There’s a lot of doom and gloom from national sports writers over the remainder of Creighton’s season with the loss of Maurice Watson Jr.
Undoubtedly, if you look at the statistics, losing the senior point guard was a monumental blow to the 7th ranked Bluejays, yet here’s a sample of what a couple of national writers had to say:
From Yahoo! Sports’ Harry Bushnell:
Tuesday’s MRI results didn’t just confirm the ACL tear. They didn’t just rudely and devastatingly interrupt Creighton’s best season ever. They sent the Bluejays’ burgeoning Final Four candidacy skidding into reverse.
Creighton’s season isn’t over. Even without Watson for the majority of Monday’s game, the Bluejays held off a ranked Xavier team. But their grandest postseason aspirations, ones that were becoming increasingly realistic before Watson crumpled to the Cintas Center floor, crumpled along with their star.
Maurice Watson wasn’t the best player in college basketball. Nobody will argue that. Maurice Watson was, however, one of the most valuable, if not the most valuable player in college basketball. Given all of Watson’s attributes, his role, his experience, and Creighton’s lack of point guard depth, the list of players in college basketball whose values above replacement are greater than Watson’s is very short.
From Fox Sports’ Aaron Torres:
Watson’s injury puts an end to the senior’s college hoops career, and in all reality, an end to the Bluejays’ chances of making a deep tournament run.
Watson entered Tuesday as college basketball’s leader in assists, averaging 8.8 per game to go along with 12 points per game. He was the key to Creighton’s offense, which is currently averaging just under 87 points per game. That number ranks 12th nationally and is tops among Big East teams.
It’s difficult to imagine the Bluejays being able to keep up that pace or continue their success without Watson. Creighton still has front-line talent with Marcus Foster averaging a team-high 18.1 points per game and breakout star Justin Patton averaging just under 14 points and six rebounds. But Watson was the piece that brought them all together and there is no one on the roster that can replace his productivity and leadership.
From their perspective it was Watson’s team and losing him means losing their title-bound aspirations.
Yet, you can only see so much from a bird’s eye view.
What lurks beneath the surface that they cannot see is the wealth of experience on this Bluejay squad, a roster that features 5th year seniors, 4th year juniors, transfers, and guys who’ve had enough reps on the practice court to supplant the loss of Maurice Watson Jr.
Granted, there’s no such thing as a sure-fire Final Four appearance. You’ve got to earn those sorts of accolades and experienced teams that get hot at the right time can make a huge impact come March. (see: Seton Hall 2016 Big East Tournament)
With Marcus Foster experiencing a bit of a shooting lull lately, something he hinted at after the Truman State game, “I’ve never gone in a slump this long before,” he’s sure to come back around to his true talent level at a pretty opportune time, whether it be immediately or in the not too distant future. Great players don’t stay in slumps for too long.
The other facets include the relative unknown surrounding Davion Mintz, the freshman point guard from North Carolina. Throughout the season in practice, Watson has been in Mintz’s ear, teaching him about defensive footwork and offensive awareness, lessons that are so incredibly valuable to a young player. He’s got the athletic intangibles as well as a sharp mind for the game to potentially slot in and give some decent minutes to make up for the loss.
There’s also junior Tyler Clement, the kid from Kansas, who spelled Watson early on in the season as Mintz developed. Though he had his blunder at ASU, and it appears that his general panic to on-ball pressure is a pretty immediate setback, he still knows this offense like the back of his hand. If tempo is the issue, Clement can slow the game down and try efficient half-court sets to better suit his style.
Isaiah Zierden stepped in for Watson, after Mintz got two quick fouls, and kept the ship afloat when the waters seemed their most treacherous. This is a fantastic asset to have, and though he doesn’t always make the proper decision, he’s a steady hand that the Bluejays can rely on most of the time.
Plus, y’know, the Jays still have potential lottery-pick and very tall guy in Justin Patton down low. With Cole Huff as his frontcourt mate, this team can still pick you apart in a lot of different ways, regardless of who is tossing a lob or hitting a guy for a wide open three.
In turn, to write off a team’s Final Four hopes when we’re still in January is absolutely absurd, and to do it with a sort of smug sense of destruction is ridiculous. As far as I know, Creighton is still ranked 7th in the country, and they didn’t get there because of one player.
They got there as the Creighton fucking Bluejays.