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2018-19 Season Preview: Creighton Bluejays

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at Creighton Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

2017-18 Season In Review

21-12 (10-8 in conference)

The Good Stuff

  • Landed in the NCAA Tournament for the second consecutive year
  • Saw Khyri Thomas win Big East Defensive Player of the Year and get drafted in the second round of the NBA Draft.
  • Knocked off Villanova at home in a thrilling overtime game
  • Beat Bemidji State and Nebraska

The Bad Stuff

  • Lost in the first round of the BIG EAST Tournament Presented By Jeep
  • Lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Kansas State
  • Martin Krampelj went down after 19 games with a torn ACL - an injury he’s suffered three times
  • Got blown out by Gonzaga
  • Failed to develop Manny Suarez into an All-Time Bluejay Legend

Style Of Play

This remains a lot of the same, a very fast broken record of sorts, as the Jays ranked 10th in the nation in average length of possession at a lightning quick 15.1 seconds per possession. They also put up a hefty amount of good shots, shooting 59% from inside the arc, ranking 4th in the nation in that category.

If you’ve failed to see Greg McDermott’s offense running at full tilt you’ve been missing an absolute masterpiece. The uptempo style provides onlookers a chance to experience whiplash without being rear-ended. Fastbreaks tend to break the sound barrier quickly, with guards fluidly weaving into position, forwards crashing towards glass, and the entire ensemble playing their unique version of hot potato in an attempt to find the best shot available.

In the half-court the ball rarely remains in a single player’s hands for a great duration of time. Forwards and centers remain in constant flux, picking in the post or offering a high ball screen to pull their lead-footed defender to the top of the key. If their defender leaves them, the post players will shoot their shot as they’re adept shooters. If the defender follows, a player can offer a pick for the post player to roll back to the goal for a lob pass.

On the wings, the devastation can be maddening for the opponent, with catch-and-shoot players dotting around the perimeter. The ever-present danger of a post player encroaching the top of the key and giving the wing an opportunity for an easy pick-and-roll gives the defender fits. Slip over the screen and get burned to the hoop. Duck under the screen and you’ve given a prolific three shooter a wide open look.

Very seldom will you see this hoopsquad utilize a one-on-one isolation with a guard, especially with the departure of Marcus Foster.

Defensively, the Bluejays play straight up man-to-man. They rarely drop into a zone or press.

Returning Players

*bold* denotes potential starters

*all statistics are for 2017-18, unless noted otherwise

** - Ineligible for 2018-19 season

G Kaleb Joseph - Senior - 6’3 185lbs - Nashua, NH 15GP/7.7MPG 4.3PPG/45% 3FG/57% FG

C/F Martin Krampelj* - RS Junior - 6’9 225lbs - Grosuplje, Slovenia 19GP/23.2MPG 11.9PPG/8.1RPG/67% FG

PG Davion Mintz* - Junior - 6’3 185lbs - Charlotte, NC 33GP/6.1PPG/3.0APG/40% FG

G Jordan Scurry - Junior - 6’2 200lbs - Dedham, MA 17GP/1.2PPG/25% 3FG/36% FG

G/F Damien Jefferson - RS Sophomore - 6’5 200lbs - East Chicago, IN (New Mexico) 29GP/15.1MPG 5.3PPG/2.3RPG/43% FG

G Ty-Shon Alexander* - Sophomore - 6’4 195lbs - Charlotte, NC 33GP/5.5PPG/42% FG/33% 3 FG

G Mitch Ballock* - Sophomore - 6’5 205lbs - Eudora, KS 33GP/7.3PPG/42% FG/33% 3FG

C Jacob Epperson - Sophomore - 6’11 210lbs - Melbourne, Australia 12GP/6.3PPG/2.9RPG/69% FG/100% 3FG

New Additions

G Connor Cashaw - Senior (Grad Transfer via Rice University) - 6’5 200lb - Lincolnshire, IL 30GP/15.5PPG/3.2APG/39% FG/7.1RPG

G Denzel Mahoney** - Junior (Transfer via Southeast Missouri State) - 6’5 225lb - Oviedo, FL 31GP/19.3PPG/46% FG/41% 3FG

F Christian Bishop - Freshman - 6’7 205lb - Lee’s Summit, MO

C/F Samson Froling* - Freshman - 7’ 230lb - Townsville, Australia

PG Marcus Zegarowski - Freshman - 6’2 180lb - Hamilton, MA

PG Jett Canfield - Freshman - 5’10 155lb - Topeka, KS

Departed Players

G Khyri Thomas - NBA Draft / Detroit Pistons Organization

F Ronnie Harrell Jr. - Graduate Transfer - Denver University

G Marcus Foster - Graduated - Wonju DB Promy KBL

F Toby Hegner - Graduated

G Tyler Clement - Graduated

F Manny Suarez - Graduated

Reasons For Optimism

No Expectations, No Prisoners

Bluejay fans can’t rationally believe that this team has the experience or the horses to make the Sweet 16 or steal a BIG EAST crown this season. The roster is full of fresh faces that are likely emoting their desires to contribute. Paul Lusk, a former head coach who took over for the departed Darian DeVries, is now an assistant and getting used to his role. There’s no goat, there’s no hero, there’s simply a blank canvas that the Jays can splash their legacy upon. In years past it’s been NCAA TOURNEY OR DIE. This year it’s an exercise in patience. That’s a freeing feeling, not only for fans, but for players and staff as well.

Tough Non-Con Creates Character

Home games against Chris Holtmann and Mark Few will sell a massive shitpile of tickets. It’ll also give the players an opportunity to experience a packed CHI Whatever Arena. Those sorts of games will reassure them that they’ve made the right choice in picking Creighton as their new home.

Road games against Tim Miles and Lon Kruger will give the players an opportunity to persevere in tough atmospheres, building their character, and ultimately setting the table for when they visit the pantheons of the BIG EAST. When you’re loaded with a club featuring two seniors, any road experience is good experience.

A BIG EAST in transition

The conference is due to have a down year, with the cream of the talent crop departing for greater pastures. In a conference that’s won two of the last three national championships, there’s suddenly a lack of experienced name-brand stars except for Markus Howard, Alpha Diallo, Shamorie Ponds, and Max Stru-hahahaha, kidding, Jessie Govan.

Being picked ninth in the preseason poll gives the Jays something to play for, to prove prognosticators wrong, and with half the conference in flux, they have an opportunity to exceed those predetermined expectations from within.

Reasons For Pessimism

No Experience, Big Problems

Sophomores tend to endure slumps. If that’s the case this season for the Jays, they’ll be looking at a long, tumultuous season without a whole lot of things to look forward to. Ballock and Alexander are lynchpins to the offense and if they begin to slip they don’t have the luxury of other players taking a lot of the load. The Jays are deep with inexperience and if things don’t mesh after the non-conference they might be looking at a last place finish.

Martin Krampelj tore his ACL for the third time last season. Jacob Epperson injured his knee in camp, an injury that Coach McDermott says will hamper him for the entire season. With the frontcourt already standing on one leg, the Jays may have to ride with a small lineup for long stretches this season. Against the DePauls of the world, this isn’t the biggest problem. Against a team like Georgetown? Oh dear.

O Defense, Where Art Thou?

Losing Khyri Thomas on offense hurts a little bit.

Losing Khyri Thomas on defense gives this squad life-threatening injuries.

For the past two seasons there was a comfort knowing the Jays had a stopper on defense. Now, there’s just uncertainty. According to Coach McDermott, he’s pegged Ty-Shon Alexander as his stopper, yet noted in that same breath that a difficult road lay ahead for the sophomore who’s shown so much promise offensively and to navigate the young man’s focus betwixt the two may prove to be asking a bit too much.

This team can be an offensive juggernaut but on an off night where it needs to slug it out and defend for all forty minutes they may get buried quick. According to kenpom, the Jays ranked 313th in turnovers forced. They allowed teams to shoot 50% from the field as well, and that’s with Khyri.

The post-Thomas Bluejays certainly have their work cut out for them, and if the team can’t collectively and consistently defend, they might have a lot of disappointing nights.

The Dawkins/Senior Tugs Affair

The Jays start the season shrouded in a cloud of controversy with the testimony from Brian Bowen Sr. in the FBI’s investigation into college basketball’s dark and pretty well known recruiting underbelly. Bowen Sr., the father of Brian ‘Tugs’ Bowen Jr. - a highly sought after recruit that the Jays were in on until he chose to go to Louisville - claimed that Preston Murphy, Creighton’s head recruiter and assistant coach, offered $100,000 and a “good paying job” in exchange for Bowen Jr.’s talents. AD Bruce Rasumussen has denied that this offer was ever made, and conducted an internal investigation, yet the national perception of Creighton’s reputation has been damaged as their name was dragged through the murk all offseason.

This gives a weighted narrative to the entire season, especially if it begins to dive in the wrong direction. It’s going to be a bumpy ride so strap in and hold your breath.

Best Case Scenario

Ty-Shon Alexander and Mitch Ballock shine as up-and-coming superstars of the conference. Connor Cashaw becomes the steady hand that rights the ship when it hits troubled waters, becoming the ultimate ‘glue-guy.’ Epperson and Krampelj avoid further injury and play lights out in the post. Samson Froling shines as the ultimate weapon in the post. The depth at wing allows the Jays to play competitive late in the season. Marcus Zegarowski and Davion Mintz find the perfect balance between facilitator and scorer, ushering in a wave of promise for next season. Jays beat Nebraska at home, finish in the top-5 in conference, steal a game at MSG, and make the NCAA Tournament.

Worst Case Scenario

Epperson and Krampelj succumb to injuries, thinning out the frontcourt, forcing Christian Bishop to play meaningful minutes in an inexperienced role. Jays never find the right fit at point. Sophomore slumps consume Ballock and Alexander. The annual meetup with Nebraska turns into a bloodbath as Miles gets his first ever win over McDermott. Jays miss the postseason and limp into the offseason with very little to look forward to, and because of Condoleezza Rice’s ruling, the NCAA hits Creighton with a bevvy of sanctions.

Prediction

Creighton’s offense shines with the depth they possess, but don’t have the experience to win close ballgames. Lose to Ohio State, Gonzaga, Oklahoma in the non-conference. Beat Nebraska because McDermott’s got a penthouse with five jacuzzi’s - all expenses paid - existing in Tim Miles’ head. Nab a couple wins down in the Caymans, but fail to win it. Start the BIG EAST 1-5, with losses to Providence, Butler, Marquette, Villanova, and Georgetown, their one win against St. John’s on the road after Shamorie Ponds skips the game to shoot the pilot to a King of Queens reboot. The Jays proceed to win three straight against Butler, St. John’s, and Xavier at home, giving the squad a bundle of confidence to finish out strong. Jays make the First Four in Dayton, win, but fail to make the Sweet 16, riding into next season with unbelievably high expectations.

Record: 9-4 non-con / 10-8 in conference / 19-12 overall

Most Outstanding Player: Ty-Shon Alexander

Most Surprising Player: Samson Froling