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Big East Preseason Previews and Predictions: #4 Creighton

Creighton has the best player in the conference, but a step-up in competition and the loss of Greg Echinique will prove to be a challenge for the Jays.

Eric Francis

I'm probably underrating Creighton, but I'm sticking to my guns and predicting the Blue Jays to finish 4th in the Big East. Creighton is one of the best offensive teams in the nation and they'll continue to put up points this year, but the knock on Creighton has always been defense and the loss of key cog Greg Echinique is going to be difficult to overcome.

Last Year: 28-8 Round of 32 in the NCAAs

KenPom: 18th; Offense: 8th; Defense 80th; Tempo: 221st

Key Losses: Greg Echinique (Graduation), Andre Yates (Transfer), Nevin Johnson (Transfer), Josh Jones (Graduation)

Key Additions: Zach Hanson 6'9" Fr PF/C, Toby Hegner 6'10" Fr PF/C, Darian Harris 6'6 Fr SF, Devin Brooks 6'1" Juco PG, Jame Milliken 6'2 Juco SG

Key Returnees: Doug McDermott 6'8 Sr PF, Grant Gibbs 6'5 R-Sr G/F, Austin Chatman 6'0 Jr PG, Jahenns Manigat 6'1 Sr , Will Artino 6'10 Jr C, Avery Dingman 6'6 Jr SF, Ethan Wragge 6'7 Sr PF, Geoffrey Grosselle  7'0 So C

Projected Starting Lineup: PG: Austin Chatman, SG: Jahenns Manigat, SF: Grant Gibbs, PF: Doug McDermott, C: Will Artino

Creighton can flat our shoot and check out these nuggets: 1) they led the nation last year in eFG% and 3P% and were 3rd in 2P%, 2) they have 5 returning players who shot 39.6% or better from three, 3) their worst 3pt shooter regularly shot 35.7%, and 4) every single rotation player had an Ortg of at least 100. I could go on and on that their offense is crazy good but it's not perfect and there are several areas where the Blue Jays are lacking. The Blue Jays do not attack the offensive glass, ranking 269th in securing their own misses. They also do not go to the free throw line that much. Worse news is that the person who was best at those two things in Greg Echinique is gone. The other achilles heel for Creighton is turnovers. They're not horrible, ranking only 120th, but most of those come off of live ball turnovers in the form of steal in which they are 208th at not getting the ball stolen from them.

You might be wondering why I have this offensive juggernaut rated so low. It's because the Big East is a defense-first league and that is where the Blue Jays are lacking. Sure they managed to put up a decent 80th last year after their atrocious 190th the year before, and yes Kenpom actually projects them to rank a solid 53rd this year defensively, but I am a skeptic. Greg Echinique (you may remember him from Rutgers once upon a time) was the heart and sole of the Blue Jay defense. He was 72nd in Blk%. And if you look at Creighton's defensive numbers it's clear that the Blue Jays do not play an aggressive style of defense: 327th in turnovers forced, 326th in steals forced, 287th in block %. What they do well is they do not foul and they defensively rebound. The biggest change came in their 3pt defense where they went from 260th in 2012 to 51st in 2013. Now Kenpom has also shown a number of times that this is the most variable part of defense and that good defense usually limit the number of 3pt attempts but do not have a great amount of control over the opponents %. Teams actually took more threes against Creighton last year than they did the year before. We'll see if this improvement was a statistical blip or a real improvement.

I'm not going to bother discussing Doug McDermott much. Everyone knows who he is and what he can do. But I bet most fans couldn't name three other players on Creighton's team. Some fans might be able to name Grant Gibbs due to his waiver to get a 6th year, but for the most part the rest of the squad is pretty anonymous. Let's start with the aforementioned Gibbs.

Gibbs, like almost all of Creighton's returning players, is a great 3pt shooter knocking down 39.6% of his attempts behind the arc. He is also the leading assist-man for the Jays, dishing 5.8 dimes a game last year. He'll be a part of Creighton's three-guard offense and while he may start at SF being the biggest of the 3 he will also see time at the point guard position.

Starting at point will be junior Austin Chatman. Again, you could write almost an identical write-up. Great three point shooter 42.2% and a valuable dime dropper 4.2 a game last year. However, he's a small guard and has struggled at times against more physical opposition namely the last three games of the year in Wichita St, Cincinnati, and Duke where he posted lines of 1 pt (0% from the field), 8 pts (20% from the field), and 7pts (18% from the field).

The other returning starter at guard is Jahenns Manigat. Ostensibly the SG of the team, he actually shot the worst of the Creighton players at ONLY 35.7%, but seeing as he doesn't provide many assists a SG he is. Backing up the guards will be JuCo transfers Devin Brooks and James Milliken, but JuCos are often very hit or miss. Expect the starters to see the lions share of the minutes while junior Avery Dingle will see time on the wing.

At center, Doug's dad will likely start junior Will Artino. Artino put up impressive numbers in limited minutes though he is rather foul prone. Center will be the biggest key to the season for Creighton. Doug will get his and can go inside, but Echinique's back to the basket presence meant even if you were willing to let Doug get his you still had to worry about a post presence and Creighton's waves of outside shooters. If Artino cannot provide a threat in the post it will be much easier for defenses to shade out on shooters.  Backing up the bigs will be 7 footer Geoffrey Grosselle who battled through injuries as a freshman but did nothing to stand out besides being tall and incoming freshman Zach Hanson. In addition, 6'7 Ethan Wraggle will see time at the 4 and the 5. His height at 44.6% 3P% would make it seem like he's a SF but he's a tough SOB who will guard opposing centers. The other two freshman will likely not see much action and are both candidates for redshirt years.

Creighton certainly has the offense to make this pick look very foolish as the computers love them, but I can't shake that Power Conference Bias and expect the MVC darlings from having a hard time in the rough and tumble Big East. The team that lost 5 games in the MVC will lose at least that many in the Big East.  While Creighton will be a new face to all it's fellow Big East teams, likewise they'll never have prepared for any of the teams they'll be facing.