Absent a third-straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament, the Creighton Bluejays 2018-19 season went according to script. They won 20 games (nine in conference play) while coming in a three-way tie for third place. The Creighton basketball program hovered around the bubble all season.
Previewing the Creighton Bluejays 2019-20 Season
Recapping the 2018-19 season
The non-conference portion of the schedule saw the Bluejays beat every team they were supposed to beat and lose to every team it was supposed to lose to.
From there, the Bluejays would remain a consistent force in the Big East. They went .500 in conference play. However, a lack of quality wins—Creighton only beat one team that made the tournament (Marquette)—relegated the Bluejays to the NIT.
Creighton would make the most of its NIT appearance, as the Bluejays advanced to the quarterfinals before ending their season against TCU.
“It (last season’s results) told us we were close,” Creighton basketball head coach Greg McDermott said at Big East media day. “We had a lot of near misses and some really competitive close games that we came out on the short end of, which was probably a game or two short (of playing in the) NCAA Tournament.”
“I think our guys have a better understanding of what one possession (and its significance) means in the game of basketball and how important it is to prepare yourself for that position.”
From a personnel standpoint, sophomore guard Ty-Shon Alexander (15.7 points and 4.0 rebounds per game) and junior forward Martin Krampelj (13.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game) both were named to the conference’s honorable mention list. Freshman guard Marcus Zegarowski was named to the conference’s all-freshmen team after averaging 10.4 points and 3.4 assists per game while shooting 42.6 percent from three-point range.
McDermott is bringing back four of his starters. He would have had all of his starters back if Krampelj did not turn pro.
Regardless, there is enough firepower here for the Bluejays to return to the NCAA Tournament. Back are starters Alexander, Zegarowski, guard Davion Mintz and wing Mitchell Ballock. This is an experienced core that has waged many battles in the Big East and knows what it takes to win.
“I’m expecting consistency and leadership,” McDermott said when asked what he expects from this core. “It’s going to be really important for those guys to set the pace every single day in practice. They have done a good job of helping the new guys get ingrained into how we’re going to play and what our expectations are. There on more of a fast track with their progress. Even though a lot of our players are juniors and sophomores, they have done a really, really good job.”
For McDermott, he knows he has a capable bench to lean on.
Unfortunately, the Creighton basketball program and its depth took a hit when Jacob Epperson suffered an injury to his right leg in practice a few days ago. He will be out for an undetermined amount of time.
"If he's not out for the season, it's close (to that)."
Creighton head coach Greg McDermott gives me an update on sophomore center Jacob Epperson's broken leg, the recovery timetable and how the #Jays plan to move forward in the frontcourt. pic.twitter.com/BqlrdLqgxD
— John Fanta (@John_Fanta) October 28, 2019
McDermott welcomes in a two-man freshmen class with the additions of Shereef Mitchell, a three-star point guard from Kansas, and Jalen Windham, a three-star shooting guard from Indiana. These two will need some time before they make a legitimate impact.
The newcomers who figure to make the most impact are two transfers.
Jones is a bruiser inside and should contend to start at the five spot with Krampelj gone. Meanwhile, Mahoney figures to be a spark plug off the bench —or at least contend to start.
“Kelvin Jones was a huge get for us with Martin Krampelj making the late decision to stay in the draft,” McDermott said. “We would have been in trouble without him.”
“Shereef Mitchell has the opportunity to play some, but probably the one who will make the biggest impact will be Denzel Mahoney. He’ll be eligible around Christmas time. I think he can be a difference-maker for us. He’ll give us that bigger wing that we don’t have. He’s got great length, can rebound and defend multiple positions. He can really shoot it (too).”
Like many of the Big East teams that had to settle for an NIT bid last season. The Bluejays are another team that has its sights set solely on making the NCAA Tournament. Anything less would be a disappointment for anyone associated with Creighton basketball.
McDermott has most of his rotation back and that continuity will account for a lot.
“I think we’ll get back to playing with the pace that we like to play with,” McDermott said on what he expects from his team this year.
Injuries last season hurt the depth of the Bluejays. McDermott is hoping the team will stay healthy so they can use their depth accordingly.
“We made strides defensively as the season went on,” McDermott added about the Bluejays slow start. “We made changes that I think were a positive. Those changes are going to have to show itself again this season.”
Alexander, Ballock, and Mintz have been to the tournament (back in 2018). They know what it will take to get back. Expect the Bluejays to remain in the top half of the conference standings and make it back to the big dance.
While this version of the Bluejays is not on par with some of the better teams McDermott had in the past decade, this a team more than capable of winning a couple of games in March.
Prediction: 20-9 overall, 11-7 Big East.
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