Creighton Falls to Baylor, But Impresses Over Three-Game Span | Zagsblog
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Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Monday / October 21.
  • Creighton Falls to Baylor, But Impresses Over Three-Game Span

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    By SEAN BOCK

    With the loss of last year’s stars Justin Patton and Maurice Watson, few people were expecting Creighton to be a Top 25-type team coming into the 2017-’18 season.

    During the offseason, head coach Greg McDermott was linked the Ohio State job which would’ve raised more questions marks concerning the program.

    The Bluejays were picked fifth in the Big East Preseason Poll.

    But after two convincing wins against Yale and Alcorn State, McDermott’s team faced three straight ranked opponents and showed why they belong in the Top 25 conversation.

    Wins over No. 20 Northwestern on the road, No. 23 UCLA in the Hall of Fame Classic semifinals, and a loss to No. 22 Baylor Tuesday night in the championship in the past seven days could earn the Bluejays a spot in the upcoming Top-25 poll. Villanova is currently No. 5, Xavier is 15 and Seton Hall is 20.

    Creighton’s early season success starts in the backcourt.

    Senior guard Marcus Foster leads his team in scoring at 18.6 points per game. Playing a backseat role to Watson last year, Foster has proven he can lead and can create opportunities for himself and others on the offensive end.

    Also playing a more prominent role is junior guard Khyri Thomas who is second behind Foster in the scoring department and has shot the ball at an efficient 55 percent clip. The unique thing about Thomas is he gets after it on both ends of the ball.

    On Tuesday night, Thomas held Baylor guard Manu Lecomte to 9 points on 2-0f-8 shooting from the field, frustrating him all game long. Coming into the game, Lecomte was averaging 21.5 points per game, but Thomas made him earn each and every shot attempt.

    It’s nice to have two talented and experienced guards in the starting lineup, but McDermott has the luxury of two young promising backcourt players off the bench as well.

    Two consensus four-star recruits, Ty-Shon Alexander and Mitchell Ballock, weren’t on many people’s top freshmen list.

    After scoring no points in his college debut against Yale, Alexander has picked it up since, averaging 11.5 points in the last four games including a 14-point performance against Northwestern and Bryant McIntosh.

    Ballock, known for his outside scoring, dropped 22 points and went 4-of-9 from behind the arc against UCLA which included a stretch where he scored 10 straight points.

    “I don’t think anybody expects freshmen to perform this well on this stage,” McDermott said after the UCLA game. “But as I’ve stated before, they’re basketball players. They’ve got an innate feel for the game that you don’t really teach. You combine that with the fact that Marcus, Khyri, and Toby and Tyler, in particular, have done an unbelievable job in mentoring them and asking them questions and making sure that they understand that these seniors believe in them. Just go play and if you make a mistake go to the next play.”

    Both Alexander and Ballock bring their own different flavor to the game, which makes the Bluejays’ backcourt that much better.

    The frontcourt is where the most questions lie.

    The 6-foot-9 forward Martin Krampelj is Creighton’s only true healthy contributor down low as Toby Hegner rolled his ankle last week and should be back by early December.

    But the primary focus of McDermott’s offense is the guards, and he has the right guys to fit in his up-tempo style.

    Before conference play starts in late December, the Bluejays still have two more chances to get quality wins on their resume.

    On Dec. 1, the Bluejays will travel Spokane to battle with Gonzaga, a team that lost a lot from last year’s Final Four group but expect to make it back to the NCAA Tournament.

    Two and a half weeks later, UT Arlington, who just lost to No. 25 Alabama by one in Tuscaloosa, comes to Omaha. The Mavericks are one of the premier mid-major programs this year and will do anything in their power to earn a victory against a power five school.

    It’s a testament to McDermott that he’s been able to challenge his team with such a challenging schedule this early on in the season.

    In a loaded conference like the Big East, it’s essential for a team like Creighton to get some reps against top-notch competition in the non-conference portion of the schedule.

    If the Bluejays can stay the course and keep performing like they have been to this point in the season, this team could find themselves having more success than last year’s group.

    Photo: The Associated Press

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