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Big East Season Preview: Creighton Bluejays

Christopher Novak and Derek Rayment, new to Big East Coast Bias, project the outlook for the Creighton Bluejays in 2014.

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

2013-14 in Review: 27-8 (14-4), Big East Tournament Runner Ups; Lost to Baylor in 3rd Round of NCAA Tournament

Departures: Doug McDermott (Graduated; 26.7 PPG, 7.0 RPG, 1.6 APG, 52.6 FG%), Grant Gibbs (Graduated; 7.2 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 3.9 APG, 55.6 FG%), Jahenns Manigat (Graduated; 7.0 PPG, 2.9 APG, 1.03 SPG, 43.8 FG%), Ethan Wragge (Graduated; 10.4 PPG, 3.9 RPG, 0.8 APG, 46.3 FG%)

Arrivals: Ronnie Harrell (4*, Denver, CO), Leon Gilmore (3*, Manvel, TX), Cole Huff (Transfer from Nevada), Ricky Kreklow (Transfer from California)

Returnees: Austin Chatman (8.1 PPG, 4.4 APG, 42.5 FG%), Devin Brooks (6.5 PPG, 2.8 APG, 44.4 FG%), Avery Dingman (3.2 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 44.9 FG%), Will Artino (5.5 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 66.9 FG%), Zach Hanson (2.8 PPG, 1.1 RPG, 68.4 FG%), Isaiah Zierden (3.2 PPG, 0.8 APG, 39.0 FG%), Geoffrey Groselle (1.5 PPG, 0.9 RPG, 76.9 FG%)

2014-15 Projected Starting Lineup: Austin Chatman, Devin Brooks, Avery Dingman, Toby Hegner, Will Artino

The simple thing to do would be to write this 2014-15 Creighton Bluejays team off before it ever takes the court. It's easy to see why this squad was picked to finish ninth with the departure of four of their five starters from a team that went 14-4 in Big East play and 27-8 overall last season. One of those four they lost was the greatest Bluejay of all-time, current Chicago Bulls forward Doug McDermott, who climbed to fifth in all-time scoring in college basketball before graduating. The team also loses three point sniper Ethan Wragge; token glue guy Grant Gibbs; and versatile guard Jahenns Manigat. But before you write them off, take a look at what they will have to work with this season.

Despite losing all those seniors from last year, Creighton will start this season with five highly experienced seniors in Austin Chatman, Will Artino "Big Swag", Devin Brooks, Avery Dingman and Cal transfer Ricky Kreklow. Chatman, Dingman and Artino have all contributed major minutes over the course of their careers on the hilltop. While Brooks and Kreklow have one season of Bluejay basketball combined under their belt, both are talented, experienced players that will be fighting for a spot in the starting lineup this season.

Style of Play Offensively

Prior to arriving at Creighton, coach Greg McDermott was known for his slow it down, grind it out games at Northern Iowa and to some extent at Iowa State. However, McDermott has shown a tremendous ability to adapt to the talent he has had on his rosters in his years as Creighton's head coach. McDermott's teams since arriving at CU have been highly ranked in many offensive categories. Creighton fans now wonder, with the departure of shooters and offensive minded players, will McDermott stick to the up tempo offense?

McDermott has addressed such questions and all indications are that the coaching staff will try their best to stick to it. After all, they have been recruiting players to play the kind of style that has been on display in recent years at the Century Link Center. The lone returning starter, point guard Austin Chatman is the only player on the squad that you can pencil in the starting lineup for opening night against Central Arkansas. Chatman boasts a quick handle and a good depth of knowledge about the game. Perhaps best of all is that he has had head coach Greg McDermott's trust since taking over point guard duties his sophomore season.

But the team does not boast any proven shooters. Guards Isaiah Zierden, Dingman, Brooks and Kreklow have all shown they can hit an outside shot, but just not on a consistent basis yet. While redshirt junior guard James Milliken is expected to contribute offensively, he also has not played a minute of Division I basketball.

One thing Creighton will sorely lack this season is a big man who can hit an outside shot. Let's face it, Wragge and McDermott spoiled us with their quick and deadly release. Who will stretch the defense? Redshirt freshman forward Toby Hegner may be that answer, but he's unproven, much like the rest of the team. Centers Artino, Zach Hanson and Geoffrey Groselle possess almost zero ability to stretch the defense but the former two are capable of hitting a mid-range jumper.

If Creighton is going to continue their entertaining style, Chatman and Brooks will most likely have to be the orchestrators this season.

Emphasis on Defense

The much maligned Creighton defense may be a thing of the past with the addition of more athletic players. The senior class departures' downfall in many instances was their ability to guard. With those players now gone, coach McDermott is hammering the importance of defense to this year's team. He sees an opportunity to close the gap on the likely loss of point production on the offensive side of the ball.

Waiting Their Turn

While there's still an entire season to be played, some Creighton fans believe 2015-16 season could be a banner year for the program. Additions of transfers Maurice Watson, Jr. from Boston University and Cole Huff of Nevada are reason for great optimism. This year's incoming true freshman include top 100 recruit Ronnie Harrell and Leon Gilmore III, both athletic and talented players that could contribute this season.

Starting Lineup Questions

It remains to be seen who will start opening night. As mentioned, Chatman is the only one you can be sure will hear his name called by public address announcer Jake Ryan as introductions are made. Experience says Artino, Dingman, Brooks will get the nod but you can bet that McDermott will go with the most talented starting five, which may not include these players. Our best guess is that McDermott begins the season with Chatman, Brooks, Dingman, Hegner and Artino. But as the season progresses, could go with a lineup consisting more of Chatman, Zierden, Kreklow, Hegner and Hanson.

Nonconference Road

The Bluejays will face a few tough tests in the nonconference portion of their schedule. The first comes against Oklahoma of the Big 12, who poses a threat thanks in part to the dynamic play of Buddy Hield. Additionally, Creighton will match up with in-state rival Nebraska, who is shaping up to be one of the better teams in the Big Ten Conference this coming year. That game's in Lincoln, and you know that Husker fans will be rowdy for that one. Don't look past Tulsa either, who is No. 45 in the preseason Ken Pomeroy projection. Creighton handled business last year against the Golden Hurricanes, but this time around, Creighton will be going to The Sooner State, and Tulsa has a new coach in the form of Frank Haith, who had three 20+ win seasons at Missouri.

Tough Tests in Conference

It doesn't get easy at all for Creighton in their second year in the conference. Right from the get go, two road matchups with Providence and Georgetown open up the Big East portion of the year. They face a daunting task ahead of them from January 17 to February 7, when the Jays have to go to some of the toughest venues in America, in the form of Hinkle Fieldhouse, The Pavilion, the Cintas Center and finally, Madison Square Garden. Without the incomparable Doug McDermott, staying alive may not be so easy.

Derek Rayment prediction: 18-15 (8-10 Big East)

Christopher Novak prediction: 18-15 (7-11 Big East)