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2019-2020 Season Preview: Creighton Bluejays

A roster full of seasoned shooters with a dynamic point guard to run the show. If only they had a big man.

NCAA Basketball: Creighton at Xavier Frank Victores-USA TODAY Sports

2018-19 Season In Review

20-15 (9-9 in conference)

The Good Stuff

  • Point guard Marcus Zegarowski flourished in his first season with the Jays. The off-season hype around him turned out to be accurate; this kid revealed that he is the “real deal.”
  • Took Villanova to overtime without Zegarowski or leading scorer Ty-Shon Alexander, albeit in a losing effort.
  • Finished the regular season with five straight wins, including a game on the road at Marquette.
  • Mitch Ballock’s 39-point performance against DePaul on senior day. Shot 11-12 from beyond the arc in a blowout of the Blue Demons.
  • Made some serious noise in the NIT before getting blown to bits by TCU.

The Bad Stuff

  • Lost in the first round of the BIG EAST Tournament Presented By Jeep.
  • Mitch Ballock went through a bit of a sophomore slump.
  • There were numerous late game debacles that had fans clamoring for Greg McDermott’s job, yet were more of a symptom of youth and inability to comprehend late game scenarios - both on offense and defense - than anything else.
  • Whatever the fuck this stupid bullshit was.
  • Assistant coach and recruiting extraordinaire Preston Murphy was revealed to be involved in a NCAA-wide corruption scandal that led to taunts and insults being hurled by opponents.
  • Getting blown to bits by Nebraska.
  • Jacob Epperson getting injured in the pre-season (hmm), Damien Jefferson getting injured in the middle of the season (missed six games from January 13th - February 3rd, then played < 10 minutes in 9 of the final 13 contests, missing three, and playing 20 minutes at Xavier on February 13th), Marcus Zegarowski breaking his pinky finger, and Ty-Shon Alexander injuring his knee on February 5th (caused his PPG and shooting % to tilt downard).
  • Went through two stretches of losing 4 consecutive games throughout conference play.

Returning Players

*bold/italics* denotes potential starters

*all statistics are for 2018-19, unless noted otherwise

** - Ineligible for 2019-20 season

PG #1 Davion Mintz - Senior - 6’3 185lbs - Charlotte, NC - 35GP/28.8MPG 9.7PPG/3.1APG/42% FG

G #12 Jordan Scurry - Senior - 6’2 200lbs - Dedham, MA - 15GP/2.3MPG .8PPG/25% 3FG/30% FG

G/F #23 Damien Jefferson* - RS Junior - 6’5 200lbs - East Chicago, IN - 26GP/18.0MPG 6.2PPG/4.0RPG/53% FG

G #34 Denzel Mahoney - Junior - 6’5 225lb - Oviedo, FL 31GP/19.3PPG/46% FG/41% 3FG (2017-2018 stats)

G #5 Ty-Shon Alexander* - Junior - 6’4 195lbs - Charlotte, NC 34GP/32.9MPG 15.7PPG/41% FG/37% 3 FG

G #24 Mitch Ballock* - Junior - 6’5 205lbs - Eudora, KS 35GP/33MPG 11.1PPG/46% FG/42% 3FG

C #41 Jacob Epperson - RS Sophomore - 6’11 225lbs - Melbourne, Australia 9GP/9.1MPG 4.8PPG/2.2RPG/78% FG

F #13 Christian Bishop* - Sophomore - 6’7 205lb - Lee’s Summit, MO 28GP/8.9MPG 4.1PPG/2.1RPG/67% FG

PG #11 Marcus Zegarowski* - Sophomore - 6’2 180lb - Hamilton, MA - 32GP/28.6MPG 10.4PPG/3.3APG/45% FG/43% 3FG

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

New Additions

C #43 Kelvin Jones - Senior - 6’11 230lb - Chihuahua, MX (Idaho State transfer)

G #0 Antwann Jones** - Sophomore - 6’6 205lb - Orlando, FL (Memphis transfer)

G #4 Shereef Mitchell - Freshman - 6’ 155lb - Omaha, NE

F #20 Nic Zeil - Freshman - 6’8 210lb - Kansas City, MO

G #21 Jalen Windham - Freshman - 6’5 180lb - Indianapolis, IN

Departed Players

G Kaleb Joseph - Graduated - 35GP/15.7MPG 4.3PPG/43% 3FG/44% FG

G Connor Cashaw - Graduated - 33GP/11.2MPG 2.1PPG/50% FG

C/F Samson Froling - NBL - 30GP/8.9MPG 3.6PPG/1.9RPG/58% FG

C/F Martin Krampelj - Graduated/Euro - 35GP/25.3MPG 13.5PPG/6.9RPG/59% FG

Reasons For Optimism

  • There are a lot of reasons, first being the talent in the backcourt with Zegarowski, Alexander, and Ballock. The three of them are proven scorers, all three can handle the ball quite well, and they’ll be the heartbeat of this team. It’s year three for Alexander and Ballock, meaning there’s more experience, and with more experience comes an emphasis on becoming complete. In an interview with White and Blue Review’s Matt Demarinis, Ty-Shon expounded on his focus shifting to the defensive end, saying:

The rest of the interview, with quotes from McDermott, gives a really revealing look into the whole thing. If there’s more emphasis on caring for the basketball and defense amongst the three that will typically result in more success.

  • Creighton’s non-conference schedule has a pretty decent competitive balance with five potential top-100 opponents. They get two tilts against top-25 teams in Michigan on the road and Oklahoma in Omaha, Iowa or Texas Tech in Las Vegas, and the rest should be a bit of a cake walk. The game against Hoiberg’s Huskers should be interesting simply for pace and regional rivalry, but scheduling Oral Roberts, Cal Poly, and UTRGV makes this a bit of a snoozer in terms of home games. They finish their non-conference with Midland-Lutheran for their annual tilt with an NAIA school. This will be the final year of Creighton scheduling an NAIA/DIII opponent since UConn joins up next season, adding two more games on the schedule and defeating the purpose of this bizarre buffer game.
  • Shereef Mitchell, the freshman from Burke High School, will play as the hometown kid this season. Last year blew chunks because Creighton didn’t have anyone from Omaha on the roster. That’s not an opinion, either. Mitchell has been lauded as an heir apparent to Khyri Thomas, a kid with hustle and grit and an explosiveness on defense. The thing that sets him apart from Khyri is his size - he’s just 6’ and listed at 155lbs - but he’s been described as a junkyard dog. If that’s the case, he’s a guy that the fanbase can rally around for years to come.

Reasons For Pessimism

  • Jacob Epperson suffered a broken right leg in practice on October 24th. Davion Mintz will miss the first chunk of the season with a high ankle sprain. Injuries have hampered the Jays in almost every single season since 2015-16. It’s hard to say if this is some sort of curse on the program, if it’s McDermott’s style of play that leaves players at an elevated risk, or if it’s something with strength and conditioning, but it’s almost expected year in and year out for a high-value player to miss a significant amount of time during the season. Not only does this leave Creighton’s already thin frontcourt with a noticeable limp to begin the year, but it leaves them scrambling for ideas on how to cope.
  • With the injuries, they’ll play small ball. This typically won’t bode well against the bigs of the BIG EAST, but if they happen to make the NCAA Tournament, it leaves them extremely vulnerable. Great guards who can shoot will take you only so far if you’re giving up second chances under the tin multiple times again. This was already an achilles heel of the program, and it’s going to get exposed time and time again unless Kelvin Jones and Christian Bishop work a miracle and are able play 20 minutes per game.
  • The looming NCAA scandal is still ever-present. Although Tom Shatel has painted a doom-and-gloom portrait of the ramifications and the blind bull prowess that the NCAA will soon unleash, it’s still a major distraction to have Preston Murphy on staff but unable to recruit or help in scouting in practice as he’s still on administrative leave.
  • Even though the team is led by seasoned players, there are a lot of guys who are going to get meaningful minutes without playing college basketball at all or haven’t played in over a year. That’s going to make the first two months a tumultuous time, especially if success isn’t attained immediately.

Best Case Scenario

It all seems to gel and the injury problems don’t effect the day-to-day operation of the club too much. The freshmen and transfers pick up on McDermott’s system quickly and flourish in the up-tempo pace. Jones and Bishop manage well enough in the post to erase second chance opportunities while Zegarowski, Ballock, and Alexander lead the team offensively. Damien Jefferson has a career year and flashes the athleticism that it’s so apparent he has, grabbing boards, slashing to the bucket, and being the glue guy for the starting string. The Jays finish in the top three of a wide-open conference, miraculously get Epperson back for the stretch run, take a few ballgames in the conference tournament, and get into the dance with a favorable seeding arrangement. A trip to the Sweet Sixteen quiets all of McDermott’s critics and the Jays receive an immense amount of hype going into next season.

Worst Case Scenario

Injuries plague the team throughout the season and they find a way to lose to fucking Oral Roberts or something. Suffer blowouts against Michigan and Oklahoma, fail to beat Nebraska and Arizona State, and limp into conference play. Zegarowski goes through a sophomore slump and forces Ballock, Alexander, and Mintz to carry the scoring load - which they can’t without a good distributor - and the entire season falls apart. Paul Reed sends the Jays to the cellar with a pair of 40/20 ballgames and the cellar door opens for the Hilltoppers, sinking them to rock bottom as McDermott’s seat gets unbearably hot. They don’t even get a CBI invite. Apathy sets into the fanbase and they force McDermott out and Tim Miles is hired as head coach. An asteroid just barely misses killing us all and we have to continue living in this flawed and fucked up world for another couple of decades before bears start to kill all of our loved ones except for us. We carry on, alone and hungry, until we drown in a small puddle outside of a dive bar. A raccoon eats our remains.

Prediction

Creighton manages as they always do, occasionally punching above their weight class, but losing the games they’re supposed to lose. They fight valiantly in the non-conference and manage to scrounge together a key win over Oklahoma at home. They take care of the cupcakes, they score 100+ in seven consecutive games, and they finish in the top 5 of the conference with a 10-8 conference record. Paul Reed still eviscerates them down low but Dave Leitao is still DePaul’s coach so he fucks it up in a hilarious manner somehow. They get a marquee win against a weakened ‘Nova at home and gets the fans’ juices flowing again. They win a game in the BIG EAST tournament, squeak into the NCAA Tournament, but fail to get to the second weekend again. Nothing really comes of the NCAA investigation. Mitch Ballock makes a lot of threes. Zegarowski gets into a scuffle against Georgetown. The late game ineptitude and in-bounds plays are fixed and are extremely effective. It’s a fun season and everyone has a good time.

Record: 11-3 Non-con - 10-8 conference - 21-11 regular season

Most Outstanding Player: Ty-Shon Alexander

Most Surprising Player: Christian Bishop