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VUSports Big East Preview: Creighton

Our preseason analysis of the Big East continues with Broc Libra breaking down the prospects for Creighton ...

College basketball tips off Friday night.  I’ve predicted the following Big East standings so far:

4: Seton Hall

5: Butler

6: Georgetown

7: Providence

8: St. John's

9: Marquette

10: DePaul  

With the team I predict to finish 3rd, I go to Nebraska and the Creighton Blue Jays. 

2015 – 2016 season

Creighton’s 2015-2016 season was pretty much as expected. They scored a lot of points, which allowed them to beat some good teams, but their lack of defense really hurt them and that meant they lost to some teams they shouldn’t have.  Once the Big East season came around, it was more of the same and while they won at Seton Hall and home against Xavier, they lost to Marquette and had a really tough loss @ Georgetown, where they were up by 11 points with 2+ minutes and lost.  A one and done in the Big East Tournament ended up with a trip to the NIT and while they won 2 games, they ultimately fell to BYU in the 3rd round. 

Who left from last year?

Not a whole lot, which is why there is some excitement in Nebraska. Senior big man, Geoffrey Groselle, who actually gave up his scholarship last year, was a very good big man who averaged 11/6 for the Blue Jays and shot over 70% from 2, but he was a lumbering big man who only played in 21 minutes a game. He was a valuable piece, but due to his lack of athleticism, he can be replaced.  The other graduating senior was James Milliken, an on again off again starter, but all around bucket getter, averaged almost 10 points and 2 assists per game. While he had the ability to get baskets, he can also be replaced.  Freshman Marlon Stewart transferred out after barely getting off the bench last year and little used junior Malik Albert, a 6 ft 1 guard, transferred out only after one year with the Blue Jays and averaged only 8 minutes a game in 27 contests played. 

Who is new?

This is where people are getting excited about the Blue Jays, as they have an eligible transfer, 2 freshman who took redshirts and 2 true freshman, as well as one transfer who must sit a year. The new player is 2013-2014 Big XII freshman of the year, Marcus Foster, who has 2 years remaining as a Blue Jay. Foster scored almost 900 points in two seasons as a Kansas St Wildcat and while he wasn’t terribly efficient as a sophomore, his freshman year was outstanding as he shot 45% from the field and just under 40% from 3. He got into a little bit of trouble in Manhattan, but Creighton is getting a fantastic ball player, if he can stay out of trouble and by all accounts, he can. The 2 freshman who took redshirts are both big men, Justin Patton and Martin Krampelj. Justin Patton, an Omaha native, was 41st on’s incoming freshman class of 2015, but at 6 ft 11, 215 pounds, he felt it was beneficial to take a redshirt year and gain some strength. He’s in line to play some big minutes this year. The other big man is Martin Krampelj a stretch 4 from Solvenia. Krampelj took the redshirt because he tore his ACL and he’s known as a shooter. But Patton and Krampelj could take major playing time away from Creighton’s upperclassmen bigs. The two true freshman are PG Davion Mintz and wing Kobe Paras. Mintz is a tall PG from North Carolina who likely won’t play much as a true freshman, but will be a big part of this offense moving forward, and Kobe Paras, who didn’t qualify for UCLA due to some paperwork issues committed to Creighton early this summer. Paras is super athletic and is the 2 time FIBA U18 Slam Dunk World champion and in his home town in the Philippines, actually dunked over LeBron James during a camp.

Who’s returning?

Creighton has a great mix of returning seniors, role players and potential breakout stars. This list needs to start with Maurice Watson Jr, the electric PG from Philadelphia and Boston University, who averaged 14 points, 7 assists and 3 rebounds a game. Offensively, he’s one of the best in the game, though his undersized stature leaves plenty to be desired defensively. That being said, he is the straw that stirs the drink for the Blue Jays and he needs to put up numbers for Creighton to win. Other returning players with who started last year include senior wing Cole Huff, a transfer from Nevada playing in his final season in Omaha, averaged 11 points and 5 rebounds in only 22 minutes a game last year, numbers that should go up. Also returning is Khyri Thomas, a 6 ft 3 bull in a china shop guard who can do a little bit of everything and is a pretty strong rebounder from the 3. Other returning players include shooting extraordinaire Isaiah Zierden, who shot almost 39% from 3 last year and walk-on Tyler Clement, who played a lot of crunch time minutes. Wing player Ronnie Harrell, a former top 100 player in the class of 2014, will see some time on the wing and the rotation will round out with big men Zach Hanson who averaged 7 points and 3 rebounds and Toby Hegner, who averaged 5 points and shot 34% from 3. 

Big OOC games

Creighton has a pretty easy OOC schedule. They do play Wisconsin at home for the Gavitt Games and are participating in the Paradise Jam along with St. Joseph’s (PA), NC St and Ole Miss.  They also will play Akron at home, who is expected to win the MAC, but other than that, they play home against UMKC, Loyola (MD), Buffalo, Longwood, Oral Roberts and Truman State and play @ Arizona State. With that schedule, they’ll likely need 24 wins to make the NCAA tournament if they don’t beat Wisconsin. 

Final predictions

Starting 5:

PG – Maurice Watson (SR – 5 ft 10)

SG – Marcus Foster (JR – 6 ft 3)

WG – Khyri Thomas (SO – 6 ft 3)

PF – Cole Huff (SR - 6 ft 8)

C – Justin Patton (FR - 6 ft 11)

Remaining rotation (in anticipated order)

SF – Ronnie Harrell (SO – 6 ft 7)

SG– Isaiah Zierden(SR – 6 ft 3)

PF– Zach Hanson (SR – 6 ft 9)

PF – Martin Krampelj (FR - 6 ft 9)

SG – Kobe Paras (FR – 6 ft 6)

PF – Toby Hegner (JR – 6 ft 9)

PG – Davion Mintz (FR – 6 ft 3)

PG – Tyler Clement (JR – 6 ft 1)

Final Thoughts:

For Creighton, it all comes down to defense. Creighton gave up 72.4 points per game last year, and while their advanced numbers aren’t too bad, the numbers were likely skewed by playing the 229th toughest OOC schedule.  Watson had a very high assist rate, but this team has more weapons now and Watson won’t have to do as much, which will make the Blue Jays less predictable. Luckily for the Blue Jays, they have shot blocking machine Justin Patton to help cover up any ball handlers who get around their man and Marcus Foster can play a little defense. Finally, defense may not ultimately matter because they have so many weapons, they could actually increase their scoring output from last year, which was almost 80 points a game overall, and just over 74 points a game during conference season.  This team is just too good and has too many weapons. 

OOC – 12-1 (one is not a D-1 opponent)

Big East – 12-6

Combined – 24-7

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