Creighton introduced itself to the Big East in 2013-14 with a spectacular shooting team, led by Doug McDermott, and tremendous crowd support. While the support never wavered, the on-court product needed an adjustment period the past two seasons.
Those elements that make the Bluejays special should align again this season, their fourth in the Big East. After finishing tied for last in 2015 and sixth in 2016, coach Greg McDermott expects to move closer to the top and return to the NCAA Tournament. “We’re close to getting ourselves back to where we can compete in the upper third of this conference,” he says. “Do that and we’ll be in the NCAA Tournament.”
All Big East predictions and a full preview of each team in the conference can be found in the Athlon Sports 2016-17 Preview Magazine, available in our online store and on newsstands everywhere.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: Greg McDermott
2015-16 RECORD (BIG EAST): 20–15 (9–9)
2015-16 POSTSEASON: NIT: Lost to BYU 88–82 in the third round
2016-17 PREDICTION: Third in the Big East
C Geoffrey Groselle (11.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg)
G James Milliken (9.7 ppg, 2.1 rpg)
The Bluejays are more experienced, deeper and more versatile in the frontcourt than the past two seasons. The addition of a potential game-changer in redshirt freshman Justin Patton fuels that diagnosis. He redshirted last season to tune up his offensive skills and his physique. His height (6'11") and athletic ability should help Creighton match other Big East teams in the lane.
“He’s extremely skilled, can handle the ball, pass the ball,” McDermott says. “Hopefully, he can give us a presence at the rim, defensively.”
Seniors Zach Hanson and Cole Huff and junior Toby Hegner return as important parts of the rotation. Huff, who had knee surgery in the spring, is capable of big nights, as he showed with 35 points against Seton Hall in the Big East Tournament and 18 points and 11 rebounds in an NIT loss at BYU. He made 36.3 percent of his 3-pointers in his first season after transferring from Nevada. Martin Krampelj (6'9") played seven games last season before knee surgery benched him.
This is a Big East-level starting backcourt. Senior Maurice Watson Jr. earned second-team All-Big East honors after averaging 14.1 points and 6.5 assists in his Bluejays debut. Junior Marcus Foster is a transfer from Kansas State, where he averaged 15.5 points as a freshman and earned second-team All-Big 12 honors. After a rocky sophomore season, he transferred to Creighton, and McDermott is convinced the work ethic and attitude problems that spoiled his career at Kansas State are fixed. His body fat, McDermott says, dropped from 14 percent to eight percent.
“He has a chance to be one of the better defenders in the Big East,” McDermott says. “He’s an explosive scorer. That’s an incredible backcourt.”
Watson, who withdrew from the NBA Draft after evaluating his chances, is Creighton’s vocal and emotional leader. His blazing speed starts the team’s offense, forces defenses to retreat quickly and creates open shots. He can use this season to improve his 3-point shot (29.7 percent) and decision-making (3.3 turnovers per game). “He’s kind of a professional layup-maker,” McDermott says.
Sophomore Khyri Thomas is a strong defender who saw his scoring slump in conference play, though he did average 12.3 points in three NIT games. Senior Isaiah Zierden averaged in double figures and made 38.5 percent of his 3-point shots. He underwent shoulder surgery after the Big East Tournament and did not play in the NIT.
Kobe Paras, a July addition, played for the Philippines U-18 team twice in the FIBA World Championships and twice won a FIBA slam-dunk title.
Sophomore Ronnie Harrell provides depth on the wing. Freshman Davion Mintz could help at the point.
Guard Kobe Paras landed at Creighton in July after being denied admission at UCLA. Davion Mintz also had offers from Tulsa and Kansas State. Marcus Foster considered Creighton strongly out of high school before deciding on Kansas State. When the situation there soured, the Bluejays benefited. Justin Patton was a top-25 national recruit by Scout coming out of high school two years ago.
Huff, Zierden, Hanson and Foster all endured injuries during last season, so staying healthy is very much on McDermott’s mind. Unlike in past seasons, however, Creighton’s depth should allow it to withstand the normal grind.
This is a big season for the Bluejays. They are recruiting high-level players and becoming a home for talented transfers, such as Syracuse guard Kaleb Joseph, who is redshirting. An NCAA Tournament spot would keep that momentum rolling.
Foster was headed toward stardom at Kansas State. If he regains that trajectory, he will team with Watson to form one of the nation’s top backcourts. The frontcourt lacks star power, but there are promising pieces.
This is the kind of roster Creighton fans wanted when the program departed the Missouri Valley Conference in 2013, and this season should again remind them why that move changed the future of Bluejays basketball.