The Jays will open their 2019-20 regular season Tuesday when they face Kennesaw State. But Creighton fans will get to catch a glimpse of this year’s squad before that.
On Friday, CU hosts Division II McKendree for an exhibition game at 7:30 p.m. at the CHI Health Center.
It’s still early. Creighton expects to be a much-improved team in two months. But here are five storylines to watch:
1. Injury report
Sophomore Jacob Epperson broke a bone in his leg during practice last week and he’ll miss the next few months. Senior guard Davion Mintz is working his way back from a high ankle sprain — he’ll be out for Friday’s exhibition, Tuesday’s opener and maybe the season’s second game at Michigan. Junior guard Damien Jefferson’s been dealing some with a leg injury as well, although he has been practicing this week. The Jays won’t be at full strength when they start the season.
2. The backcourt continuity
It’s difficult to quantify the value of experience. But when Marcus Zegarowski, Mitch Ballock, Ty-Shon Alexander and Mintz step out on the floor together, it’s quite clear that there’s something different about the way this offense operates. Which makes sense. About a quarter of the team’s total minutes last year featured a lineup that included those four. They know each other's tendencies and preferences. They’re also extremely unselfish. So even though Mintz will be out of the lineup Friday, that chemistry will be evident.
3. The level of engagement on defense
Lots of Jays know how to score. But can they defend consistently? Can they collectively dig in for a full 30 seconds on a given possession, cutting off driving lanes, helping one another when needed, challenging shots and aggressively pursuing defensive rebounds? It’s been a focus all preseason camp. Coach Greg McDermott said he liked how his players “fought hard on the defensive end” during a closed scrimmage against Missouri Saturday (the final results and stats weren’t disclosed). But it has to be a consistent thing.
4. The freshman guards
Shereef Mitchell and Jalen Windham, both rated as three-star prospects, didn’t make a splash nationally when they committed to CU. But they each seemed to have impressed enough during the preseason to warrant consideration for a rotation spot this winter. Mitchell’s the quick and explosive point guard who defends tenaciously on one end and fearlessly attacks on the other. Windham’s the sharpshooter who at times has torched his teammates in practice. But there’s always a learning curve for rookies.
5. Center Kelvin Jones
Creighton had some difficulty integrating its two most recent graduate transfers into its regular rotation, particularly once it entered the heat of conference play. Big man Manny Suarez averaged just 3.9 minutes in 11 Big East games and guard Connor Cashaw played 10.8 minutes per game in 16 league contests. But the expectations are a little higher for Jones — partly based on need, but also because of his potential. He’s an agile 6-foot-11 center who can block a shot and finish inside. McDermott mentioned that Jones impressed the staff by embracing the game’s contact and physicality during that closed scrimmage against Missouri Saturday.