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No. 16 Creighton’s season on the ropes after blowout by Georgetown

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Creighton, without Mo Watson, is lost.

It’s expected, and it’s understandable, and most of all it’s a cruel twist in what should have been the best season in the history of the program.

But it’s a truth that head coach Greg McDermott is going to have to confront head-on if he wants the Bluejays to have a chance to make any noise this season.

No. 16 Creighton was smoked on Wednesday night by a Georgetown team that was 1-6 in the Big East and, prior to Wednesday, had lost to 16 straight Big East opponents not named DePaul or St. John’s; it’s been 364 days since the Hoyas beat the Bluejays in the Verizon Center last season. The final score was 71-51, but it didn’t feel all that close mostly because it never felt like the Bluejays were going to find a way to consistently get good shots, let alone score.

Creighton shot 35.1 percent from the floor, a number that drops to 25 percent when you remove Justin Patton’s 9-for-13 from the equation. The Bluejays were 1-for-18 from three, which is a disaster for a team that, even with a game-and-a-half without Watson on the books, was the 10th best offense, according to KenPom, and the nation’s ninth-best three-point shooting team.

And therein lies the problem for the Bluejays.

This team was built to play a certain way, and they just cannot play that way anymore.

“Maurice is a really good player. It’s not just me, he made the game easier for Coach Mac, me and all of my other teammates,” star center Justin Patton said. “We need to find a different way. When we stepped on campus on June 6th, we didn’t know what type of team we were, but we figured it out. Then we lost Maurice, and it’s like we’re back in that same position again.”

Since Watson, who was leading the nation in assists and found himself on every midseason all-american list, went down, the Bluejays have been using a point guard-by-committee. They’ve started Isaiah Zierdan, a senior sharpshooter that understands how to play but lacks the physical ability to get into the lane and draw defenders the way Watson could. Davion Mintz is a freshman that looked as promising in the loss to Marquette – 17 points and eight assists – as he did in-over-his-head against the Hoyas.

It got to the point that Creighton gave former walk-on Tyler Clement major minutes as McDermott tried to find an answer.

“We’re going to need some young guys to grow up really fast,” McDermott said. “We have to have guys step up and play better, and some guys are being asked to play a role they’ve never played at any point in their career. It’s tough to do that in late January.”

Oddly enough, in a blowout loss that was a deflating dose of reality, Creighton may have found an answer, although it wasn’t exactly hiding.

It’s Patton.

A redshirt freshman that had jettisoned himself from being a relative unknown to a potential lottery pick, he had 20 points and seven boards against the Hoyas, showing off a dominant array of post moves and looking unstoppable at times. This isn’t the first time he’s played this way, either, and that may be the future of this Creighton program.

If run-and-gun doesn’t work, maybe force-feeding the ball to the best big man in the conference will.

“Justin is not going to be able to make freshman mistakes for us to progress like we need to progress,” McDermott said. “That’s not fair to him. He’s a freshman. He’s 19 years old. He’s supposed to be able to make those mistakes, but our situation is different than it was before.”

The danger in that, however, is that there are essentially six weeks left in the season. Even if McDermott wanted to overhaul what Creighton does offensively, it’s not exactly feasible. At this point in the season, college basketball teams aren’t grinding through practices the way they did earlier in the season. There’s some skill work and some conditioning, but for the most part, these practices are made up of game-planning and prepping to play against their upcoming opponents while dealing with cross-country travel and two games a week.

In other words, installing a new offense now is more difficult than figuring out how to tweak what they do to fit the personnel that is still available.

“I don’t think you can take down and start over,” McDermott said. “We need more time to make the changes that we have to make. But we’e two thirds into the season, we can’t be pounding them into the ground, especially with the injuries and illness we’ve had. It’s tough, but the reality is we have to keep doing it.”

“We just gotta play together without Maurice for a little bit longer,” Patton added, “and we’ll be fine.”

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

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Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.

Welsh and Holiday returning to UCLA

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UCLA sustained some major, though expected, attrition from its roster this spring. On Tuesday, the Bruins announced a pair of significant contributors that will be back.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will both return next season to the UCLA program, according to the school.

Welsh, a 7-foot center, averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior last year for the Bruins. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and blocked 1.2 shots per game, and decided to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent before ultimately deciding to return to Westwood.

“Thomas has worked hard all spring,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season.

“Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season’s draft.”

The 6-foot-1 Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists last season while sharing a backcourt with Lonzo Ball, whose departure, along with those of TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave UCLA with a very different look next season. The positive results, however, may not fluctuate too significantly with Welsh and Holiday coming back to play alongside two five-star recruits, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as Lonzo’s younger brother LiAngelo.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

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West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Key returning to Alabama for sophomore season

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Alabama’s top scorer is returning to school.

Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.

“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.

“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.

Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance. 

Report: Justin Jackson to return to Maryland

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Maryland forward Justin Jackson is expected to return to school for his sophomore season, according to a report from FanRag Sports.

Jackson is an intriguing talent, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that shoots 44 percent from three. But he’s also still developing his offensive game and consistency on the defensive end of the floor, which is why he was projected as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

With Jackson back in the fold, Maryland is a borderline top 25 team. They lost Melo Trimble to the professional ranks, but that’s something that Mark Turgeon has prepared for. With a sophomore class that also includes highly-regarded point guard Anthony Cowan and sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, the Terps have a promising season ahead of them.