Omaha. Somewhere in middle America.
The Creighton Bluejays have been on fire as of late, winning their past four contests and eight of their last nine overall. From the outside, it may look like the Jays’ success is due solely to the play of their top three guards: Mitch Ballock, Ty-Shon Alexander and Marcus Zegarowski. Public perception isn’t necessarily wrong; CU’s big three are accounting for nearly 45 points per game and are all shooting over 43% from the field this season.
Yet the biggest edge for Coach Greg McDermott has come from 6’5” wing Damien Jefferson. Even though Jefferson’s stats don’t pop off the box score (9.6 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists per game), he’s been the glue guy to keep this team rolling through Big East play.
When Jefferson has been on the floor, the Bluejays are good for 1.178 points/possession in conference. But even more in Big East play, it’s been the defensive side of the ball where Jefferson has shined, averaging 7.6 rebounds, 1.3 steals and 1.3 blocks while only committing 1.6 fouls over the last three contests. His steal late in the Seton Hall game was a key reason the Bluejays snuck out of Orange, NJ with a Big East victory.
If you’re looking for more evidence, just look at the record to tell the story. Creighton is now 9-2 in games where Jefferson scores double-digits and is 10-0 when he grabs seven rebounds or more. Bottom line: The more Jefferson is on the court, the more efficient and dynamic Creighton has been.
On the other end of the spectrum, McDermott’s squad has struggled with SEMO transfer Denzel Mahoney on the floor. Let’s take a look at the numbers:
As you can see, the Bluejays are similar offensively with Mahoney on the floor, yet are a much better defensive team when Mahoney takes a seat on the bench, giving up less than a point per possession defensively. In the 314 minutes he’s played in conference, Creighton is +24; in the 246 minutes he hasn’t been on the floor, they’re +65.
The difference for the Jays between Jefferson and Mahoney is noticeable when diving deep into the analytics. The recent change in playing time by the Creighton coaching staff seems to be the real difference for the Jays as they approach the Big East Tournament with the Big East regular-season title in view.
Written by Patrick Schmitt with the help of Aaron Hanshaw.
Aaron Hanshaw is a former Division I men’s basketball staffer and a national account manager for Just Play. He studies film and analytics in-season to identify trends and interesting topics in college basketball, while also finding better ways to help staffs teach their players. You can contact Aaron at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @CoachAaronH. To learn more about Just Play, click here.