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Creighton lands Duke transfer Alex O’Connell

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Creighton got a commitment from Duke transfer Alex O’Connell on Wednesday.

The junior guard announced his decision on Twitter. O’Connell spent the past three seasons as a role player with the Blue Devils. The former top-75 consensus recruit might finally have a chance to earn consistent minutes. This will be a fresh start for O’Connell in the Big East.

O’Connell received, at most, 14 minutes per game at Duke. That came as a sophomore. O’Connell never cracked the main Duke lineup because talented freshmen often took opening spots. This past season, O’Connell lost confidence as a perimeter shooter. The 6-foot-6 wing put up 5.5 points and 2.2 rebounds per contest in 13.3 minutes of action per game. But O’Connell’s shooting numbers dipped. He was only at 40 percent from the floor and 27 percent from three-point range. That’s a huge drop from the 48 percent he shot from three as a freshman.

With Creighton, O’Connell gets a new opportunity. And his addition to the Bluejays could be an interesting fit. In head coach Greg McDermott’s offense, O’Connell could see a lot of open perimeter looks. Creighton often has a number of floor-spacing options on the floor. That should enable O’Connell to step in and play his part right away. If O’Connell can find his confidence again, he’s another dangerous weapon to space the floor with.

Although O’Connell never got going with Duke, he has a chance to finish his college career on a high note. And with Creighton coming off a Big East title, Alex O’Connell could be a strong fit as they try to stay among the league’s top teams.

College basketball’s top available graduate transfers

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Graduate transfers are a huge part of college basketball recruiting.

Grabbing a college-ready player who can come in and be productive right away is a common practice for some teams. And with recruiting getting hectic this offseason thanks to the COVID-19 outbreak, graduate transfers look like an even safer option since college coaches can easily watch last season’s game film as other recruits can’t visit campus.

Here’s a look at the top ten available graduate transfers left this offseason. All ten of these players should be able to come in and contribute right away next season.

Matt Haarms, Purdue

The 7-foot-3 center surprised many with his decision to transfer. Haarms became one of the most coveted graduate transfers in college hoops. The main reason? The past three years, Haarms averaged at least two blocks per game. He’s a two-year starter in the middle for a successful Big Ten program. Finding immediate help with rim protection isn’t common on the graduate transfer market. Particularly from a big man who also averaged around nine points per game and shot above 52 percent the past two seasons. Over 20 schools have already reached out to Haarms since he entered the transfer portal. It’ll be fascinating to see Haarms in a new situation.

Bryce Aiken, Harvard

Aiken will close out his injury-plagued career at the highest level. This comes after a successful stint at Harvard where Aiken was a two-time first-team All-Ivy selection. As a junior last season, Aiken put up 22.2 points, 2.9 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. This season, Aiken missed all but seven games due to a foot injury. Health will be a factor for Aiken. Across the past three college seasons he’s only played 39 total games. But Aiken’s a former consensus top-100 recruit and a dynamic playmaker at lead guard. He should be able to step in and become an impact player right away. Aiken has been linked to Iowa State, Maryland, Michigan and Seton Hall.

Justin Turner, Bowling Green

A two-time first-team All-MAC selection, Turner is the best pure scorer among graduate transfers. Turner put up 18.8 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game last season. He’s a 36 percent three-point shooter who can create shots on his own. The 6-foot-4 guard should be able to handle high-major competition right away. Turner had a 26-point outburst on LSU early in the season. Iowa State, Marquette and Missouri are the three schools left on Turner’s list. Returning to Bowling Green is also an option.

Jordan Bruner, Yale

Bruner is down to Alabama, Baylor and Maryland. The 6-foot-9 big man was a double-double threat every game the past two seasons. Bruner made first-team All-Ivy status by putting up 10.9 points and 9.2 rebounds per game this season. The junior had an impressive three-game double-double stretch mid-season against UMass, Clemson and North Carolina. Bruner also shows intriguing skill at 32 percent from three-point range and 3.8 assists per game.

Jalen Tate, Northern Kentucky

The 6-foot-6 Tate is the premier two-way wing left among grad transfers. He’s reigning Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year. Tate improved on offense enough the past two seasons to also become a consistent double-figure scoring threat. Tate put up 13.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game last season. High-majors have shown interest in Tate, including Arkansas, Cincinnati (where former coach John Brennan is now head coach), Penn State, Virginia Tech and Wichita State.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – MARCH 14: Davion Mintz #1 of the Creighton Bluejays is defended by Kyle Castlin #2 of the Xavier Musketeers in the second half during the Quarterfinals of the 2019 Big East men’s basketball tournament at Madison Square Garden on March 14, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

Davion Mintz, Creighton

Mintz sat out this past season with injury. He likely fell out of the starting picture following breakthrough Creighton’s Big East title season. Starting 79 games his first three seasons, Mintz is a consistent backcourt rotation piece at the high-major level. As a junior, the 6-foot-3 Mintz averaged 9.7 points, 3.0 assists and 3.0 rebounds per game. Mintz only announced his transfer four days ago, so a recruiting list hasn’t become available yet. Expect Mintz to hear from a large number of suitors.

Amauri Hardy, UNLV

Consistent scoring is what the 6-foot-2 Hardy brings to the table. A double-figure bucket-getter for the Runnin’ Rebels the past two seasons, Hardy can fill it up. As a junior, Hardy scored 14.5 points and dished out 3.3 assists per game as a third-team all-league selection. Hardy can play both backcourt spots and that’s part of his appeal. But Hardy could seek a situation where he plays with the ball in his hands. Hardy maintains a large list of high-major suitors at this point in the process as he hasn’t cut a list.

Mike Smith, Columbia

Leading the Ivy League in scoring last season, Smith is one of the top microwave scoring graduate transfers. Smith put up 22.8 points, 4.5 assists and 4.1 rebounds last season for the Lions. Smith had to do it all on a very bad team. That didn’t slow him down from big games against tough competition. Smith tallied double-figures against Wake Forest, Virginia and St. John’s in non-conference play. He averaged 36 points per game in two contests against Harvard and dropped 37 on Yale the final time he played them. Smith will struggle to adapt defensively thanks to his generously-listed 5-foot-11 size. But he’s capable of putting up points or running an offense. Michigan, Northwestern and Seton Hall remain seriously involved.

Rapolas Ivanauskas, Colgate

This former Patriot League Player of the Year is a hot recent name to enter the transfer portal. Ivanauskas just entered a few days ago. According to Brian Snow of 247 Sports, Cincinnati, Dayton, Georgetown and Maryland have all reached out. A former Northwestern recruit who thrived at Colgate, the 6-foot-10 Ivanauskas put up 13.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. Ivanauskas shot 43 percent from three-point range two seasons ago and brings a solid perimeter-shooting element to his game.

Charles Minlend, San Francisco

A known scorer, Minlend leaves the Dons after leading the team in points this past season. Averaging 14.4 points and 4.7 rebounds per game, the 6-foot-4 Minlend can do tons of damage off the dribble. Minlend scored in double-figures in all three games against Gonzaga last season (twice scoring 20-plus) while also going for double-figures in all three games against Pac-12 competition. Minlend has a long list of high-major schools in pursuit.

No. 11 Creighton claims share of Big East title with win over No. 8 Seton Hall

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OMAHA, Neb. — Marcus Zegarowski made all five of his 3-pointers and finished with 23 points to lead No. 11 Creighton to a share of the Big East Conference regular-season title with a 77-60 victory over No. 8 Seton Hall on Saturday.

The Bluejays (24-7, 13-5) claimed all or part of their first conference title since winning the Missouri Valley outright in 2012-13. They joined the Big East the next season.

Creighton has won 11 of its last 13 games and, because it swept the season series against the Pirates, will be the No. 1 seed in the Big East Tournament in New York next week.

The Bluejays finished the game on a 21-6 run, with the sellout crowd of more than 18,000 at CHI Health Center growing louder as the clock wound down. Students stormed the court after the final buzzer, and a Big East banner was unfurled from the rafters moments later.

Seton Hall (21-9, 13-5) lost its last two games and will be the No. 3 seed in the conference tournament. Villanova also won a share of the regular-season title and is the No. 2 seed.

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Denzel Mahoney came off the bench to score 16 points for the Bluejays, and Ty-Shon Alexander had 15 points along with playing a superb defensive game against Seton Hall star Myles Powell.

Powell and Quincy McKnight each scored 15 points for the Pirates and Jared Rhoden added 12.

Seton Hall controlled the pace of the game against the Big East’s highest-scoring team, but the Bluejays were able to pull away late.

Billed by local media as the biggest home game in Creighton program history, fans showed up early and the student section was vocal, chanting “Let’s Go Jays” as the Bluejays ran onto the court before pregame introductions.

Alexander got the crowd on its feet right away, stealing the ball from Powell on the opening possession and converting a fast-break pass from Damien Jefferson into an easy layin. Then, after Powell appeared to shed Alexander on a ball screen, Alexander caught him from behind to block his layup try.

The half ended tied 32-all, and it was close until the Bluejays began taking control midway through the second half. Zegarowski drove the length of the court and snaked his way through the lane for a finger-roll layin to break a 50-50 tie, and the Bluejays never surrendered the lead.

Tension spilled over late when Jefferson and Sandro Mamukelashvili were chest to chest in the final 2 minutes. Mamukelashvili tried to shove Jefferson, Creighton coach Greg McDermott sprinted across the bench to calm matters and the players were given double technicals.

BIG PICTURE

Seton Hall: The Pirates lost back-to-back games for only the second time this season, and Powell, averaging 27 points in road games, was never able to take control offensively.

Creighton: The Bluejays ride momentum of the Big East title into the conference tournament after finishing 17-1 at home and improving to 7-2 against Top 25 opponents.

UP NEXT

Seton Hall plays in the Big East Tournament on Thursday.

Creighton plays in the Big East Tournament on Thursday.

No. 11 Creighton rediscovers shooting stroke to defeat Georgetown

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OMAHA, Neb. — Mitch Ballock made a season-high six 3-pointers and finished with 20 points, and No. 11 Creighton rode one of its best shooting games of the season to a 91-76 win over Georgetown on Wednesday night.

The Bluejays (23-7, 12-5 Big East) hit a season-high 17 3s on 36 attempts after making only 4 of 27 in a 20-point loss at St. John’s on Sunday.

Marcus Zegarowski had 20 points and eight assists, Ty-Shon Alexander had 18 points and Denzel Mahoney added 14.

Georgetown (15-15, 5-12) lost its fifth straight. The Hoyas were without their top two scorers. Omer Yurtseven was out a third straight game with an ankle injury. Mac McClung missed his fourth in a row with a foot injury.

Jahvon Blair led the Hoyas with 22 points, Jamorko Pickett had 17, and freshman Qudus Wahab had his first double-double with season highs of 14 points and 12 rebounds.

Ballock, all but invisible in a loss at Georgetown in January, hit a pair of 3s to make it 60-39 and another after the Hoyas scored eight straight points to get within 62-49. That started a 15-6 spurt that finished off the Hoyas.

Creighton overcame Georgetown’s size advantage and foul trouble with 9-for-19 3-point shooting in the first half.

Christian Bishop and Kelvin Jones, the Bluejays’ biggest players, picked up two quick fouls and were on the bench in the middle of the first half. That left the 6-foot-5 Mahoney to defend the 6-11 Wahab.

Jones spelled Mahoney late in the half and provided a spark with a layup and dunk during an 11-2 spurt, and Alexander and Zegarowski made 3s to help Creighton lead 48-33 at half.

BIG PICTURE

Georgetown: The Hoyas are hurting without Yurtseven and McClung, who combine to average 30 points per game. Those two played huge roles in the 83-80 win over Creighton on Jan. 15. Yurtseven had 20 points and 13 rebounds and McClung scored 19 points.

Creighton: The Bluejays beat all nine Big East opponents in the same season for the second time since joining the league in 2013-14. They’ve won five straight over the Hoyas in Omaha.

UP NEXT

Georgetown closes the regular season at home Saturday against No. 14 Villanova. The Hoyas lost 80-66 at Nova on Feb. 11.

Creighton hosts No. 8 Seton Hall on Sunday. The Bluejays beat the Pirates 87-82 on Feb. 12.

Tuesday’s Things to Know: Creighton, Kentucky, Illinois earn big road wins

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College basketball saw some big results in the Big East and Big Ten on Tuesday night. Road wins from Illinois and Creighton left a big impression. Kentucky, meanwhile, kept the strong road-win theme of the night going with a strong win at LSU in the SEC.

No. 15 Creighton takes down No. 19 Marquette

Perhaps the night’s biggest win went to No. 15 Creighton. The Bluejays held off No. 19 Marquette for a crucial Big East road win.

Ty-Shon Alexander shook off a first-half shot to the jaw to finish with 22 points. And Creighton did a strong job of defending Markus Howard. The nation’s leading scorer was limited to 13 points in the loss.

The win gives Creighton a legitimate shot to win at least a share of the Big East title. I examined more on the Bluejays here.

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Ayo Dosunmu’s return lifts Illinois over No. 9 Penn State

The night started with Illinois snapping a four-game Big Ten losing streak. Sophomore Ayo Dosunmu’s return fueled a critical 62-56 road win for the Illini at No. 9 Penn State.

After a scary knee injury against Michigan State last Tuesday, Dosunmu missed the Illinois loss to Rutgers over the weekend. The guard looked healthy in his return to the Illinois lineup. Dosunmu paced the Illini with 24 points. With the shot clock winding down with under a minute left, Dosunmu buried a runner to help seal the win.

Dosunmu’s return also helped Illinois immensely on the defensive end. Penn State only shot 36 percent from the floor and 21 percent from three-point range. The Illini threw length at the Nittany Lions on the perimeter. And the size of Kofi Cockburn (15 points) enabled Illinois to defend Mike Watkins (eight points) one-on-one. Life was also tough for Lamar Stevens during a 3-for-11 night. In a grind-it-out game where both teams went scoreless for minutes at a time, Illinois looked like a top-30 defense in a huge road game.

At this point in the season, Illinois is still a full three games out of the Big Ten lead. It’s unlikely the Illini can jump four or five teams to vault into first. But this is also a very dangerous team if they can get hot.

Starting Big Ten play at 8-2, Illinois already showed they’re capable of running off six or seven wins in a row in the deepest conference in the country. Although one win at Penn State doesn’t put Illinois back in contention it gives a dangerous team confidence.

The next two for Illinois are winnable games against bottom feeders in Nebraska and Northwestern. From there, it’s a three-game sprint to the finish with Indiana, at Ohio State and Iowa. With only one road game against a top Big Ten team, Illinois will be a fascinating team to track the next few weeks.

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No. 10 Kentucky gets past LSU

In the SEC, the Wildcats kept their lead with a strong road win at LSU. The win gives Kentucky a two-game lead in the loss column on LSU. Auburn remains in second in the league at a game behind Kentucky.

The road win also gives the Wildcats another quality win. Winners of nine of their last 10 games, Kentucky looks like a team that is figuring things out down the stretch. Sophomore guard Immanuel Quickley has turned into the team’s most consistent scorer the past several weeks.

Quickley led Kentucky with 21 points on Tuesday night to lead the Wildcats. Establishing Nick Richards on the interior is still Kentucky’s best route to earning a win. But Quickley scoring at least 12 or more points in 14 straight games is something to track going forward.

Richards dominating on the inside and Quickley’s consistent scoring on the perimeter has given the Wildcats more of an established identity during the stretch run.

No. 15 Creighton takes down No. 19 Marquette

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Creighton earned a massive Big East road win by holding off No. 19 Marquette 73-65 on Tuesday night.

Ty-Shon Alexander fought through an early-game throat injury to finish with a team-high 22 points to pace Creighton. The Bluejays did an admirable job defending Marquette star Markus Howard as well. Holding the nation’s leading scorer without a point in the first half, Howard struggled to 13 points on 4-for-14 shooting on the night.

The win keeps the No. 15 Bluejays firmly in the Big East title race. Creighton remains one game behind Seton Hall in the loss column with two weeks to go in the regular season. And with four games left on the schedule, Creighton only plays one game away from home — a winnable game at St. John’s. The regular season closes in Omaha with the Bluejays facing a Pirates team they just beat on the road last week.

NBC SPORTS BRACKETOLOGY

Creighton has gone early-season afterthought to potentially winning one of the toughest top-to-bottom leagues in the country. It’s come with a roster that is continually evolving as the season moves along.

Once transfer forward Denzel Mahoney entered the mix for Creighton the Bluejays turned into a different team. Mahoney became eligible for Creighton after missing the first 10 games of the season after sitting out from Southeast Missouri State.

The 6-foot-5 junior isn’t recognized as one of Creighton’s most talented offensive players. Mahoney only scored nine points and collected five rebounds in the win over Marquette on Tuesday. Alexander, point guard Marcus Zagorowski and veteran shooter Mitchell Ballock are all more gifted offensive weapons than Mahoney.

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But Mahoney gives the Bluejays something they’ve greatly lacked in recent seasons: a junkyard dog who can defend up to all five spots on the floor. In the modern small-ball world of basketball, Mahoney is versatile enough to do damage without anything getting run for him. He’s the Big East equivalent to Draymond Green during the Warriors’ dynasty.

Greg McDermott is known for his offensive-minded approach as Creighton’s coach. The man tailored an entire college offense around his son. Doug McDermott became one of college basketball’s greatest modern scorers.

Creighton teams don’t often feature rugged and physical players like Mahoney. With Mahoney’s added edge, however, Creighton has been one of the best teams in the country after the first month of the season.

The Bluejays can bury you offensively at multiple spots. This team moves the ball as well as anybody in the country. And now Creighton has unique lineup versatility that is very tough to prepare for. Mahoney can play small-ball five and give the Bluejays all sorts of different combinations. It’s helped make Creighton one of the best teams in college basketball that nobody is talking about.

Very quietly, the Bluejays are in position to play themselves for a share of the Big East title with a final home game against Seton Hall.