After making the Sweet Sixteen for the first time in the expanded field era in 2021, Creighton had a massive rebuild on their hands. Gone were the entire starting five that Greg McDermott piloted to the second weekend, the deepest March run of his career. Only 6 D-I teams brought back fewer of their minutes from the previous year than last season’s Bluejays, and yet a rugged defensive minded squad emerged from a roster pieced together from players mostly unproven on the high major level. Creighton took a good win against BYU from non-conference play and then alerted the conference and nation as a whole to their quality by smashing Villanova by 20 on the opening night of Big East play, a defeat so bad that Jay Wright resigned in disgrace after the season.
Creighton would go on to sweep Connecticut and beat Big East Regular Season Champions Who Didn’t Win The Most Games Providence at MSG on their way to the Big East Tournament final, which they lost to Villanova. A first round NCAA Tournament win over San Diego State led to a hard fought loss to eventual National Champions Kansas in the second round and set the stage for one of the more giddily anticipated seasons in school history this year.
Gone off the roster will be two significant pieces and a nice bench piece. Ryan Hawkins lived many an unheralded recruit’s dream by parlaying a National Championship run with D-II’s Northwest Missouri State to a shot at D-I as a 5th year senior last year. He led Creighton in scoring and rebounding, going for 13.8/7.8/1.5 in his lone season in Omaha, making the most of his chance and being an instrumental part of his team’s NCAA Tournament berth. Creighton’s third leading scorer, Alex O’Connell is also on his way, having chipped in 11.8/5.3/2.1 in his final season. Crucially, Hawkins and O’Connell also represent the only two Bluejays to shoot over 30% from three last season as McDermott’s usually high flying offense was shelved for a more defensive style. Also leaving is backup big Keyshawn Feazell, who was a pretty solid presence on the boards, if not a prominent part of the offensive gameplan.
The reason people are so high on this team is the level of talent they return. Central to that is Ryan Kalkbrenner, a 7’1” lynchpin for the Creighton defense who won Big East Defensive Player of the Year for his shot blocking prowess. Kalkbrenner averaged 13.1/7.7/0.9 and shot 65% from the floor, but is coming back off a knee injury sustained in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, which left him recovering for a couple of months before resuming normal activities. Alongside him is guard Ryan Nembhard, who went for 11.3/3.1/4.4 on his way to Big East Freshman of the Year honors. Nembhard also had last season end early, as a right wrist injury sustained in late February required surgery and kept him out until late June. Nembhard showed a knack for scoring off the drive and setting up his teammates, but struggled with outside shooting and ball security as a true Freshman. Arthur Kaluma was nearly as impressive as Nembhard, going for 10.4/5.4/1.3 and being named to the Big East All Freshman Team. Kaluma was at his best going toward the rim on offense and lit up Kansas for 24 when he was able to get his three point shot falling. He also uses his athleticism to be a versatile defender, which played well into Creighton’s identity last season. Another member of the Big East All Freshman Team was Trey Alexander, who went for 7.4/3.7/2.5. Alexander served mostly as a glue guy last year, but will likely see an uptick in usage with the departure of Hawkins and O’Connell. Also, returning will be guard Shereef Mitchell, who got a medical redshirt last season after serving ably as a backup point guard in his first two seasons.
The headliner is 2022 Summit League Player of the Year Baylor Scheiermann, who averaged 16.2/7.8/4.5 and shot 46% from three at South Dakota State last season. He was rated as the #2 available transfer on EvanMiya, behind America’s sweetheart Matthew Meyer, and will fill the gap left by Hawkins as a primary scoring option. Questions can be asked about his ability to get it done at the high major level, as he chucked up a pretty putrid 85.2 ORTG against tier A+B competition last year, including a 7-17 performance from the floor in an NCAA Tournament loss to Providence. Still, he was highly sought after for a reason, and Creighton will hope he comes as advertised. Also transferring in will be Argentine sharpshooter Francisco Farabello from TCU, who shot 38% from three a season ago and will add another catch and shoot option to stretch defenses. Mason Miller, who redshirted last year, will suit up for Creighton this year and add yet another shooter to the mix. Miller was ranked at 74th in his class, but took last year to try to fill out his 6’9” frame in order to fulfill his defensive duties in the Big East.
There is obviously a ton to love about this roster, which is why they were picked to win the league and received the highest ever preseason ranking in school history at 9th in the AP Poll. McDermott has proven he can get the most out of the talent at his disposal and if he can do that this year, it could lead him later into March than he has ever been. Still, the expectations of this team are built on Kalkbrenner and Nembhard not missing a beat and Scheiermann being able to score at a high level in the Big East as well as keep pace with the defensive sturdiness of his teammates. The Big East rightly looks like it will go through Omaha this season, but there are enough questions around this team to keep it from being a foregone conclusion.