a good sign that SDSU got worse when Scheierman left the floor.... but they were allowing 103.7 points per possession when adjusted for competition level in the Summit League when he was on the floor. They were not a good defensive team in the slightest, finishing the year at #217 in the country by KenPom’s math, so that’s not a ringing endorsement of Scheierman being able to duplicate Hawkins’ impact on that end. The Jackrabbits getting more efficient on offense — looks like their assist rate went thru the roof — when Scheierman was off the floor isn’t a great sign relative to fitting into a Greg McDermott “we are going to attempt to shoot you off the floor at every position” type of offense.

One more note of teensy concern about just stapling Scheierman into the returning core and saying “we’re good here”? Last year, South Dakota State played five games against what KenPom calls top 100 level opponents, adjusting for home and/or away status. Baylor Scheierman shot 7-for-30 — 23.3%!!! — from long range in those five games. Even worse? He was at 18.2% before a 3-for-8 outing against Providence in the NCAA tournament to close the season.

For his career at SDSU, Scheierman is 18-for-69, or 26.1%, from long range against those KenPom top 100 teams. Last year, all but four — twice vs Georgetown and at home against Butler and DePaul — Big East games were top 100 games. If Scheierman’s shooting has been dependent on being able to carve it up against the North Dakotas and Denvers of the world — 48.9% in league play last year, by the way — that’s not a particularly great sign for his game translating to the Big East.

I’m not saying it’s time to panic. Creighton’s still the favorite, and if there’s a coach who’s going to figure out how to iron out these kinds of problems, it’s Greg McDermott. If anything, it’s likely that the Bluejays have a very good season with a back-to-normal McDermott offense and a defense that’s good enough to hold up its end of things. But it’s probably time to stop doing things like putting the Bluejays at #3 in the country and think fringe top 25 is more likely, especially if Ryan Nembhard is going to try to have a turnover rate that matches his assist rate again.