Creighton basketball: Observations from first 2 games

No. 9 Creighton basketball has started the season as expected, dismantling its first two opponents North Dakota State and Omaha. The two games were different. The Bison kept close with the Jays for the first half, before slipping further behind in the second. Creighton put together a complete game against its city mate Mavericks.

There were a few noticeable things that really stood out in the first few games that show how balanced and multi-faceted this 2020-21 Creighton basketball team is.

Emergence of Christian Bishop and the centers

Christian Bishop was a shoo-in for the center position last year. He was solid throughout the campaign and started to show glimpses of the ability he has as an undersized 6-foot-7 center. So far this year, Bishop has shown he is one of the most improved players in the Big East.

In the first two games, he has led the team in scoring with 16 and 18 points. He has made 76% of his shots. Bishop has also attempted nine free throws, making eight. He was 58% from the line last season.

Aside from his raw statistics, Bishop has shown he’s comfortable inside of the complex Greg McDermott offense. He has been fantastic with the ball in his hands on the perimeter, natural as he played point guard in high school. He’s attacked the basket really well and has shown major strides in the pick-and-roll, a major part of the offense.

Bishop has been a stud defensively. He’s shown he can be a tough defender in the paint despite his size and can guard the perimeter with his athleticism. Creighton doesn’t switch on the perimeter often, but he can be a strength. Jess Settles said repeatedly on the Fox Sports broadcast that he believed Bishop would be one of the best defensive players in the country.

Ryan Kalkbrenner and Jacob Epperson have both come off the bench and changed games. Kalkbrenner with this post-up game and defensive instincts. Epperson as a rebounder and an inside scorer off the pick-and-roll.

McDermott knew he had options to really mix things up with the depth he has at the center position this season. Kalkbrenner and Epperson are two guys that can and have come off the bench and given teams problems because of how different they are from Bishop and each other. It’s hard to matchup with and adjust to three different styles.

Marcus Zegarowski can do more than score

The preseason Big East Player of the Year has struggled to shoot the ball in the first two games, but that has not stopped him from impacting the game. He’s averaged 8.5 assists in the first two games.

His ball movement and court vision have always been great and a lot of that has led to opportunities for him to score himself. But with his cold shooting, 27% on threes, he has resorted to a playmaking first role.

This evolution should open up the game more for himself and the team. Defenses know he will not shoot this poorly the whole season. They will still try to run him off the three-point line and force him to create for other people.

Zegarowski has shown that he can do that, notably through the pick-and-roll with Bishop. He can be that facilitator that this offense sometimes desperately needs without a pass-first point guard like Maurice Watson Jr. If he continues to improve his ability to facilitate the entire season, this offense evolves to heights it reached in 2016-17 when it was top 10 nationally in points per game.

Denzel Mahoney is that second star

Denzel Mahoney showed last season that he can make the jump from being a scorer in the Ohio Valley to the Big East. He was the Big East Sixth Man of the Year last season after scoring in double figures.

This season they need him to start and fill the voids offensively and defensively that Ty-Shon Alexander left. After missing the season opener, Mahoney showed he can be that second scorer next to Zegarowski. He shot 6 of 9 from the field against Omaha for 17 points, including five threes.

He’s shown in the past that he can take over games with his scoring. He was the key reason Creighton basketball was able to beat Seton Hall in both meetings last season. The Jays need him to score like that consistently and give them 15 points per game if they want to achieve their Final Four aspirations.

Final thoughts

  • Shereef Mitchell has been crazy efficient off the bench in the first two games. He’s not much of an offensive threat but will be an excellent defender and glue guy that can come in and affect games.
  • Antwann Jones CAN be the scorer that Creighton needs off the bench but will he? He put up 11 points in the first half against the Bison, none in the second. Same but flip halves against the Mavs. He needs more consistency.
  • Jeff Goodman reported that all transfers in Division 1 will be eligible, pending a vote by the NCAA. Alex O’Connell, Duke transfer, would be eligible and provide a huge shooting boost off the bench at the wing positions. That is something Creighton could really use.
  • I sent a tweet about this but Creighton basketball is 20th in the country in free-throw shooting percentage on 13.5 attempts a game. They were 279th in the country in 2018-19 and 74th in 2019-20. That wins games.