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Big East Preseason Profile: Creighton Bluejays

The Bluejays are looking to return to the NCAA Tournament this season.

Wendell Cruz

Creighton 2019 record: 20-15, 9-9 Big East (NIT third round, lost to TCU in the Quarterfinals)

2020 returning minutes percentage: 71.1%

Graduated seniors: Kaleb Joseph (G), Connor Cashaw (W)

Early departures/ transfers: Samson Froling (C, turned pro), Martin Krampelj (C, turned pro)

Incoming talent: Kelvin Jones (F, transfer from Idaho State), Denzel Mahoney (G, transfer from Southwest Missouri), Shereef Mitchell (G), Jalen Windham (F)

Likely top 5: Ty-Shon Alexander (JR), Mitch Ballock (JR), Marcus Zegarowski (SO), Kelvin Jones (SR), Christian Bishop (SO)

Creighton last season:

A pair of four-game losing streaks had the Bluejays out of postseason contention and five games under .500 in the Big East. So they ripped off five wins in a row, then two more in the NIT Tournament, playing far better defense while continuing to score efficiently on all three levels.

In order to learn more about the Bluejays, we asked Patrick Marshall of White and Blue Review a few questions.

Rumble: The Creighton Bluejays seem to be a sleeper team in the Big East. What are fans expecting or seeking from this upcoming season?

I think every year, Creighton fans go into the season with a lot of optimism and a lot higher expectations than what the coaches or media feel — only to have them dashed quickly once the season gets going.

Injuries have derailed the Bluejays for the most part of the past several seasons. It is already hitting this team early for 2019-20. Jacob Epperson was coming off a knee and back injury that shut him down for 2018-19 with a lot of expectations to fill the role Martin Krampelj left after last season.

However, Epperson won’t be playing this season after breaking his right leg in practice last week.

Add on top of that, guard Davion Mintz is out at least the first couple weeks of the season with a high ankle injury and could be out up to the first 5-6 weeks.

There are a lot of positive things with most of the lineup from last season back, including point guard Marcus Zegarowski, all preseason Big East guard Ty-Shon Alexander, and sharpshooter Mitch Ballock. There are some challenges in the frontcourt that leaves a lot of fans worried about how the Bluejays still stack up against opposing teams.

Rumble: How do you think Ty-Shon Alexander compares to other Big East guards like Myles Powell and Markus Howard?

To me, Alexander plays differently than Powell and Howard. When you talk about the go-to players on each team in the Big East, you mention Seton Hall and Marquette and they are easily associated with Powell and Howard.

When it comes to Creighton, it is assumed that Alexander would be the guy last season, but there were times that I don’t think that challenge or role was embraced. Or it could be looked at that he tried too hard to embrace it.

Ty-Shon has done a lot in the offseason to transform his game and really be that player the Jays turn to for the 2019-20 campaign. Heading into the season, I see Alexander in the next tier after Powell and Howard, but the hope is that by the end of the season, he can be synonymous with the rest of the Big East teams as “the man” on his respective team.

Rumble: What are the strengths and weaknesses of this Bluejays team?

The definite strengths are the backcourt and guard play. Heading into the season, there was a lot of debate between whether Creighton would go with a four guard line-up (Zegarowski, Mintz, Alexander, Ballock) and acknowledging it is an area where they have depth. Even with Mintz out for a bit, there are still some options.

Shereef Mitchell is a freshman point guard that may get some minutes early based on his defense. Then at the semester, the Jays will add in Denzel Mahoney, a transfer from Southeast Missouri State that Creighton fans have been waiting to see, but have had to wait a little longer than expected.

But you add them both into the mix and you have 2-deep depth at the 1-3 positions. The three-point shot will always be an equalizer and you hope that the right lineup gets out there each night to produce and provide the opportunities to win.

Rumble: Creighton won 7 of their last 9 games at the end of the previous year. Do you foresee that momentum continuing into next season?

The Bluejays had a foreign trip to Australia this summer that has probably helped them in a lot of ways. With the veterans already in place, it was a great opportunity to bring in the new players while also playing with some different lineups than expected that should prepare them better for the sudden changes heading into the regular season and injuries.

Epperson and Idaho State grad transfer Kelvin Jones didn’t play in Australia due to injury, along with Zegarowski, recovering from offseason hip surgery, and Alexander, who joined the team later after playing in the Pan-Am games with the Big East all-stars. I think it is a wait and see approach to see how this team adjusts to adversity.

Rumble: Which player does Creighton most need to see development from?

I don’t think I can single out a specific player, but instead, it is three players that Creighton needs to see development from this season to get them where they need to be.

First off is Mitch Ballock. Ballock shot amazing from three-point range last season for the Jays at 42%. That includes off games against Gonzaga (3-10), Oklahoma (0-9), St. John’s (1-8), DePaul (3-10), and Providence (2-10). On the other side he was 7-10 against Nebraska and tied a school record in the other game against DePaul hitting 11 (out of 12).

What you may not know is that Ballock has continued to perfect his sharpshooting skills in the offseason, but has worked really hard on developing another part of his game to score in other ways. It was evident in the games in Australia. Don’t be surprised that if Alexander isn’t getting the game on the line shots that those go to Ballock.

Second is forward Damien Jefferson. Jefferson played really well in non-conference play last season in his first season as a Bluejay. However after suffering a leg injury during early in Big East play, it was a long recovery for Jefferson and he didn’t play as fearless as he did in the non-conference part of the season. With the extra need for height and an inside presence, Jefferson will need to play with that confidence and get rebounds.

Lastly, and most importantly, will be forward Christian Bishop.

Bishop came on really strong down the stretch last season as a freshman and has steadily taken on more and more for this team. He has a nose for the ball. While some fans may not enjoy the NIT, it was the additional games and training ground for Bishop to get some extra experience and ready for this 2019-20 campaign.

Add in the injury to Epperson, and Bishop is probably the most important player for the Jays moving forward to provide an inside presence. The challenge will be the tendency to foul. That will be a thing to watch and see how that develops through the season. .

Rumble: Do you have any win-total prediction for this year?

The non-conference isn’t quite as challenging as last season, but will still be good challenges with the Jays not at full strength. I do expect them to exceed expectations from the 7th place coaches prediction and finish somewhere in the middle with an opportunity for the NCAA’s if everything falls int