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The 12 Days of 'Big East-mas' Season Preview: Creighton Bluejays


The beginning of the 2022-23 college basketball season is now right around the corner. There's a buzz of anticipation as I walk by the CHI Health Center in downtown Omaha, that is now marked with the the changing of leaves and a palpable excitement for the Creighton basketball program. A program that enters the season #9 in the AP Poll, which is the highest start in Creighton history.

Expectations are high. Truly, the highest they have likely ever been -- a fact that coach Greg McDermott would like his team to not pay too much attention to.

We don't talk about it a lot. As long as our guys work, that's all that matters to me. Our guys have high aspirations. Some people have success and relax, but that isn't our guys. - Greg McDermott, Big East Media Day

McDermott is entering his 13th season at the helm. He has won at least 20 games in eleven of his first twelve seasons at Creighton, and is gearing up for another 20+ win season. Last season, Creighton finished an impressive 23-12 with one of the ten youngest teams in the country (per KenPom). After beating San Diego State, Creighton played toe-to-toe with future National Champion Kansas. A valiant effort considering Creighton was without Ryan Nembhard, Ryan Kalkbrenner, Shereef Mitchell, and John Christofilis.

The Bluejays return a heck-of-a-lot, and was one of the winners in the offseason transfer portal, picking up both Baylor Scheierman (S. Dakota St.) and Francisco Farabello (TCU). There are ample reasons to support the hype Creighton has been getting nationally this offseason, but this team is far from without flaws.

Much of Creighton's high expectations come from the belief that Creighton's now-sophomores will make a big jump after their freshman year. But, simply looking at last season to this season in a vacuum will show an already below-average shooting team that loses its two best perimeter shooters. Creighton's tournament resume in March of last year was far from impeccable.

Undoubtedly, much of the Creighton love has come from the NCAA Tournament performance from the resilient Jays in '22. If San Diego State holds off Creighton in overtime in the Round of 64, it's not crazy to assume Creighton would be viewed as a fringe Top-20 team, not Top-10.

But, that's not to say that the hype isn't deserved. With Ryan Nembhard, Baylor Scheierman, Arthur Kaluma, and Ryan Kalkbrenner all being nominated for the best player in the country at their respective positions ( If everything pans out in Omaha, this team has the makings of a legitimate Final 4 threat.


Who's Out?

  • Alex O'Connell (11.8 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.1 apg)

  • Ryan Hawkins (13.8 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 1.5 apg)

  • Keyshawn Feazell (3.1 ppg, 2.3 rpg)

Sure, O'Connell and Hawkins were two of the top three scorers from a season ago. But the biggest thing that departs from Creighton is leadership. AOC and Ryan Hawkins were steadying forces; the adults in the room, per se.

Even Feazell, who often did not post statistics of note in the box score, was an experienced backup to Kalkbrenner. A luxury the Bluejays will not have this year, with their backup Center being true freshman Fredrick King.

However, Creighton and Greg McDermott did a great job in addressing these losses. He brought in guys to fill those roles -- but, once again, the leadership is still to be determined.


Who's In?

  • F | Baylor Scheierman, 6'7 Sr. (16.2 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 4.5 apg) at South Dakota St.

  • G | Francisco Farabello, 6'3 Sr. (4.8 ppg, 48% from 3-point range) at TCU

  • C | Fredrick King, 6'10 Fr.

  • G | Ben Shtolzberg, 6'4 Fr.

  • F | Jasen Green, 6'8 Fr.

A lot of fresh faces in Omaha this fall. Scheierman leads the way as one of the most coveted transfers in the portal this past offseason. He was a do-it-all guy for South Dakota State, and played great against top tier competition. Putting up 28 points and 28 rebounds combined in two games against Providence (NCAAT) and Alabama. Baylor is also an excellent, unselfish passer which will fit right into McDermott's 'make the extra pass' system. Scheierman was one of 20 names highlighted on the Julius Erving Award watchlist, which highlights the best small forward in college basketball.

Enter Francisco Farabello, someone Greg McDermott coins as "fitting perfectly into our system." Farabello was TCU's only real floor spacer, and contributed 48% from behind the arc. There's a lot of competition for playing time in the backcourt, but Farabello and Shereef Mitchell will be expected to get most of the backcourt minutes off the bench. He will also be looked to for some of that leadership that departed with AOC and Ryan Hawkins.

Three freshmen also enter the fold at Creighton. A big man hailing from the Bahamas, Fredrick King, will likely see the most immediate playing time of the bunch. Ben Shtolzberg is a point guard who will remind Jays fans of Marcus Zegarowski - but will likely use this year to mature and learn from Mitchell and Nembhard.

Finally, while they aren't new additions to the program -- it is worth reminding everyone of two familiar faces who sat out last season. First being Shereef Mitchell. Mitchell played quality minutes two years ago on Creighton's Sweet 16 team, and was arguably Creighton's best on-ball defender. He brings high energy and active hands to the defense and a lighting-quick first step with the basketball. If his perimeter shooting improves, Mitchell could be one of the most undervalued players in all of college basketball.

Next is Mason Miller, a RS Freshman who added 15 pounds of strength in the offseason. Miller is an excellent perimeter scorer, and has added a new level of physicality to his game to get him into the rotation.


Returning Starters (4)

Ryan Kalkbrenner (Jr.)| 7'1 Center

Ryan Kalkbrenner finished last season averaging 13.1 ppg and 7.7 rpg. He also led the Big East in field goal percentage and offensive rebounds. Kalkbrenner is an excellent interior defender, and is an elite finisher around the rim. Anticipate Ryan to take another leap in his junior year -- one that puts him in the Big East Player of the Year conversation. Kalkbrenner was one of 20 names on the Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Award watchlist, which selects the best center in college basketball.

Ryan Nembhard (So.)| 6'0 PG

The reigning Big East Freshman of the Year, Ryan Nembhard has lofty goals for his 2022-23 season. Before a wrist injury against SJU ended his season, Nembhard was third in the Big East in assists (4.4 apg), and averaged over 11 ppg as well. The one knock against Nembhard a year ago would be his tendency to be a bit careless with the basketball. If that tightens up, it wouldn't be surprising to see Ryan Nembhard be right in the thick of All-Big East honors. He was one of 20 names on the Bob Cousy Award watchlist, which selects the best point guard in college basketball.

Arthur Kaluma (So.) | 6'7 PF

Arthur Kaluma turned heads in last year's NCAA Tournament where he put up 24 points and 12 rebounds against the future national champion Kansas Jayhawks. On the season, he averaged 10.4 ppg and 5.4 rpg. His physicality matched with ability to get by defenders makes him a real matchup problems for opponents. One thing we can expect to improve with Kaluma is three-point shooting. He shot 26.5% from beyond the arc, while Greg McDermott has been outspoken about how that number is not indicative of his strength as a shooter. If AK can add consistent long range shooting to his arsenal, he's going to be a full-time job to defend. Kaluma was one of 20 names on the Karl Malone Award watchlist, which selects the best power forward in college basketball.

Trey Alexander (So.) | 6'4 SG

When Ryan Nembhard's season ended with a wrist injury, Alexander was forced to the forefront. He played his best basketball at the end of the season, scoring 32 points and 14 assists in two NCAA Tournament games. On the season, Trey averaged 7.4 ppg and 2.5 apg -- but his splits in his 13 starts are much more impressive. Similarly with Kaluma, we should expect Trey to shoot the ball much better from the perimeter this year. Alexander is also a terrific off-guard defender and recorded 25 steals a season ago.

Projected Starters:

- G | Ryan Nembhard

- G | Trey Alexander

- F | Baylor Scheierman

- F | Arthur Kaluma

- C | Ryan Kalkbrenner


Final Thoughts

This Creighton Bluejays roster has a chance to be something really special. If things panned out and the Jays stayed healthy, they are a Final 4 caliber team. That's not to say it won't take until mid-December before they figure it all out. But Greg McDermott has the most talented, deepest team in program history. With four players on positional player of the year watchlists, they should be the resounding favorite to win the Big East.

Ryan Kalkbrenner is one of the best big men in all of college basketball, and his work defensively around the rim disrupts even the best of finishers. He should be at the forefront of the Big East Player of the Year race. Look for him to also expand his range and knock down a few triples this season. The addition of long-range sharpshooters Scheierman and Farabello will space the floor in a way they did not do as well last season.

Arthur Kaluma, Trey Alexander, and Ryan Nembhard have all proved during their freshman year that they can do it on this stage. Kaluma has been seeing his name in plenty of early NBA Mock Drafts for next season. If Nembhard can keep his explosiveness while cutting down his turnover rate, he can be one of the better PG's in America. The experience of playing without Nembhard will likely help Trey Alexander be significantly more confident with the basketball. The crowded depth chart also gives Coach Mac a lot of options depending on matchups.

There's simply so much to like about this team. Greg McDermott clearly thinks so too, scheduling arguably his hardest non-conference slate in his tenure at Creighton. The Jays will play in a loaded Maui Jim Invitational toward the end of November, starting with Texas Tech. They will also play @Texas on Dec. 1, and neutral site games against BYU and Arizona State.

Creighton opens the season on Nov. 7th, hosting St. Thomas (MN). Click the link below to hear myself and Matt St. Jean break down Creighton on the Road To The Garden Podcast.

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