The Creighton women’s basketball team could be facing a step up in conference competition next season as it moves to the new Big East.
What the Bluejays’ won’t be experiencing is a step down outside of the league. Coach Jim Flanery said he has no intentions of lightening the nonconference load he’s been willing to subject his teams to in the past.
“It’s going to be hard, but if not next year, when would we play a really hard nonconference schedule?” said Flanery, whose team will return all but one key contributor. “And I think our players will buy in after seeing how rewarded we were for playing a tough schedule this season.”
Creighton went 8-3 in nonconference play this season, which probably was the difference in the Bluejays earning their second at-large NCAA tournament berth in program history.
“And we not only got in,” Flanery said, “but we got in as a 10 seed. That was a direct result of who we played in the nonconference.”
Flanery said he still has two nonconference games to schedule, but next season’s three road games will be at Nebraska, Oklahoma and Kansas. All three schools made it to the Sweet 16 of this season’s NCAA tournament.
Creighton’s home schedule will include games against Minnesota, South Dakota State, Brigham Young and Florida. The Gators will visit Omaha in order to allow Vicky McIntyre, a Marian High School graduate, to play in her hometown.
The Bluejays’ nonconference schedule could actually carry a higher degree of difficulty than what they’ll face in their new conference. The seven schools that broke away from the old Big East to form the next conference are a mixed bag of women’s basketball talent.
Four of the teams — Marquette, Seton Hall, Providence and Georgetown — finished in the bottom half of the 15-team league and didn’t make the conference tournament. St. John’s, DePaul and Villanova made the NCAA tournament but lost in the first round.
Flanery’s assessment of the new conference, which also will include Butler and Xavier, is that it should be a good women’s basketball league. Will it be better top to bottom than the Missouri Valley, the conference Creighton is leaving?
“That’s the unknown,” he said.
What Flanery does know is he will return a veteran team that has played in the NCAA tournament each of the past two seasons while winning a total of 45 games. The only player Creighton loses is senior Ally Jensen, one of the team’s top perimeter shooting threats.
The Bluejays do return four starters, including a pair in Sarah Nelson and Marissa Janning that earned first-team all-conference honors last season. Janning led Creighton in scoring as a freshman, while Nelson led the team in rebounding and finished second in scoring and assists.
Other starters back are guard McKenzie Fujan, who might have been the team’s most versatile scorer the second half of the season, and 6-foot-3 center Alyssa Kamphaus.
“McKenzie had a great end of the year, and we’re all excited about what we think she can be next year,” Flanery said. “She’s that big, strong guard that can score from all three areas of the court.”
Carli Tritz, a starter until a chronic knee problem cut into her effectiveness, headlines a group of productive reserves.
Creighton also will return Taylor Johnson, who missed all of this season with a knee injury after finishing fourth on the team in scoring as a freshman. Brianna Rollerson redshirted as a freshman and is expected to add some depth to the front line.
“We’re going to have individual meetings next week and talk to each of them as to where we think they can get better,” Flanery said. “The good thing is that we have enough players back that everyone should be excited about improvement.
“When you only have a limited number coming back, players are usually smart enough to know they’re going to play no matter what. I don’t think anyone on our roster is going to be thinking they’re going to get 30 minutes handed to them next year.”
Tritz might be the most intriguing piece to the puzzle. She earned first-team all-conference honors as a sophomore and came into the 2012-13 season considered the best player on the team.
But the knee problem that plagued her at times during her first two seasons in the program grew progressively worse as the season went along. Janning replaced her in the starting lineup in February, and Tritz wound up averaging 6.8 points in 25 minutes per game.
Flanery said he intends to talk with Tritz about defining the role she’ll play as a senior.
“My challenge to her will be really specific on how you can help us,” Flanery said. “Maybe it’s get into the weight room, bulk up and maybe you can guard a four (forward) next year. She’s improved as a 3-point shooter, but we need her to be able to shoot more of them at a better percentage.
“The good news is that she can be more specific in how she can help us next year. She went into this year thinking she was going to be sophomore year Carli or better. Now she knows what she can’t do, but she also knows what she can do. She needs to get better at the things she can do to help us.”
Flanery said Tritz probably will undergo a procedure during the offseason in which synthetic cartilage is injected into her knee to relieve some of the bone-on-bone pain. He underwent a similar procedure last year without great success.
“Other people have experienced better results,” he said. “But it’s not a miracle cure. It’s more of a Band-Aid.”
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