Woooh, baby. What great news to receive on Hump Day, huh? As you know, Duke transfer Alex O’Connell is now available to play for Creighton after yesterday’s announcement that all D-1 transfers are immediately eligible. It is a decision that should’ve been made before the season started but better late than never, I suppose. While this is major news for several programs across college basketball, I want to focus on Creighton and AOC for a few reasons. 1) I am a homer. I have been a (some might say) psychotic-level Jays fan for a long time. I fully acknowledge my bias; I just won’t be trying to hide it. 2) Creighton is the only team in the top-25 to add a transfer since the season started. This is an important opportunity that provided a nice boost for the Jays mid-season. 3) AOC is extremely skilled and has to potential to be a key piece on an already-talented roster so I want to provide my thoughts. Let’s dig in.
One thing I have learned about being a Creighton fan is that managing your expectations is important. I have never been able to do it, but I know that’s probably a good way to maintain your sanity. I am trying to be better about it. I know there are probably many fans like me out there, so I just want us all to take a deep breath and not get ahead of ourselves. Alex hasn’t been on campus long and we all know the practices reps were limited in the offseason. At the practices the Jays have had since the season started, he has been on the scout team so there is sure to be a big learning curve once he starts getting fully integrated into the offensive and defensive schemes. I just want us to keep our expectations realistic – this might take some time. With that said, this is still a really important addition for Creighton for a few key reasons.
Most importantly right now, it is a much-needed boost in depth at the guard spot. It has been clear the Jays’ bench is still learning and growing. The talent stands out, whether it’s Antwann Jones threading passes in transition, Shereef Mitchell hounding the opposing ball handlers relentlessly, or Ryan Kalkbrenner blocking shots and catching lobs. But these are young players still learning and finding their way, and only one of them plays on the wing. In the two biggest games of the year thus far, there hasn’t been much production from the bench at all offensively. Maybe more importantly, they are still learning and adapting to Creighton’s defensive schemes, which has resulted in fewer minutes in these big games and lead to the starters having to play 30+ minutes. I may be reaching here, but I would point to the early-season fatigue that resulted from heavy minutes as one of the biggest reasons the free throw shooting was so horrid in the second halves of the Kansas and Marquette games. It is huge to add another body to the rotation to give Damien and Denzel some breathers and keep them fresh. That could make a big difference coming down the stretch in close games.
While Creighton has replaced Ty-Shon Alexander’s offensive production with the improvements of Damien and Christian, along with the boosted minutes for Denzel, they are still looking to for that immediate scoring punch off the bench that Denzel provided. AOC has the skill and potential become that guy. He is a career 35% three-point shooter, and it’s likely that will be closer to 40% in Creighton’s space-and-pace offense. His stroke is pure, he will get better looks than he did at Duke, and he should have an opportunity to play more consistent minutes and get in a better of a rhythm game-in and game-out. Not only can Alex shoot, he is a long and wiry athlete who jumps out of the gym. He can fill it up and provide some montage-worthy dunks when given the opportunity.
As I mentioned earlier, Creighton is the only top-25 team to add a transfer after this announcement from the NCAA. This is an important opportunity for Creighton to narrow the talent gap even more between them and the other elite teams of the 2020-2021 season. AOC is an extremely talented player who was coached by one of the best in the sport, played on the biggest stages in the biggest moments with some of the best players that have come through college basketball in the last 3 years. Although his playing experience at Duke may not have been great for him, he certainly had to have learned plenty during his time in Durham. In addition to his skill, it will be great to have his knowledge and experience on the court. Although I am trying to stay level-headed, it is impossible to ignore the fact that this addition raises the Jays’ ceiling higher than it already was to begin with. Let’s just take a step back and give it some time to marinate.