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UConn men’s basketball 2022-23 opponent preview: Creighton

Greg McDermott and the Bluejays have a chance to be the class of the Big East this season.

NCAA Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-Creighton vs Villanova Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Fast Facts

Head Coach: Greg McDermott (13th season as head coach)

2021-22 Record: 23-12 (12-7 Big East)

2021-22 Conference finish: Fourth

Final 2021-22 Ranking: No. 50

2022-23 Conference Coaches Poll Ranking: First

2022-23 AP Preseason Poll Ranking: No. 9

2022-23 KenPom Rating: No. 22

2021-22 in review

Creighton put together a solid, if unspectacular, season, going 23-12 and 12-7 in the Big East with a handful of impressive wins — a 20-point win over Villanova and two close wins over UConn to remain undefeated against the Huskies all-time. The Bluejays got hot in February, winning seven of nine, including six in a row, to vault up the Big East standings.

McDermott and Creighton relied largely on a group of underclassmen that outperformed initial expectations last season in Arthur Kaluma, Ryan Nembhard and big man Ryan Kalkbrenner. Nembhard went on to win Big East Freshman of the Year after averaging 11.3 points and 4.4 assists per game. Kaluma was a force on both ends and averaged 10.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game as a matchup problem, especially in transition. Kalkbrenner established himself as one of the Big East’s best big men, averaging 2.6 blocks per game, claiming Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors and was one of the most efficient scorers in the country per KenPom.

This young Bluejays team may not have been experienced, but punched above their weight all season, even after losing Nembhard to an injury just prior to the Big East Tournament. Creighton fell to Villanova in the Big East Tournament title game, then narrowly beat San Diego State in overtime of the first round of the NCAA Tournament, but lost Kalkbrenner early in overtime with a knee injury. With no Kalkbrenner and Nembhard, the Bluejays hung tight with eventual national champion Kansas, but fell to the Jayhawks 79-72 in the second round.

2022-23 preview

Despite losing some quality contributors in Alex O’Connell and Ryan Hawkins, McDermott managed to bring back the entire core of Nembhard, Kaluma and Kalkbrenner — an impressive feat in its own right in the transfer portal era. To help give the Bluejays a shot at their first-ever Big East Tournament title, McDermott landed arguably the best offensive transfer available in South Dakota State product Baylor Scheierman.

Scheierman, a 6-foot-7 senior guard, adds elite 3-point shooting (46 percent last season) and experience to an already talented squad. He was the only player in Division I to lead his team in both assists and rebounds last season and has already shown he can produce against high-major talent, scoring 18 points in an opening-round NCAA tournament loss to Providence last season. At a minimum, Scheierman, a Preseason All-Big East Honorable Mention, should be one of the best shooters in the conference and add an entirely new dimension to an offense that shot just 30.8 percent from deep last year and is a big reason why the Bluejays are No. 9 in the preseason AP poll.

Kalkbrenner was named to the Preseason All-Big East First Team and joins UConn big man Adama Sanogo on the Kareem Abdul Jabbar Award Watchlist, given annually to college basketball’s best center. The now 7-foot-1 junior seemed to be a little slighted by Sanogo being named Big East Player of the Year, adding even more juice to what should be at least two matchups between some of the conference’s best big men.

Bottom line

Creighton is the favorite to win the Big East this season with the trio of Nembhard, Kaluma and Kalkbrenner back and top transfer Scheierman now in the mix. Even if Kalkbrenner doesn’t make as big of a leap as he did last season, he remains one of the best bigs in the conference and a force on the defensive end. The addition of Scheierman should stretch the floor enough to give the likes of Nembhard and Kaluma opportunities to get into the lane. With Villanova adjusting to life under Kyle Neptune and UConn and Xavier experiencing their own turnover, Creighton has their best chance yet to win their first Big East tournament title and is a dark horse Final Four team come March and April.