Creighton took a big leap forward last season. The Bluejays went from last place the year prior to being squarely in the mix for an NCAA Tournament bid.
The Bluejays figure to pick up where they left off. Many pundits expect them to be ranked in the top 25 when the season begins. Coach Greg McDermott is bringing back key pieces (Maurice Watson, Isaiah Zierden) to go along with a few promising newcomers (Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster, redshirt freshman Justin Patton) that have the fans in Omaha buzzing about going dancing again.
Can the Bluejays get back to the NCAA Tournament after a two-year hiatus?
If they effectively answer the following five questions, they will be well on their way.
— Creighton Basketball (@BluejayMBB) July 22, 2016
5. Can Cole Huff demonstrate more consistency?
Although Huff averaged a respectable 11.3 points per game last season, he shot just 43.4 percent from the field, and often disappeared on offense.
Last season, Huff scored more than 15 points (including an incredible showing in the Big East Tournament, when he went for 35 against Seton Hall) six times, while conversely scoring five points or fewer (including two times being held scoreless) on seven different occasions.
All Huff has to provide Creighton is greater consistency as a scorer while not being too dependent on the three-ball (although to be fair, he shot a healthy 36.3 percent from three-point range). The long, rangy athlete can be an asset when he is on top of his game.
If Huff can become more consistent, it would go a long way in cementing Creighton as a Big East contender.
4. Can redshirt freshman forward Justin Patton make an impact?
After sitting out last season and picking up the finer nuances of the game, Patton is finally ready for his close-up.
If you recall, Patton was highly thought of when coming out of high school. 247Sports ranked him the No. 87 recruit in the 2015 class. Patton is a versatile face-up forward who can work inside and out—in other words, he is the perfect big man for McDermott’s system.
— Patrick Marshall (@wildjays) July 19, 2016
Presumably, he was given the year to bulk up and get adjusted to the physical stylings of the Big East. It may take a little while for Patton to acclimatize to his role, but he possesses a limitless ceiling and could be a big part of the Bluejays’ 2016-’17 plans.
3. Will Zach Hanson and Toby Hegner get the job done down low?
While Patton gets caught up to speed, McDermott will rely on upperclassmen Hanson and Hegner to provide stability in the frontcourt.
With McDermott losing the services of steady center Geoffrey Groselle, he will look to Hanson and Hegner to be the bridge for the program, before Patton and redshirt freshman Martin Krampelj are ready to produce consistently.
All Hanson and Hegner have to do is provide substantial effort on defense and the glass. While not overly talented, Hanson and Hegner can serve a purpose this year if they rebound and play within the system.
2. How good can Marcus Foster be?
To put it in simpler terms, believe the hype.
The high-scoring guard can erupt at a moment’s notice and will likely become McDermott’s go-to-scorer in November. After a fantastic freshman campaign at Kansas State, Foster struggled in his sophomore season, although averaging 12.5 points is nothing to sneeze at.
He came to Creighton looking for a fresh start. After spending a year on the sidelines, Foster is like a horse lining up at the gates at the Kentucky Derby. Expect him to sprint his way toward instant success.
1. Can Maurice Watson put it all together and capture Big East Player of the Year?
Watson took to the Big East like a fish to water last season. The Boston University transfer had a seamless transition while playing up to expectations—and then some.
Considering the Big East lost Kris Dunn, Ben Bentil, Isiah Whitehead and others, Watson will head into the upcoming season as a favorite for Big East Player of the Year. (Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins will have something to say about the matter.)
This being his senior year, Watson has all the ammo (a difference-maker at shooting guard — Foster — and solid role players such as Zierden and Huff) to make this a memorable season, which in turn to could lead to major hardware.