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Preseason Preview: Creighton

Howard

(Photo by Ryan Messier/Paint Touches)

The first official practices of the 17-18 college basketball season are in the books and Paint Touches is celebrating by counting down every Marquette opponent from worst to first. Each preview will contain a look at how the opponent did last season, who they lose, who they gain, reasonable expectations for their season, and our own prediction of how their matchup(s) with Marquette will go. This series will start with the most under of underdogs and progress all the way up to most unbeatable of opponents. Next up is everyone’s favorite sharpshooting farm boys, the Bluejays of Creighton.

Team: Creighton Bluejays
16-17 Record: 25-10 (10-8 Big East)
Postseason?: Worked their way to a six seed but got upset by Rhode Island in the first round
16-17 KenPom: 28
Date: 02/17/18 & 03/03/18
Location: CenturyLink Center & BMO Harris Bradley Center
Coach: Greg McDermott (8th Season)
Projected KenPom Range: 25-50
Projected Conference Finish: 5/10 in the Big East

Departures from 16-17
Mo Watson Jr: Starting PG: 29.9 mpg, 12.9 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 8.5 apg, 1.5 spg, 0.0 bpg, 3.7 tpg, .508 FG%, .469 3P% (Graduated)
Cole Huff: Starting F: 23.0 mpg, 9.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 0.6 apg, 0.4 spg, 0.1 bpg, 0.6 tpg, .457 FG%, .463 3P% (Graduated)
Justin Patton: Starting C: 25.3 mpg, 12.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 1.2 apg, 0.9 spg, 1.4 bpg, 1.7 tpg, .676 FG%, .533 3P% (Declared for NBA draft, taken 16th overall by the Chicago Bulls)
Isaiah Zierden: 1st Man off the Bench: 20.0 mpg, 4.9 ppg, 2.0 rpg, 0.8 apg, 0.4 spg, 0.1 bpg, 0.6 tpg, .420 FG%, .414 3P% (Graduated)
Zach Hanson: 4th Man off the Bench: 10.2 mpg, 5.4 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 0.3 apg, 0.3 spg, 0.1 bpg, 0.6 tpg, .640 FG%, .000 3P% (Graduated)
Kobe Paras: Benchwarmer: 4.7 mpg, 1.3 ppg, 1.0 rpg, 0.2 apg, 0.1 spg, 0.1 bpg, 0.3 tpg, .364 FG%, .200 3P% (Only appeared in 15 games) (Transferred to Cal State Northridge)
Sam Dunkum: Benchwarmer: Did not appear in any games (Transferred to East Mississippi Community College)
46% of scoring, 44% of rebounding, 44% of assists, 45% of steals, 57% of blocks, 42% of 3PM

Arrivals:
Manny Suarez: Graduate transfer C from D2 Adelphi University
Kaleb Joseph: Transfer PG from Syracuse
Jacob Epperson: 4-star C, ranked #64 by 247Sports
Mitchell Ballock, 4-star SG, ranked #83 by 247Sports
Ty-Shon Alexander: 4-star SG, ranked #119 by 247Sports

Probable Starters:
PG: Kaleb Joseph: 6-3 180 lb RSJR: 6.7 mpg, 0.9 ppg, 0.6 rpg, 0.7 apg, 0.5 spg, 0.1 bpg, 0.4 tpg, .179 FG%, .154 3P% (15-16 stats for Syracuse)
SG: Khyri Thomas: 6-3 210 lb JR: 31.2 mpg, 12.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.5 spg, 0.4 bpg, 2.0 tpg, .505 FG%, .393 3P%
SF: Marcus Foster: 6-3 215 lb RSSR: 30.9 mpg, 18.2 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.4 apg, 0.6 spg, 0.1 bpg, 2.2 tpg, .461 FG%, .341 3P%
PF: Toby Hegner: 6-10 240 lb RSSR: 16.7 mpg, 5.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 0.5 apg, 0.4 spg, 0.3 bpg, 0.4 tpg, .468 FG%, .444 3P%
C: Manny Suarez: 6-10 250 lb RSSR: 24.6 mpg, 16.9 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 1.2 apg, 0.4 spg, 1.9 bpg, 2.5 tpg, .552 FG%, .319 3P% (Stats for D2 Adelphi University)

Probable Bench:
Davion Mintz: 6-3 180 lb SO PG
Jacob Epperson: 6-11 205 lb FR C
Ronnie Harrell Jr: 6-7 195 lb RSJR SG
Mitchell Ballock: 6-5 205 lb FR SG
Martin Krampelj: 6-9 220 lb RSSO PF
Ty-Shon Alexander: 6-4 195 lb FR SG

Probable Benchwarmers:
Tyler Clement: 6-2 185 lb RSSR PG
Jordan Scurry: 6-2 205 lb SO SG
Damien Jefferson: 6-5 195 lb SO SF (Redshirtting)

Notes:

• Creighton started its 16-17 campaign as an unstoppable force. The Bluejays went 18-1 to start the season, losing only to #1 Villanova and knocking off 11 high major teams in the process. During that 19th matchup was when All-World PG Mo Watson Jr tore his ACL, effectively ending his college basketball career. The Jays stumbled to a 5-7 finish the rest of the regular season…with 4 of those 5 wins coming against the three Big East teams that did not make the postseason. Going into this next season, Creighton looks a lot closer to that 5-7 team from the end of the season than the 18-1 team from the beginning. But the still feature one of the most talented guard duos in the country and bring in a highly regarded recruiting class and intriguing transfers. They will take a step back from their last season as whole…but probably a step forward from the team that they were without Watson Jr.
• Creighton’s quick drop from college basketball’s upper echelon just goes to show how important a quality PG is. The Jays have a huge question mark in that position going into the 17-18 campaign. They tried a lot of different replacements for Watson Jr after he went down, the best was probably Davion Mintz. Mintz was a seldom used backup guard at the time of the Watson injury. He had a hell of a coming out party in his first game as a starter when he lit up Marquette for 17 points and 8 assists. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there as Mintz never reached double digits in points again and only eclipsed the 2-assist mark in 4 times. In fact, Creighton only won two more games (including postseason) with Mintz playing more than 17 minutes. The more likely candidate is transfer Kaleb Joseph. A top 50 recruit out of high school, Joseph was the immediate starting PG for a Syracuse team that failed to make the postseason. He wasn’t a world-beater, but he managed 6 points and nearly 4 assists per game while keeping turnovers decently low. That changed his sophomore year when he saw his playing time fall of a cliff. He wasn’t recruited over, Boeheim just decided to make Michael Gbinje a point forward and suddenly there was no room for Joseph. He only managed to score 16 points all season and half of those came in the season opener against Lehigh. Originally, I wrote Joseph off due to his performance as a sophomore, but I made that mistake with Marcus Foster last season. Maybe Joseph will be the second high major transfer the Coach McDermott manages to resurrect after a poor sophomore outing. Joseph isn’t a shooter or scorer, but his distribution ability could help Creighton’s high scoring wings.
• The other big question mark for Creighton comes at the 5 spot. Their surprise redshirt sensation Justin Patton is now collecting paychecks from the Minnesota Timberwolves and it’s unclear who his replacement will be. There’s sharpshooting Toby Hegner. The Wisconsin native can stroke it from outside (44.4% last season) but isn’t know for his physicality and has some injury history. Australian big man Jacob Epperson is the highest rated recruit in the Jays’ 2017 class, but his ranking was likely based more on his upside than his ability to immediately contribute. There are even some rumors going around that he could redshirt. Martin Krampelj is a human highlight reel who is known for thunderous dunks….but at this point his career that is all he is known for. He would need to show major development to hold down the starting center role. We gave the nod to possibly the most unlikely candidate, Manny Suarez a graduate transfer from D2 Adelphi. Suarez is a 250 lb bruiser who spent the last two season racking up double doubles at the D2 level. He averaged 17 points and over 9 boards a game, while also rejecting about 2 shots per contest. Suarez does most of his work down low but he does have the ability to shoot from the outside. He made 55 treys with about 33% accuracy in his two season Adelphi. Suarez earns the role for us not because he is the most talented, but he seems like the only player who can bring any physicality to the post. Jays have always been a finesse team but someone needs to replace what Patton brought last season. Suarez may be the only one who can. But the jump from D2 to Big East is steep….and Suarez was nothing special in his one year at lowly D1 Fordham. Expecting him to start may be a bridge too far.
• Enough about why Creighton won’t win. If Creighton does win, it will because they a have pair of unstoppable wings. Khyri Thomas was quietly one of the best freshmen in the Big East his freshman season. He followed that up with another stellar performance, averaging over 12 points, just under 6 rebounds, and just over 3 assists per game. These numbers are great, but even better is that he did this all efficiently with an extremely impressive eFG% of 57.8%, absurdly high for a guard. His running mate Marcus Foster took the more high-volume approach, but it’s hard to complain when he is putting in 18.2 points per contest. Foster is a three-level scorer. His go to weapon is the long ball where he had a team leading 73 makes, but he can take his man off the bounce and can score at the rack or pull up in mid-range. Foster failed in only 2 games to score double digit points, and he showed an ability to take over when necessary, scoring 35 in a win against Georgetown and 25+ in 5 other matchups. His efforts earned him a First Team All-Big East selection and player of the year selection is not out of the question for this upcoming season.
• A quick word about Creighton’s bench. If you talk to any Jay’s fan about their team you are likely to hear about Ronnie Harrell. He is a fan favorite and many in Omaha think he is a secret weapon just waiting to break out. I personally don’t see it and the stats aren’t there to support it. Harrell is elite in one category, transition. He scored in transition with efficiency that few could match and often in emphatic fashion. But his stats in the half court are aggressively mediocre and his advanced defensive numbers are even worse. He did have a breakout performance in Creighton’s first round exit from the NCAA tournament, scoring 15 points, grabbing 5 boards, and dishing out 4 assists. So maybe there is hope, but he looks more like a valuable spark off the bench than a reliable starter. Joining Harrell off the bench are true freshman Mitchell Ballock and Ty-Shon Alexander. Neither are ranked as high as their classmate Epperson, but they may have more immediate impact ability. There have been some very nice things coming out about this young duo. They may even challenge for a starting spot.

Prediction:

Marquette had Creighton’s number last season, winning both games. Both matchups were close, exciting, stuffed to the brim with offense. Creighton’s pair of Thomas and Foster are more talented than anything that Marquette has to counter with….but the question marks at both PG and C are just too big to ignore. Unless Creighton finds a suitable answer for both of those questions, they will not be able to keep up with Marquette’s offense. In two “first one to 100 wins” type matchups, Marquette comes out with two wins, a close one in Omaha and a comfortable one on senior night in Milwaukee.

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Categories: Home, Offseason, Previews

Author:Ryan Jackson

Texas A&M Professional, Marquette Fantatic

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