Image Credit: Matt Dixon-Omaha World Herald
Bluejay basketball is back! In Creighton’s only official exhibition game of the season, the Bluejays soared to a 93-46 victory against the Wildcats of Wayne State College. Creighton lived up to their preseason top-25 ranking in front of an unusually sparse crowd at the CenturyLink Center in Omaha. Regardless of the level of competition, those in attendance saw plenty of reasons to get excited for the 2016-2017 campaign. Here they are…
Athleticism: This may just be most athletic team that Creighton has ever fielded. The transition in physical make-up from the Missouri Valley to the Big East Conference is complete, rendering this team poised to compete in the realm of major college basketball. If Coach McDermott can figure out a way to get Marcus Foster, Maurice Watson, Khyri Thomas, Cole Huff, and a much-improved Ronnie Harrell Jr. (or a mixture of these guys) on the floor at the same time, get ready for some high-flying action.
The Backcourt: I am more than excited to watch one of the nation’s premier guard combos make opponents look silly for the next few months. After sitting out a year, Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster is primed to explode onto the national scene. His freshman highlight tape has made the Bluejay faithful giddy to see him suit up in the white and the blue, and we saw flashes of brilliance against a stunned Wayne State squad. Preseason Big East First-Team selection Maurice Watson will continue to dribble and pass his way into the hearts of Jays fans, and has already garnered attention from Allen Iverson and Jay Bilas. The stage that Wop – as he prefers to be called – sought upon transferring from Boston University after his sophomore season has been set, and he is ready to dazzle.
Depth: Though it was simply an exhibition game against less than stellar competition, from what I saw Creighton has the potential for up to TWELVE of its players to see considerable minutes this season. With so many weapons and even more viable options at his disposal, Greg McDermott will have a virtually unlimited supply of fresh legs to run his fast-paced offense.
Tyler Clement and three-point specialist Isaiah Zierden are experienced guards who logged considerable minutes last year. Due to the sheer amount of game-ready players Creighton has on the roster, they did not see the court as much as they had previously last night. However, they will be more than up to the challenge when their numbers are called going forward.
Young guns Kobe Paras and Martin Krampelj gave Creighton fans a good glimpse of what the future holds and made their case for playing time. Khyri Thomas, who just might be my favorite player on this team, reminded us how wildly athletic he was with a steal and acrobatic finish as well.
An Unexpected Star on the Horizon: Javier Baez is to tagging runners out as Ronnie Harrell is to…putbacks? Twice during the contest the much-improved sophomore guard seemingly came out of nowhere to acrobatically finish at the rim off of missed shots. His offseason training with his cousin Chauncey Billups (ever heard of him?) seems to have paid off, as he was much more confident with the ball in his hands and always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. He finished with a cool ten points in limited time and only missed one shot all night. I would not be surprised at all to see Mr. Harrell make a push for an all-conference team by the end of the season.
Rebounding: Creighton more than doubled Wayne State in points and rebounds, which is not surprising considering the Wildcats struggle through Division II. However, as I mentioned previously, the physical make-up of this Creighton team will allow them to rise to the occasion in an area with which they have struggled since entering the Big East: cleaning up the glass. Once Justin Patton gets his feet under him through more game experience, he will be a force inside. The earlier-than-anticipated return of Zach Hanson bolsters the Bluejays’ interior as well. Toby Hegner, who can stretch the floor with his jump shot and Martin Krampelj will also hold their own. Gone are the days of a point guard being the team’s leading rebounder.
Efficient Offense: The Bluejays scored 93 points on 54 percent shooting, and ran their transition offense exceptionally well. Creighton has long been a team that lives and dies by the three point shot, but given the amount of guys that can get to the rim, I no longer have to worry about extended scoring draughts if long-range shots do not fall. The team shot 38 percent on twenty-one shots from beyond the arc against the Wildcats, so the ‘let it fly’ mantra still exists, but no longer will the offense sputter if jump shots are not finding their way.
All in all, I was just happy to watch my beloved Bluejays take the court for the first time during my senior year. A consistent rotation and free throw shooting will come around soon, as will the health of Zach Hanson and Cole Huff. I would not be at all surprised to see Creighton dominate B-Frank’s reigning Big East Tournament Champion Seton Hall Pirates. Patrons saw plenty of smiles on players’ faces tonight, as it was evident that they were much more excited to get back out there than the fans. After a Cubs World Series win, my optimism for the Creighton basketball team to carry the momentum forward spiked. I cannot wait to be amongst 17,000 loyal supporters in the CenturyLink Center all season. Roll Jays.