Creighton kicks off season with UMKC

Big East basketball got a big boost when Villanova won the National Championship last season, and No. 22 Creighton is hoping to join that wave by taking a step forward in 2016-17.

The Bluejays, who host UMKC in the season opener on Friday, reached the quarterfinals of the NIT last spring and are trying to reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2014 behind transfer Marcus Foster and leading returning scorer Maurice Watson, Jr. Foster is joined by four freshmen expected to make an immediate impact.

Foster averaged 14.1 points in two seasons at Kansas State before sitting out last season due to the transfer. He needed only 16 minutes in Creighton's lone exhibition game to score a team-high 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting.

“Basketball's been my life since I was very young – so for me and my family right now, this is just a lot of excitement and anxiousness,” Foster told the Omaha World-Herald.

Bluejays coach Greg McDermott is a veteran when it comes to integrating transfers into his system. Watson Jr. (Boston University) and second-leading scorer Cole Huff (Nevada) were both new to the program last season after transferring in and led Creighton to a 20-15 record.

“When I got here, everybody, they opened up to me immediately; and you don't see that at most places,” Foster told the Omaha World-Herald. “This team, everybody likes each other, wants to hang around each other. You don't see that everywhere. It's good to have that on your team.”

“It used to be that you either transferred because you didn't have a choice — you got kicked off the team — or you figured out you weren't good enough to play there,” McDermott said. “And now, good players transfer.”

The Kangaroos rely on transfers as well and count at least eight on the roster including junior college transfers. Star senior Martez Harrison is an exception as a four-year starter and is trying to get back to the level he showed during his sophomore season.

The Kansas City native was an honorable mention All-American and WAC Player of the Year after leading the league in scoring (17.5 points), steals (60) and assists (129) as a sophomore. The added defensive focus last season caused Harrison to slip to 15.4 points on 38.7 percent shooting and a spot on the second-team All-WAC.

Harrison was named first-team All-WAC in preseason polling while fellow senior LaVell Boyd, who is in his second season with the Kangaroos after transferring from junior college, was named to the second team.

“There's always that new excitement every year for each fan base and hopefully we can keep them excited,” UMKC coach Kareem Richardson told reporters.

The Kangaroos finished sixth in the WAC last season at 12-19 (4-10) and are due for only a modest improvement according to preseason polling that slated them fifth in 2016-17. UMKC will also visit No. 3 Kansas and No. 20 West Virginia in the non-conference slate.

The Bluejays were slotted third in the Big East preseason poll behind defending champion Villanova and Xavier. Creighton will need to work not to overlook the Kangaroos with No. 9 Wisconsin scheduled to visit on Tuesday before heading off to St. Thomas for the Paradise Jam starting Nov. 18.