It seemed after the Creighton Bluejays' six game losing streak, they were written off by nearly everyone. But, as I laid out here, a lot of that was due to extenuating circumstances.
It was a dreary, frigid night in Omaha, Nebraska as the reeling Jays hosted Butler on December 22nd. Even with the return of Ryan Kalkbrenner, Creighton fell down 16-7 nearing the U12 media timeout. As I stood up, I couldn't help but notice the Creighton faithful's tone had changed. It was beginning to lose hope -- the beer line was long, the crowd noise was soft.
Creighton needed to win this game -- for more reasons than one. And then, it was as if a switch flipped. The Bluejays were back in sync and doing the things they can do as well as anyone in the country. Hitting jumpers, throwing alley-oops, and making the extra pass. The tone around the Creighton Bluejays had shifted dramatically, and they didn't look back.
In Kalkbrenner's return against Butler, the center had 19 points on 8-9 from the floor while holding Manny Bates to just six points - which remains his season low. The spark Kalkbrenner provided was immediately evident on both ends of the floor. The offensive spacing, and even just getting into their offensive sets was simplified. Creighton's beautiful offensive scheme had resurfaced; even running decoy elevator screens that led to easy backdoor cuts.
Creighton carried all of that momentum into Christmas Day against DePaul, where the Bluejays took care of business behind Trey Alexander's 32 points.
Then, on Tuesday against Seton Hall, Creighton propelled out to an early lead and never looked back. The Jays lead nearly every statistical category and at one point led by 32 points.
Much of Creighton's struggles during the six-game slide was simply due to not making shots. Trey Alexander and Ryan Nembhard shot a combined 12/50 (24%) from three point range during that stretch. In the three game winning streak, they're 17/30 (57%).
Sometimes in hoops, you just don't make shots. Especially when you're down a big like Kalkbrenner that creates a lot of easy looks for your perimeter shooters.
They are now 9-6, and have won their last three contests by a total of 59 points. Sure, those three games came against Butler, DePaul, and Seton Hall -- but none of these games were ever particularly close. Blowing out three straight Big East opponents, I don't care who they are, is an impressive feat.
Another factor that made people (myself included, this time) dizzy with worry was the lack of bench production. But that has received a fantastic response these past three games. One of the very first things Greg McDermott mentioned as he sat down at the podium delivering his opening remarks after the Butler triumph was how well Fransisco Farabello played. McDermott had said how he thought Bello changed the entire complexion of the game.
Each game it's been a different guy, but we are starting to see some of the praised depth that had McDermott so excited in the offseason. Fed King had 9 points and 5 rebounds in just 10 minutes against Butler. Farabello hit a couple threes against DePaul. Against Seton Hall it was Shereef Mitchell (7 points) and Mason Miller (6 points).
The schedule picks up in a major way for Creighton as they go on the road at UConn on Saturday and face Xavier in Cintas on Wednesday. We will learn a lot about the Bluejays in the coming week and a half.
But, a word to the Bluejays fans out there if and when they lose another game this year:
The sky is not falling. The sky was never falling. Relax, and enjoy what is a really good basketball team.