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Know Your Big East Opponent: Creighton

Creighton rode Marcus Foster, Khyri Thomas, and an incredible offense to the NCAAs last year. Only one of those has any chance to be back.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-Creighton vs Kansas State Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Everything old is new again, and basketball season is finally almost upon us. We’ve given a game-by-game breakdown of Xavier’s non-conference slate and analyzed every player on the Muskies’ roster. All that’s left to do now is break down the nine other teams in the league, starting with the one the coaches predicted would finish bottom and running all the way up to Nova. After DePaul got things started, it’s time for the Creighton Bluejays.

What Creighton does is offense. Since joining the Big East the Bluejays have landed outside the top 50 in adjusted offensive efficiency exactly once. Last season they finished 25th, were in the top 10 in the nation in effective field goal percentage, and ended up being a semi-surprising NCAA team before getting bounced by Kansas State in the first round. As we all know, there’s no shame in losing to a team from one of those 8/9 games.

Defensively the Bluejays can best be described as being on the court when the action happened around them. This is essentially Doug McDermott’s MO, as he will dare you to either score with his teams, or figure out a way to slow them enough to stop them. Creighton is picked second from the bottom of the Big East in large part because it’s hard to see where they replace that offense. They are ranked 33rd in the preseason KenPom because it seems like they always find a way to do it.

Key departures:

Khyri Thomas and Marcus Foster are gone. With them went 34.9/8.3/5.5 and 63 minutes out of McDermott’s rotation. Both shot the three at 41% and both were nails from the line. Throw in the fact that Thomas was an elite defender and the two make for an irreplaceable loss. Ronnie Harrell, a forward who averaged 7.0/6.3/2.6 with an excellent 113 offensive efficiency rate, was a grad transfer back to his home city of Denver. Evidently he had tired of playing meaningful basketball. Toby Hegner, the 6-10 three point shooter, graduated as well, taking with him 8.4/3.1/0.9.

Key returnees:

Martin Krampelj, 6-9, JR, F (11.9/8.1/1.2, .671/.261/.623)
Mitch Ballock, 6-5, SO, F (7.3/2.9/1.9, .421/.326/.808)
Davion Mintz, 6-3, JR, G (6.1/3.2/3.1, .404/.352/.732)
Jacob Epperson, 6-11, SO, C (6.3/2.9/0.3, .694/1.000/.333)
Ty-Shon Alexander, 6-4, SO, G (5.5/2.1/1.8, .418/.333/.707)

Krampelj is one of the best rebounders in the Big East, but he is coming back off of his third ACL tear this season. He and Jacob Epperson, who burned a redshirt last year after Krampelj went down, will anchor the middle for the Bluejays. Those two guys give Creighton a really solid one-two punch inside.

Someone is going to have to replace Thomas and Foster, and it’s going to fall to Ballock, Mintz, and Alexander to cover part of that load. None of them are exact replacements for those two, but Ballock is a good wing scorer, Alexander showed flashes of being a guard who can score at the rim and from deep last year, and Mintz is the team’s leading returning ball handler.

Incoming players

Connor Cashaw, 6-5, SR, G

Cashaw joins Creighton as a grad transfer from noted basketball powerhouse Rice. He posted an eye-popping 15.5/7.1/3.2 on .398/.319/.726 shooting last year while doing something a lot like carrying the team. He’ll have a lot more support around him this year, and he’s still a 35.4% career three-point shooter despite last season’s grim showing. It’s also worth noting that he posted assist and turnover numbers like a good point guard, so I think it’s a safe bet Xavier fans will be tired of him by the time the year’s out

Also, he didn’t redshirt at any point in time, he just put in the work to graduate in three years. Kudos to him.

The preseason poll had Creighton finishing near the bottom of the league, but projection systems are all over the place on them. If Cashaw comes good, Krampelj stays healthy, and someone else from their handful of meaningful returnees steps up, they’ll be in the mix near the top of the league again this year.