Creighton basketball: Three things to watch for in the new season

Creighton basketball enters the 2020-21 season with the “Unfinished Business” mantra. The Bluejays ended last season in their locker room, being told not to come back out for the second half of their Big East quarterfinal game against St. John’s. It was a sour ending to a season where they went 24-7, finished ranked seventh in the AP Poll and captured their first Big East regular season championship.

This Bluejay team enters this season with lofty expectations after its success from a year ago. Creighton comes in as the preseason 11th ranked team in the country and voted to finish second in the conference, all led by head coach Greg McDermott.

There are questions for this team heading into the new season, the one they start on Nov. 29 against North Dakota State in Omaha.

What type of Creighton defense will we see this year?

The Jays a season ago were much-improved defensively. In 2018-19, they gave up 73.2 points per game, 224th in the country. Last season, the average dropped to 69.7, ranking 192nd.

The defense has never been the focal point for a team that is one of the best offensively in the country but last season they really dug in on that end. It won them games down the stretch. Give credit to assistant coach Paul Lusk, who is described as the defensive coordinator for the team.

If Creighton wants to reach the Final Four aspirations it wants to hit, it needs to mimic what it did last season defensively. The Bluejays lost their best defender in Ty-Shon Alexander, who consistently locked up other team’s stars last season.

Who will do that this season? It will more than likely be a cooperative effort, but the team will turn to Damien Jefferson and Denzel Mahoney to be their lead defenders on the floor.

Who will step up offensively?

Alexander was the leading scorer on the team with 17 points last season. Who can Creighton turn to replace his scoring?

The Jays will have one of the best players in the country again this season in Marcus Zegarowski. The junior averaged 16 points per game while shooting 42% from three. He’s an excellent scorer at all three levels and will lead the team in scoring in 2020-21.

Mahoney is predicted to slide into the starting lineup after winning the conference sixth man of the year award. He averaged 18 points per game before transferring to Creighton. With more minutes this season, we should see an increase in his production this season after his 12 points per game from a season ago

The Jays will have Memphis transfer Antwann Jones this season. He sat out last season but was a solid role player as a freshman for Penny Hardaway’s squad two in 2019.

Factor in Jefferson and Mitch Ballock and Creighton has a dynamic and balanced offense n 2020-21.

What will the center position look like?

Creighton will finally have a center group that is long, dynamic and deep.

Christian Bishop returns after starting last season. Jacob Epperson looks to be healthy for the first time in two seasons and they added Ryan Kalkbrenner, a top-100 recruit in the 2020 class. All three offer something different and will see playing time this season.

Bishop is undersized at 6-foot-7 but plays a lot bigger with his athleticism and motor. He’s also a very good passer. Epperson is a lob threat offensively with his bounce and a solid rebounder. Kalkbrenner is a very mobile big, who excels on defense with his shot-blocking ability.

I would think Bishop starts because of his familiarity with McDermott’s offensive system and the success from a season ago. But Creighton has never seen a big man room with this much talent under McDermott.

With more length at the center, the Jays should be better in the pick and roll and defending around the basket, two areas they really struggled in last year.

Final Thoughts

Creighton is a deeper and more balanced team than a year ago. It will be a great team shooting the ball as it usually is, will continue to improve defensively and have natural centers to offer them something different and fix problems they had a season ago.

The Bluejays have already lost a few games with COVID-19 issues inside of the program and had to shut down practice for a week. It sets them back and without exhibition and closed scrimmage, they may be a little slow to start the season.

This team has all the ammunition necessary to make a deep run into the NCAA Tournament if they avoid the injury bug that has plagued them for years.

Photo courtesy of