Who will be the Big East player of the year, the go-to Jay and more

Take a look back at the last five seasons of Creighton men’s basketball.

Wednesday marked 47 days until college basketball officially returns. With fans as hopeful as Creighton’s, the season couldn’t get here soon enough.

As the weeks dwindle, the questions flood in. Many of those were left in my Twitter mentions (@jxlorenzi) nearly a month ago.

Here are some selected questions to present the very first Creighton mailbag:

@easton_debolt: Which Bluejay has the best chance of winning Big East POY?

My first pick is Ryan Kalkbrenner. His ability as a defensive anchor changes things drastically for the program. And as long as he’s around, much of that side of the ball is taken care of.

Most important player on what should be the league’s best team feels like it would translate to the Big East POY. But rarely do you see a player post a campaign so compelling that they win both defensive player of the year and POY. The last player to do it was Providence’s Kris Dunn in 2015-16. It’d be a tall task.

People are also reading…

If Kalkbrenner doesn’t go back to back with DPOY awards, I could see him having a strong case for the league’s MVP.

@jonskin01929102: You don’t seem to think Fredrick King will contribute much this year, is that your opinion or something you are hearing from the staff?

King will contribute. In fact, he’ll have to.

I still think Ben Shtolzberg is further along in his development and could genuinely impact games. But that doesn’t change the fact that King is the only other true big man, putting him in a better position to play. The Jays will need to preserve Kalkbrenner, who stands to be their most important player down the stretch. That likely means 10 to 12 minutes for King on any given night.

He’ll get some good run in the early buy games. When the schedule picks up quickly in Maui, there could be some rough minutes.

He’s young. He’s raw. Some of these games will involve throwing him into the fire out of necessity.

But for what it’s worth, King has come along rapidly since he has been in Omaha. He’ll be better from the time I write this to the moment CU hosts Drury. Who knows what he’ll look like by the time Big East play swings around.

@BluejaysAtTheB: Who do you think replaces Ryan Hawkins as a go-to guy when Creighton needs a score? Ton of mid-post entries last year to Hawkins when we needed a bucket last year.

I’ve asked myself this a few times as I went back and looked at the tape.

Creighton loved setting up with double screens, whether that started in horns or with a simple double ball screen. Hawkins was often one of the two screeners, and it worked so well because he could pop and had such a deep green light.

With that being said, I think Baylor Scheierman will be their go-to guy.

He can get a shot off the bounce. As capable a ball handler he is, he’ll have screeners to navigate a shot through the pick-and-roll. There are also times where he won’t need the ball and can spot up on the wing.

I think you’ll see times where he plays at the 4, which would enable him to even be the screener in some sets like Hawkins was and find 3s that way. He just fits into so many different schemes, it’s hard to imagine him not getting up a bunch of shots.

I’m not entirely sure if Arthur Kaluma has worked in the mid-post through the summer. I remember seeing some mid-post possessions from him when I skimmed through the tape, though they weren’t always great from what I watched.

I think if anybody is capable of adding that as a sufficient wrinkle to their game, it’s him. Plus, I think the staff is confident that he’ll be that screener that Hawkins was in many of those scenarios and will knock down enough 3s to make the defense feel threatened.

@robertleise: With a challenging nonconference schedule, what is your prediction for Creighton’s record going into the start of conference play?

I don’t think CU drops more than three games before Big East play swings around.

If we’re talking hypotheticals, Maui is undoubtedly a tough slate during which I think the Jays lose at least one game. That could be to Texas Tech, or that could be to Arkansas in the second round. If they somehow beat both, surely a Day 3 game would be taxing.

The Longhorns are loaded. That game in Austin stands to be as tough a game as Creighton will play all season. Let’s say they drop that game.

We just can’t assume the team will be perfect by December, so I think it could drop a close one between its two Vegas games. That marks three losses, and to me, the most dependable outcome.

@TheJPScott: Is there anything you see stylistically that says Creighton is going to put focus on offensive rebounding this season?

Not at the moment. They’ll likely start four players who can create on the ball, which is great. But it doesn’t spell emphasis on the offensive glass to me. I can’t currently see it as a priority outside of the team’s true big men.

@jace_peters: Under the radar player you see contributing big time this season?

I’m compelled to say Mason Miller. As I noted some weeks back, Greg McDermott likes him a lot. Feels like he is bound to crack the rotation, and his role is carved out for him.

Among all the players who’ll look to create their own shot, Miller won’t have to. With his vertical leap, jumper and size, he can cement himself as a great off-ball player. Cutting, spotting up, playing hard. The fit and production are right there for the taking.

(Ben) Shtolzberg is another candidate, but I just don’t know how many opportunities he’ll be granted down the stretch with the number of ball handlers this team has. He would have to make it tough on the staff to play others over him. I’m confident in his future, though, and I think we’ll see glimpses this season.

@sullivan_dr: As a newcomer to the beat, has anything surprised you from observing the team/program up close?

I can’t say I’ve necessarily been surprised by anything. I came from covering Mizzou for two seasons, so frankly it’s refreshing to be around good basketball. I think I’ve enjoyed how much Omaha likes the game. The TBT was fire. This seems like a good place to be for hoops. 

@Kyle_Brayman: Who do you think the biggest X-factor is for Creighton to become a serious title contender?

I could sound like a broken record here and say Kalkbrenner’s health and consistency, but I won’t. I’ll move away from the obvious.

I think if we’re talking about an individual, Kaluma’s development comes into play big time. Between the way he has being projected, the flashes he showed against Kansas and how he looked this past summer with the Ugandan national team, we could be talking about an entirely different animal.

Kaluma should be Creighton’s most talented player. The on-ball creation at 6-foot-7. His standing as a combo-forward. He just oozes potential. Championship teams always have NBA-caliber talent, and Kaluma’s leap as a potential first-rounder in next year’s draft adds to this team’s ceiling.

@JBDavis2: Do you think Creighton will be an improved 3-point shooting team this season?

The bar was set pretty low last season. CU’s 30.8% from deep a year ago was the worst mark during the McDermott era, and it wasn’t particularly close.

Adding shooters like Scheierman and TCU transfer Francisco Farabello raises the ceiling. I think you’ll see better shooting years from Kaluma, Ryan Nembhard and Trey Alexander. Even Kalkbrenner is supposedly ready to launch a few 3s, though it’s unclear how well that’ll work out.

But another year shooting 30.8% or worse? C’mon. I doubt it.

@Marghareti72: Long-term outlook for Freddy King?

From the people I’ve talked to, they see King as a real force in the future. A couple labeled him a future NBA center.

He gets up and down the floor well, is pretty agile for his size and likes to play above the rim. That feels like the makeup of a forceful collegiate big man at the very least.

He hasn’t entirely solved pick-and-roll coverages, but that hasn’t stopped great college big men in recent years, and I don’t think it’s out of the question for King. After all, he’s only been playing basketball for a few years.