Big East Preview: Creighton Bluejays

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Record last season:  28-8 (Conf: 13-5)

Postseason:  Lost in Round 3 of NCAA tournament

Coach:  Greg McDermott

Coach’s record at school:  80-30

Offensive efficiency:  115.3 (8th in the country)

Defensive efficiency:  96.4 (80th in the country)

Returnees:  Doug McDermott (23.2 PPG, 7.7 RPG), Grant Gibbs (8.5 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 5.8 APG), Austin Chatman (7.4 PPG, 2.6 RPG, 4.2 APG), Jahenns Manigat (5.9 PPG, 2.1 RPG), Ethan Wragge (7.7 PPG, 2.6 RPG), Avery Dingman (3.7 PPG, 2.3 RPG), Will Artino (3.9 PPG, 2.5 RPG), Geoff Groselle

Notable losses:  Gregory Echenique (9.7 PPG, 6.6 RPG)

Newcomers:  Isaiah Zierden, Toby Hegner, Darian Harris, Zach Hanson, Devin Brooks, James Milliken

Projected lineup:

G:  Austin Chatman

G:  Jahenns Manigat

G:  Grant Gibbs

F:  Doug McDermott

C:  Will Artino

Outlook:

Creighton received a double dose of good news this offseason when Doug McDermott decided to return for his senior year and then when Grant Gibbs was awarded a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA.  Without both of those developments, it would have been difficult to predict the Bluejays to finish near the top of the conference as they make the move to the Big East.

Winning the league in their first year as a member would go a long way for a program that will go from playing the majority of their games in the mid-west to playing in the big cities of the northeast.  However, advancing past the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the mid-1970s would be equally significant.

I’m more skeptical on the former as I believe the parity in the Big East this year in conjunction with the stiffer competition on a more regular basis will prevent Creighton from winning the league.  It’s an easy argument to make, but could be a poor one considering the success the Bluejays have had against major conference teams in recent history and the fact that they should still bolster an elite offense.  They ranked 8th in adjusted offensive efficiency, 1st in effective field goal %, 1st in three point %, 3rd in two point %, and 12th in free throw % a year ago.  And with four of five starters returning, it would seem unlikely that there would be any significant drop off.

However, besides seeing better competition night-in and night-out, Creighton’s biggest concern will be replacing big man Gregory Echenique.  Coach McDermott considered Echenique as one of the best interior players in the country and rightfully so.  He never required help on the defensive end and became one of the better shot blockers in the country (he had a block rate of 7.8%) while being extremely efficient on the offensive end.  Will Artino will get first crack at replacing Echenique, but it may have to be a committee approach that includes the aforementioned Artino, Geoff Groselle and freshmen Toby Hegner and Zach Hanson.  Whatever player or combination of players emerges, they won’t be as effective as Echenique, which could prove troublesome in the bigger, more physical Big East.

Creighton is the pick of various publications to win the Big East this year, and they’re more than capable of doing just that.  Returning a two time All-American (McDermott) with two great setup men (Gibbs and Chatman), is reason enough to be bullish.  I just believe the loss of Echenique will be more significant than some believe and the stronger conference (with three teams I think are better than the Bluejays) will matter.  But with good health, solid low post play, and hopefully an improved defense, there’s no reason why Creighton can’t prove me wrong.

Projected Big East finish:  4th

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Tags: Basketball Big East Creighton Bluejays Doug McDermott Grant Gibbs

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