Welcome to my Creighton basketball therapy session. After a tough loss and couple weeks filled with stressful games, I felt I needed to get a few things off my chest. I know there are many Jays fans who are just as upset as I am, looking for answers as to why the Jays are struggling with consistency. I am not sure I have all the answers, but I have made a few observations that I believe are contributing reasons. Let’s air it out and then put these past couple weeks behind us and focus on the run the Jays are about to go on the remainder of the season (manifesting).
Creighton basketball has been my biggest passion for as long as I can remember. I am so emotionally invested in this program, probably to a fault. Nothing in my life impacts my mood more than a Jays loss. I will be depressed for multiple days until its time to get amped up for the next game. I wish I was joking. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s just basketball, I understand that I am a lunatic. I can’t help it; I am just passionate. I am not embarrassed to say Creighton basketball may be what I care about most in my life (after family and friends of course). So, with that said, I’ve been down bad since Wednesday night. After writing this I will probably do some cleansing rituals, maybe go spend an unnecessary amount of money on crystals and burn some sage to purify the air and get rid of this pent-up negative energy. Okay I am joking about that part, but I can’t just sit here and sulk forever, we got Marquette on Saturday! I truly am a positive and optimistic person for the most part, especially when it comes to Bluejay basketball. I almost always choose to look at the positives, but I cannot lie and say that I think everything is fine. There are some concerning things going on with Creighton right now. Most concerning, and probably the biggest reason for the inconsistencies in my opinion — the bench struggles are making things extremely tough on the starters.
Throughout the first part of the season we thought one of the biggest strengths of this Creighton team was going to be its depth. Well, it turns out that may to be one of its biggest weaknesses at the moment. In Creighton’s five losses, the bench is averaging just over 6 points. Even in the three wins prior to the Georgetown loss, the bench is only averaging 10 points, and 75% of those points have come from Ryan Kalkbrenner. We all seem to expect dominating, controlling performances any time the Jays lace ‘em up, but the starters have to play essentially perfect for that to happen right now, and that is asking a lot when well-coached teams have game plans specifically tailored to slowing those guys down. Now, I understand value isn’t just shown in points production, and Shereef Mitchell and Ryan Kalkbrenner bring a lot to the game defensively, but damn, the Jays really need a consistent scoring punch from that second unit, especially on the perimeter. In the Jays’ two best performances of the season (Seton Hall and St. Johns), that core group of bench players combined for 28 points in both games. They have a huge impact on the product that is put out on the floor each game. I am not saying Creighton needs 20+ from them every night to be the team we expect them to be, but they certainly need more than they have gotten in the last 6 games. Once Creighton starts getting reliable bench production, I think these consistency issues will start to dwindle away. Right now there is just very little room for error for the starters because they are getting virtually no help offensively. There is still a lot of season left, plenty of time for the bench to keep developing and improving. I have faith that we will see big strides from that group in the next couple weeks, and I cannot wait to see it. Those guys are a blast to watch when they are clicking, and the Jays are going to need them down the stretch.
The other concerning thing to me is, as we have come to expect every year, the injury bug appears to be rolling through the team again. This time it is sprained ankles. By my count, it looks like four players now have tweaked or sprained an ankle in the last month. It started with Shereef and AOC in the middle of January, and now Damien and Christian as of this week. The basketball gods refuse to let us enjoy one year of injury-free basketball. Granted, there are far worse injuries than sprained or rolled ankles, but those types of injuries (ankles, soft tissue, etc.) certainly can have a huge impact on physical and mental performance. The last time DJ had an ankle injury he didn’t feel like himself, and in turn, didn’t play like himself, for a whole calendar year. Beyond physical wear and tear, it looks like the mental toll of this season is weighing on them, causing lapses in focus for certain stretches. The Jays have to find a way to get healthy and refreshed, so let’s hope that none of these linger and the Jays can get dialed in mentally for the home stretch.
While those two things are concerning and there have been several frustrating moments lately, we can’t act like Creighton is 10-8 and about to miss the NCAA tournament. I know we have high expectations, as we should, but I see a lot of “the world is ending” type of energy on Twitter. I know we can get caught up in the moment as fans, but let’s be realistic about this and view it through a bigger lens. First off, it is pretty damn awesome that we are even watching meaningful games right now. Next, this season is very volatile, and Creighton is not the only team in the top 25 losing to unranked teams. Five ranked teams lost on Wednesday night alone, and half of the teams in the top 25 have four or more losses. Creighton was in a similar position at this point in the season last year and would have ended up being a two or three seed in the NCAA tournament. Right now, they are a top five or six seed, with a lot of opportunities to improve on that. In relation to the team’s play, there are definitely still some positives as well. The defense continues to play well for the most part, Marcus continues to look better as we move through the season, Mitch is finally playing aggressively and not just being a decoy and this team is full of guys with great will to win. This is not the time to panic. The Jays have the experience, the talent and the internal will to right this ship, and I have no doubts that they will find a way to do so.