Creighton 2014-15 Record: 14-19, 4-14 in the Big East
Key Players Lost: Austin Chatman, Devin Brooks, Ricky Kreklow, Avery Dingman, Will Artino and Leon Gilmore III.
Key Players Coming Back: Isaiah Zierden, James Milliken, Toby Hegner, Zach Hanson, Geoffrey Groselle and Mogboluwaga Oginni.
New Recruits/Transfers: Cole Huff (transfer from Nevada) Maurice Watson Jr. (transfer from Boston University), Marlon Stewart, Khyri Thomas, Ronnie Harrell (RS), Martin Krampelj and Justin Patton.
Life after Doug McDermott proved to be tougher than even the most ardent Creighton supporters could have thought last season. After taking like a fish to water in their first year in the new incarnation of the Big East in the 2013-14 season, the Bluejays took a huge step backwards last season en route to a a 14-19 season (4-14 in conference action).
With the loss of an all-time great in McDermott and other solid players like Ethan Wragge, Grant Gibbs and Jahenns Manigat, Creighton just could never make up for what they lost and had to swallow a bitter pill, as they suffered their first losing season in 19 years. Also not helping matters was third-leading scorer Isaiah Zierden going down with a season-ending injury in January; he partially tore his MCL in a game at Xavier on January 21.
In all, it was a season to forget for head coach Greg McDermott.
Creighton actually started the season off just fine, as they had an encouraging non-conference start. They beat a top-20 team in Oklahoma, after previously being down by 15 points in the second half. The Bluejays also did beat Nebraska on the road. Then again, a bad loss to North Texas to end the non-conference portion of their schedule (in which they finished 9-4) did set a precedence of what was about to occur.
Once Big East play started, Creighton would quickly fall behind the eight ball. The Bluejays would proceed to lose their first nine games before beating St. John’s on January 28. Creighton would show incremental improvement down the stretch, winning four of their last 10 regular season games.
The Bluejays beat DePaul in the first round of the Big East Tournament before ending their season in a tight game to Georgetown in the quarterfinals.
Individually, Austin Chatman, the Bluejays veteran point guard, had a solid senior campaign en route to averaging a team-leading 11.5 points and 3.7 assists per game.
2015-16 Look Ahead:
While the Bluejays lose key players in Chatman, Devin Brooks, Ricky Kreklow, Avery Dingman and Will Artino, there is still hope that Creighton is posed for bigger and better things next season.
A return to full health by Zierden, who is a cold-blooded shooter, will only help. Zierden can lead the team with his steady play and he is not afraid to take the big shot. Prior to his injury, Zierden was averaging 9.5 points per game while shooting .396 from three-point territory.
The maturation of senior James Milliken should be something to monitor. Milliken was second on the team in scoring with 9.6 points per game while shooting .385 percent from three-point range. He got hot as the season winded down and did well in the Big East Tournament, scoring 39 points while making seven three pointers in two games. Milliken is an athletic and versatile scorer, whose experience should prove to be beneficial to the Bluejays.
Sophomore big man Toby Hegner showed some promise, too, last season. He, like many Creighton big men before him, can stretch the floor but also bang underneath. Hegner is coming off a season in which he averaged 6.7 points and 3.4 rebounds per game. Expect to see his game progress in the 2015-16 season.
A couple of exciting transfers are also drumming up interest in Omaha for a turnaround next season.
Maurice Watson Jr, a transfer from Boston University, is a dynamic 5’10” point guard who could do a little bit of everything. He is coming off a 2013-14 season in which he averaged 13.3 points, 7.1 assists and 2.1 steals per game. Watson will effectively replace Chatman at lead guard.
Nevada transfer Cole Huff will also provide a veteran presence on the wing. He averaged 12.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game in his last season with Nevada.
McDermott will also welcome in a four-man freshman class highlighted by four-star prospect Justin Patton. Patton is a 6’10” center who has size and skill to be a star. Also, look for redshirt freshman wing Ronnie Harrell to get a lot of run in McDermott’s rotation, as he is a gifted scorer.
McDermott has talent to work with, no doubt, but he is working with a lot of new pieces. Plus, Zierden may not be 100 percent to start the season. On top of all that, Creighton did lose five of the ten players who averaged double-digit in minutes last season. So, an adjustment period is to be expected.
You shouldn’t expect a Big East championship run in Omaha, but a return to being more competitive and a winning season is more than doable for the Bluejays in the 2015-16 season.