In a stunning move first reported by Stadium’s Jeff Goodman on Thursday, Creighton’s two-year starting point guard Ryan Nembhard is entering the transfer portal.
Nembhard, the younger brother of Indiana Pacers guard Andrew Nembhard, was the 2021 Big East Freshman of the Year. He started all 27 games before suffering a season-ending wrist injury on Feb. 23 of 2022.
At that time, Creighton was in the midst of a six-game winning streak. Even without Nembhard and after losing star center Ryan Kalkbrenner to an injury in the opening round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament, the Blue Jays were in a one-possession game vs. Kansas, the eventual national champion, with 90 seconds remaining in a Round-of-32 loss.
Nembhard finished the 2021-22 campaign averaging 11.3 points, 4.4 assists, 3.1 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game. However, his assist-to-turnover ratio (119/85) wasn’t ideal, and his 3-point accuracy (31.1%) left plenty of room for improvement.
Nembhard started all 37 games for the Blue Jays in 2022-23. He averaged 12.1 points, 4.8 assists, 4.0 rebounds and 0.7 steals per game. Nembhard improved his 3-point accuracy (35.6%) and his free-throw percentage (going from 73.2% to 87.1%), and he had a 176/77 assist-to-turnover ratio.
During a second-round game in the 2023 NCAA Tournament vs. third-seeded Baylor in Denver, he erupted for a career-high 30 points as Creighton downed the Bears, 85-76. Nembhard drained 4-of-6 launches from 3-point range, hit 8-of-13 field-goal attempts, buried all 10 of his free throws and added two steals, two rebounds and two assists compared to only one turnover.
He had nine points, eight assists and four rebounds in an 86-75 win over Princeton, as Creighton advanced to the Elite Eight to face San Diego St. Although the Bluejays led for most of the game, the Aztecs rallied late and had the ball with the game tied in the closing seconds.
As Darrion Trammell drove into the lane and went up for a floater with 1.2 seconds remaining, replays clearly showed Nembhard’s left hand remaining on the right side of Trammell’s hip throughout his shooting motion.
Could it have been a play-on sequence, one that didn’t require a whistle at that point in the game? Sure. But Nembhard certainly made it difficult for the officials to swallow their whistles when he kept his hand attached to Trammell throughout his drive into the lane and when he elevated for the shot.
Whatever the case, after missing the first of two free throws, Trammell made the second and San Diego St. edged Creighton 57-56 to advance to the Final Four.
Without question, there were many plays throughout the course of 40 minutes that had an impact on the final outcome besides Nembhard’s foul on Trammell. Nevertheless, when a player is involved in a play like that in the final seconds of an Elite Eight game with all of America watching, there’s a heavy burden that falls on that individual heading into the offseason.
There’s usually a self-imposed responsibility that a player takes on to make amends, especially when you have two years of eligibility remaining. Especially when there’s the possibility — Kalkbrenner, Baylor Scheierman and Tyler Alexander have looming decisions to make, but they’re projected as second-round picks and there are better-than-decent chances that all three will return — that every significant member of the team will be back next season.
But loyalty in college sports — not in all cases, but seemingly most — went on hiatus a long time ago, and that’s probably more on coaches than players.
Seeing how Nembhard has started all 64 games in his career at Creighton and led the Bluejays in minutes played (1,257) in 2022-23, playing time certainly isn’t an issue. Since Nembhard was third on the team in FGAs (373, just five shy of Alexander’s 378 and only seven short of Scheierman’s 380), he can’t be thinking that he doesn’t get enough shots.
In fairness, if Omaha’s cold weather was an issue, I’d give him that one, but Nembhard grew up in Canada. If there’s a legit factor influencing this head-scratching decision that I’m unaware of, I’ll voluntarily adjust my opinion.
But until then, Nembhard’s decision doesn’t sit right with me — at all. It would be different if he decided to transfer after Alexander, Kalkbrenner and/or Scheierman announced their future intentions and one (or two or all three) of them was leaving.
Eleven days after committing the foul that led to San Diego St.’s game-winning free throw, news broke that Nembhard was bailing on his team. His squad that had a chance to return everyone that was one play away from a trip to the Final Four.
These were McDermott’s last words to his 2022-23 Creighton team: “We’ll be back in this game. I promise you that. Love you guys, it’s been an unbelievable ride. We’re going to stick our chest out, we’re going to hold our heads high. You brought more pride to that name on the front of your jersey than anybody that’s ever worn it. Right now, you don’t understand what that means, but one day you will. We’re going to remain a family.”
I was on the radio Thursday morning in Lincoln and Omaha, and one of our topics was the odds to win the 2024 NCAA Tournament. When asked about Creighton’s odds (20/1 yesterday at FanDuel, but now adjusted to 25/1), I said they were tied with Kansas for the ninth-shortest.
When asked what it would take for me to get to the window on the Bluejays, I said it would be tempting to grab some Creighton at 20/1 if I knew that everybody was coming back.
As it turns out, we found out a few hours later that Creighton’s two-year starter at PG isn’t coming back. As for where he’s going, there seems to be a lot of speculation about Arizona.
That stems from Tommy Lloyd being the lead recruiter of Ryan’s brother Andrew, who transferred from Florida to Gonzaga when Lloyd was Mark Few’s top assistant. You would think Gonzaga could be an option, too.
When Nembhard was a four-star recruit coming out of high school, the only official visit he took was to Stanford. He had other offers from Seton Hall, Florida and USC, among others.