With a new season comes new expectations. This is especially true for the men’s basketball program for its upcoming season. In last season’s preseason coaches’ poll, the Jays were picked to finish fifth in the Big East. This year’s edition of the Big East preseason coaches’ poll has Creighton picked to finish ninth in the Big East.
Most of this has to do with the Creighton’s departures from last season. Creighton lost its top two players from last season, guards Khyri Thomas and Marcus Foster. The major question facing the Jays is how these two players will be replaced.
This is where two sophomores come into play. Guards Ty-Shon Alexander and Mitch Ballock are set to slide into the starting line-up in place of Thomas and Foster. As freshmen last season, Alexander averaged 5.5 points per game, while Ballock averaged 7.3 points per game. Ballock was named to the Big East all-freshman at the end of last season.
Between the pair, the thing that will be the hardest to do replace is Thomas’s defense. Thomas won back-to-back Big East defensive player of the year awards. With Thomas now out of the picture, coach Greg McDermott knows he will need more out of Alexander and Ballock.
“Coach (McDermott) yells at me every day, so I deal with it in practice. (He’s) mostly telling me that I have to sometimes guard the best player on their team, and I have to lower his numbers down so that we can eventually win the game,” Alexander said.
While both players can expect larger roles on the defensive side of the ball, they also will play a larger role in the offense. Both have shown flashes of their strong shooting ability. Ballock’s ability to create his own shot has grown while he’s been at Creighton, and Alexander has become a reliable ball-handler.
Where the two players have room for improvement is in their efficiency. Combined, Alexander and Ballock shot just 42 percent from the field and 33 percent from the 3-point line last season. After a year of experience and a summer to continue to grow, the pair should improve on these numbers.
Although the Jays lost their two most talented players, the game plan isn’t set to change with new players stepping in. Alexander and Ballock thrive at playing in transition. With their expanded role in the offense, don’t expect coach McDermott to stray away from his fast-paced offense. If anything, expect Creighton to play at an even faster pace this year, similar to how fast they played when former Creighton guard Maurice Watson Jr. played point guard.
Jacob Epperson is another sophomore who will play a key role. Epperson dropped his redshirt in the middle of the season and played in 12 games, filling in for forward Martin Krampelj after he tore his ACL. He ended the season shooting 69 percent from the floor and went 4-for-4 from the 3-point line. A true seven-footer, Epperson is one of only three post players for the Jays this season. With his ability to shoot, Epperson makes a big impact in the pick-and-roll. This often led to easy buckets at the rim for the center, which is one reason for his high shooting percentage.
The combination of Alexander, Ballock and Epperson will likely be the deciding factor on the Jays success this season. If the sophomore trio can build off their successful first season, the Jays should surpass expectations and finish above their projected ninth place Big East ranking.