NEW YORK --- The Creighton Blue Jays have won a combined 46 games in each of the last two seasons. That is the most in a two season stretch for the program since they entered the revamped Big East Conference prior to the start of the 2013-2014 season.
It was very noticeable at Big East Media Day in New York City on Tuesday afternoon, just how confident and excited this Creighton team is for the upcoming season.
Creighton will return each of their top three leading scorers from last season in Ryan Kalkbrenner, Trey Alexander and Baylor Scheierman. These three combined to average 42.3 points per game last season and will provide this Creighton team with a ton of continuity entering the new season. Head Coach Greg McDermott was also very active in the transfer portal this offseason adding Steven Ashworth from Utah State, who was their leading scorer for a team that made the NCAA Tournament a season ago.
Alexander was vocal about just how good of a fit he thought bringing in Ashworth was.
“The best thing for both sides.” Alexander also mentioned that he is focused on slowing things down and living in the moment this season. “I think that’s the biggest thing. At some point you're not going to be able to play Big East basketball and I’m really just trying to have fun with what I’m doing right now.”
That was the same mindset Alexander used during his freshman year after then Blue Jays point guard Ryan Nembhard went down with a wrist injury in the middle of February. Alexander ended that 2021 season playing phenomenal basketball as Creighton's primary ball handler. That Creighton team ended up making it all the way to the Big East Tournament title game in 2021. Alexander also said that a goal of this Creighton team will be to make it back to the final game at MSG this season, along with a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. The two games against reigning regular season and conference tournament champion Marquette are circled on Alexander's calendar, after Marquette got the best of the Blue Jays in both meetings last season.
Big man Ryan Kalkbrenner will also be back for his Senior season in Omaha, and he sounded very excited about the outlook of this Creighton team.
“We have a really balanced team, that’s super unselfish and want everyone’s best shot.”
That target will be on Creighton’s back heading into 2023, as they were voted number two in the Big East preseason poll. The Big East has three different teams ranked in the Preseason AP Top No. 10 including Marquette and Connecticut to go along with the Blue Jays.
Kalkbrenner’s improvement through the first three seasons of his college career have been noticeable, as he went from only playing only 13.8 minutes per game to one of the best rim protectors in the entire country.
There was a lot of chatter coming out of the NBA Draft Combine this past spring, that Kalkbrenner had really been working on his three-point shot and that is something we will see on the floor this season. Kalkbrenner mentioned that when he first got to Creighton, he didn’t necessarily expect to use his three-point shot but in McDermott’s fast high pace system, he always felt like it was something that could be used one day. Kalkbrenner has also really improved from the free throw line over the course of his career, showing he is very capable shooting the basketball.
While expectations were high for Creighton going into last season, there is no reason to think the 2023-2024 Blue Jays can’t be even better. After starting last season 6-0 and starting the season ranked in the Top 10, Creighton suffered a six-game losing streak towards the middle of December. While Kalkbrenner was out for a handful of games during that streak, something just seemed off with Creighton.
Both Alexander and Kalkbrenner seemed very keen on the fact that they have a much better mix of guys this season, which should translate to more victories. Even in a season that featured a six game losing streak, and a 22 point loss in the Big East Tournament quarterfinal, Creighton was still able to make their way to the Elite Eight and almost a Final Four after dropping a heartbreaker to San Diego State.
That game will definitely be used as fuel, knowing the Blue Jays were a few made shots away from reaching the Final Four for the first time in program history.
In the last three years, Creighton has made three NCAA Tournaments with a Sweet 16 and Elite Eight berth during that stretch. This Creighton team headlined by the big three of Alexander, Kalkbrenner and Schiereman is a legitimate team going into 2023-2024.
Let's see if they can take the final step this March.