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Creighton Set to Compete for Big East Tournament Title

by Mar 13, 2024Creighton Mens Basketball

Creighton Bluejays head coach Greg McDermott talk to Creighton Bluejays guard Baylor Scheierman
Photo Credit: Eric Francis

The Big East completed its awards release on Wednesday ahead of the start of the conference tournament. The Big East Player of the Year award went to Providence guard Devin Carter over Creighton’s Baylor Scheierman and UConn’s Tristen Newton.

Scheierman had to settle for a unanimous selection for the All-Big East First team, joining Carter, Newton, Marquette’s Tyler Kolek, UConn’s Cam Spencer and Seton Hall’s Kadary Richmond.

Carter averaged 19.3 points, 8.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists while shooting 47.7% (38.5% from 3) and defending at an all-conference level for the Friars, taking on more responsibility after losing co-star Bryce Hopkins to a season-ending injury mid-year.

Scheierman averaged 18.5 points (third in the conference), 8.8 rebounds (second) and 4.1 assists (10th) this season while shooting 45.6% from the field, 37.9% from 3-point range and 86% from the free-throw line, and he had his teammates’ vote.

“I think he brings everything,” Trey Alexander said. “I think he’s a Swiss army knife. I think he can score, pass, rebound. I think there’s nothing that Baylor can’t do on the court. If you ask me, of course I think he should win Big East Player of the Year, not just because he’s my teammate, but because I think that’s what the statistics show. Just being a part of his journey, it shows that he’s been an everyday type of guy, every night type of guy.”

Alexander and Ryan Kalkbrenner were both second-team All-Big East selections. Alexander averaged 17.5 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.9 assists. Kalkbrenner put up 17.1 points, 7.3 rebounds and a league-leading 3.0 blocks per game while shooting a league-best 65% from the field.

“It’s been a blessing, getting to see me and my teammates just being able to achieve those type of things, have three guys on there and just being able to jump into the second seed in the Big East, which has probably been the most important to me,” Alexander said. “Just the team success and hopefully being able to go on and win this Big East Tournament is what we’re most worried about right now.”

Coach Greg McDermott said he was glad his fellow coaches recognized how important those three are to Creighton’s success and rewarded them with postseason honors, which includes a third-straight Big East Defensive Player of the Year award for Kalkbrenner. Creighton boasts a top-25 defense in the country according to KenPom, and Kalkbrenner is its anchor.

“I think you have to game-plan for somebody like that,” Alexander said. “I think there’s not many players in the country that you have the game-plan for when you’re on offense and I think that Ryan Kalkbrenner is one of one the few. I think that he does a great job at timing blocks, a great job of not jumping when people pump-fake but being able to time it when they actually do leave their feet, and I think he’s getting even better at moving his feet when we switch. So I think that it’s going to be very scary, whether he ends up on NBA roster next year or back here, for anybody that has to be switched back onto him and lord forbid he wins it four times in a row if he comes back.”

With the award, Kalkbrenner joined an elite club of three-time winners that previously included only Big East legends and NBA Hall of Famers Patrick Ewing and Alonzo Mourning.

“It’s incredible,” McDermott said. “I sent the release to him and his mom this morning and said exactly that, it’s just absolutely incredible. To play at the level he’s played as consistently as he’s played for three straight years is awesome. I’m glad that my peers in the league think as much of him defensively as I do.”

League-winner UConn nearly swept the rest of the awards with Dan Hurley winning Coach of the Year, Stephon Castle wining Freshman of the Year and Hassan Diarra wining Sixth Man of the Year. Xavier’s Desmond Claude is the Big East’s Most Improved Player while Creighton’s Steven Ashworth s the Sportsmanship Award recipient.

With the regular season complete, it’s on to the Big East Tournament for the Bluejays — and Madison Square Garden, which Alexander said what makes the Big East Tournament unique.

“It’s the best arena in the country and the world in my opinion,” Alexander said. I think that it’s something that only you could dream of; kids dream of playing in that type of arena with that type of atmosphere, and I think that Big East conference this year is the best conference in the country, and I think that that’s big for just the Big East as a whole. To play in that type of tournament and to have those types of teams in it, I think it’s a blessing for everybody. I think that for those teams that are kind of in the bubble area, I think it gives them that win or go home type of mentality and it makes the stakes even higher for everybody else.”

Seton Hall, St. John’s, Villanova and Providence are all teams still making their case for NCAA Tournament selection. Creighton has already faced a desperate Red Storm team in the Garden this season and it didn’t go well for the Jays. McDermott said the atmosphere at the tournament is on another level still.

“The crowd’s great,” McDermott said. “The Wednesday night crowds are great, let alone quarterfinal Thursday and semifinal Friday. But the place is massive. It’s like I’ve said before, it’s got that junior high, the play that you have to be part of in junior high even though you don’t want to be part of a play, but you have to do it for the experience, where it’s dark in the crowd, it’s all lit up on stage and you can’t really see anybody. That’s kind of what it’s like playing in the Garden. You feel like you’re out on this massive Island in this huge place, and the acoustics are incredible. It’s so loud in there and it’s a different experience for our guys.”

As the two seed, Creighton had the luxury of sitting back on Wednesday and watching the lower seeds face off. The Bluejays will face seventh-seeded Providence, who topped No. 10 Georgetown Wednesday night, in Thursday’s quarterfinals. The Jays and Friars split the two regular season meetings, setting up a rubber match at the Garden. Josh Oduro led the Friars with 20 points and nine rebounds, Carter added 19 points, nine rebounds and six assists and Ticket Gaines chipped in 15 points and seven boards in the 74-56 victory.

Creighton appears to have placed itself firmly on the three-line for NCAA Tournament seeding, and a deep run in New York could push them up to the two-line. Even so, Kalkbrenner said he’s focused solely on the task at hand — winning the program’s first Big East Tournament title.

“The Big East tournament, as important and as hard as that’s going to be, I don’t think I’ve really thought much about NCAA Tournament,” Kalkbrenner said. “Obviously you go in there and win some games, it’s going to be huge for your seeding but I think you try to take care of what’s in front of you first and then that kind of mindset kind of helps with what’s after that.”

Tipoff on Thursday night is set for 7 p.m. ET (6 p.m. CT) on FS1.

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