It’s going to be more about quality than quantity this season for Creighton’s Maurice Watson Jr.
Watson established himself as one of the Big East’s top point guards in his first year with the Bluejays. No one on the team played more minutes or took more shots.
He’ll get more help this season with the arrival of Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster and a stronger supporting cast.
“Last year everybody in the building, when it was late in the shot clock or end-of-game situations, knew Maurice had to create for us, whether it was for himself or a teammate,” coach Greg McDermott said. “Marcus takes a lot of pressure off him.”
Foster played 62 games over two seasons for K-State , averaging 14.1 points and 2.2 assists. NCAA transfer rules required him to sit out last season. He gives the Bluejays another proven scorer and a defender capable of guarding the opponent’s best player.
The 22nd-ranked Bluejays also have freshman Davion Mintz and veterans Isaiah Zierden and Khyri Thomas in their deep backcourt. Mintz probably will back up Watson. Zierden is one of the top perimeter threats, and the versatile Thomas is coming off a strong finish to last season.
“We don’t have a two-man backcourt,” Watson said. “We might have two leaders. What’s the tree without the branches and stems? The whole backcourt has pieces. We lean on (Thomas) and Isaiah and Ronnie (Harrell) and Davion and Kobe (Paras) just as the team leans on me and Marcus to be the leaders.”
This is still Watson’s team . The Bluejays would love for him to duplicate his averages of 14.1 points and a Big East-leading 6.5 assists. His priority is to improve his 29.7-percent 3-point shooting and cut down his turnovers. Watson was among only three players in the conference to commit more than 100.
“I’ve challenged him to become a better shooter,” McDermott said. “And some of his decisions. If we can eliminate 1 or 1 ½ of those turnovers, now you get to a 3-1 assist-turnover ratio. Then you combine that with him shooting the basketball and controlling the game with his speed and quickness. That’s what we need.”
Some other things to know about Creighton:
RISING IN BIG EAST?
Big East coaches picked the Bluejays to finish third behind defending national champion and fourth-ranked Villanova and No. 7 Xavier. “It wasn’t long ago that we were picked ninth, and given the choice, I like this level of expectation a little bit better because is usually means you’ve got some good players,” McDermott said.
The Bluejays dealt with a lot of injuries last season and are just starting to get healthy. Zierden injured his shoulder in February, had surgery and was held out of basketball activity for four months. Forward Cole Huff injured a knee in January, had surgery and has been limited in practice. Center Zach Hanson had summer knee surgery and is slowly coming back.
The Bluejays, who open Nov. 11 against UMKC, face a tough early test with a Nov. 15 home game against No. 9 Wisconsin. They play back-to-back home games against 2016 Mid-American Conference tournament champion Buffalo and runner-up Akron and have road games against in-state rival Nebraska and Arizona State. Their second Big East game is on New Year’s Eve at home against Villanova.
Creighton has won 20 or more games in 16 of the last 18 seasons. Only Duke, Gonzaga and Kansas have had 20 or more wins each of the last 18 years, and four other teams have hit the mark 17 times.
Creighton led non-Power Five schools in attendance last season, ranking 10th nationally with an average of 15,941 at CenturyLink Center. It was the fifth straight season the Bluejays have been in the top 10 and 11th straight in the top 25.