2015-16 College Basketball Previews: Creighton Bluejays

Boston University-transfer Maurice Watson Jr. is eligible to play for the Bluejays, after sitting out last season due to transfer regulations, and should give Creighton a much-needed boost in the back court.
Boston University-transfer Maurice Watson Jr. is eligible to play for the Bluejays, after sitting out last season due to transfer regulations, and should give Creighton a much-needed boost in the back court.

For years, the Creighton Bluejays dominated the Missouri Valley Conference, much in part to a guy you may have heard of, unless you live in a pineapple under the sea.

Doug McDermott.

In 2013-14, McDermott’s last season, the Bluejays went 27 – 8 overall, and made it to the Big East tournament finals. They would then advance to the Round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament, befre falling to Baylor.

Last season, their first in the post-Doug era, the Bluejays went just 14 – 19 overall, and 4 – 14 in conference play. Needless to say, Creighton missed having their star on the court.

This season, Creighton is hoping for a resurgence as they look to climb back into contention in the Big East. With a prized transfer eligible this season, and a star guard back to full health, the optimism is there for Creighton. But, will it translate into a winning record on the court?

Only time will tell.

Below, you can find what to expect from this year’s Creighton Bluejays, from who’s departed, to who’s returning, and some key dates on their schedule.

Who’s Missing

It’s not a stretch by any means to say that Coach McDermott and the rest of his staff are missing having Doug McDermott on the roster for the Bluejays. Heading into the 2015-16 season, Creighton will have to adapt to the loss of three key players from a season ago. They may not have the pedigree or talent of what McDermott had when he left after 2013-14, but these three were key cogs in the rotation for the Bluejays in 2014-15.

Big man Will Artino, and guards Devin Brooks and Austin Chatman have all graduated from Creighton, moving on to (hopefully) bigger and better things in their basketball and professional careers. The loss of these three will undoubtedly leave holes in the roster, but come at a time when Creighton has some other players ready to step in, step up, and fill the void.

Austin Chatman will arguably be the biggest loss from last season, and the toughest to replace. In his senior season, Chatman led the Bluejays in scoring, at 11.5 points per contest. He was the only Creighton player to average double-digit points per game last season. He also added 3.5 rebounds and a team-high 3.7 assists per contest.

Big man Will Artino, a 6’11” center from Waukee, IA, will leave a big hole in the rotation for Coach McDermott. Artino never averaged more than 16.2 minutes per game for Creighton over his career, serving as a valuable role player with the Bluejays. In his three seasons, he shot 55.5% or better from the floor, averaging 6.1 points per contest in his senior campaign. He averaged 4.7 rebounds and 0.5 blocks per game, stats that are on the low side given his physical stature.

Lastly, Devin Brooks, the native of Harlem, NY, will leave another hole in the back court alongside the vacant spot left by Chatman. Brooks averaged 7.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game last season, which was arguably one of the best all-around statistical seasons for a Bluejay in 2014-15. In just two seasons with Creighton, Brooks was able to record 478 points while only playing 23.0 minutes or less per game.

These three players aren’t necessarily stars for the Bluejays, but they served a valuable purpose within the rotation and will surely be missed moving forwards.

Freshman forward Leon Gilmore III is also gone from last year’s team. The 6’7” forward decided to transfer from Creighton, and has since committed to Trinity Valley JC.

Who’s Returning

Even with losing the talent that they did, the Creighton Bluejays actually have the look of an improved team heading into the 2015-16 campaign. The players who are back will look to bounce back after a down year in 2014-15, and will get a big boost from a talented transfer from Boston University who can anchor the back court.

Most notably, the Bluejays welcome back guard Isaiah Zierden for his junior season. Creighton is hoping to get a full season out of Zierden, as he has gone down with a season-ending injury in each of the past two seasons.

Last year, Zierden appeared in only 20 games as a sophomore, recording 9.5 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.5 assists per contest. If the native of Minneapolis, MN can stay healthy for the full 2015-16 season, the Bluejays will be a team that should make a move upwards in the Big East standings.

Joining Zierden in the back court is James Milliken, who is returning for his senior season in 2015-16. The native of Siler City, North Carolina was the team’s second-leading scorer in 2014-15, averaging 9.6 points per contest to go along with 2.6 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. He shot 40.6% from the floor and 38.5% from three point range in his first season with Creighton after coming over from Cowley County Community College.

Completing the three-headed monster that is the back court for Creighton this season is Boston University-transfer Maurice Watson, Jr. Watson transferred to Creighton after the 2013-14 season, but sat out last year due to transfer regulations. As a sophomore with the Terriers in 2013-14, Watson averaged 13.3 points, 7.1 assists and 2.1 steals per game.

Watson’s 7.1 assists per game ranked him third in the NCAA. He was a highly coveted transfer player due to his passing ability and court vision, and the Philadelphia, PA native chose to play for the Bluejays. He should slide in and anchor the back court, providing the Bluejays with the floor general style of point guard that they need to run their offense. In addition to his strong offensive game, he brings the tenacity on defense that makes him a dual threat on the court.

Another offensive weapon for the Bluejays this season is University of Nevada transfer Cole Huff. As a sophomore at Nevada, he was an honourable mention on the All-Mountain West team. He averaged 12.4 points, good for 12th in the MWC, and 5.4 rebounds, good for 17th in the conference, in 2013-14 with the Wolfpack. After sitting out last season due to transfer regulations, the 6’8” forward could be the team’s go-to offensive threat this season. With his high intensity play, and offensive abilities, look for Huff to be a constant on stat sheets all season long.

In the front court, insert sophomore big man Toby Hegner into the starting lineup. As a freshman in 2014-15, the Berlin, WI native averaged 6.7 points and 3.4 rebounds per contest while playing in just 19.2 minutes per contest. Look for the 6’10” Hegner and the 7’0” center Geoffery Groselle to rotate at the 5-spot this season.

Projected Starting Five

Guard: Maurice Watson, Jr. (JR)

Guard: Isaiah Zierden (JR)

Guard: James Milliken (SR)

Forward: Cole Huff (JR)

Forward: Toby Hegner (SO)

Schedule Notes

In the early stages of the 2015-16 season, the Bluejays have several opportunities to make a statement and get off to a hot start. They open up with two home games against Texas Southern and UT-San Antonio, both of which Creighton should win.

From there, Creighton will take part in the Gavitt Tipoff Games when they travel to Bloomington, Indiana to take on the Indiana Hoosiers inside the storied Assembly Hall. The Hoosiers are projected by many to me a much-improved team this season, meaning a true road win for Creighton would go a long way in the season.

Creighton will then travel to Las Vegas to take part in the Men Who Speak Up Main Event, opening up the two game mini tournament with a date against Rutgers. Depending on their result, they will either face Clemson or Massachusetts. The Bluejays have three big opportunities to score signature wins for the season, ones that could set the pace for the remainder of the season.

Four more games that could be big contests for the Bluejays are as follows: December 2nd v. Arizona State; December 5th @ Loyola-Chicago; December 9th v. Nebraska; December 19th @ Oklahoma. Wins in any of those games in advance of conference play would do wonders for the confidence of the Bluejays.

With only three true road games on their slate in non-conference play, the home games become more important for Creighton. They cannot afford a lackluster performance against a team they should beat, or it may come back to haunt them around NCAA Tournament time if Creighton finds themselves on the bubble.


 

There are a few question marks surrounding Creighton this season, ones that we may not get full answers until next season. This season should be a positive step for the Bluejays, and it could leave their fans wanting more in 2016-17.

Zierden, Hegner, and Watson should all be in the mix in 2016-17, and the Bluejays get another key transfer player who will be eligible. Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster will don a Bluejays uniform next season, and will bring another element to the offense. If Creighton can outperform expectations this season, and be in contention in the Big East down the stretch, then people will be extra excited for what may come next season.

The Bluejays still miss McDermott, and rightfully so. Here’s to hoping that the Bluejays can become a contender in the Big East this season, and get back to where they were just two years ago.

– T.B.