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How Creighton’s Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas became college basketball’s most underrated backcourt

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The Bluejays are flying high thanks to their star-studded backcourt.

NCAA Basketball: Xavier at Creighton Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

Marcus Foster and Khyri Thomas aren’t supposed to be here. They never should have been at Creighton together, for one, not this deep into their college careers and not in the conversation for the best backcourt in college basketball.

Foster thought he’d be in the NBA by now after a breakout freshman season at Kansas State four long years ago. Thomas only had D-II offers out of high school before enrolling in a military academy for a post-grad year that changed his life.

The paths of Foster and Thomas could have diverged in so many different ways. Instead, it led them together to Creighton, where they’re powering the Bluejays to a strong start in the Big East and eventual NCAA tournament run.

Foster is the offensive firecracker, a slasher who can also make it rain from three-point range. Thomas just might be the most ferocious perimeter defender in college basketball, in addition to being a dependable outside shooter.

If this isn’t the best backcourt tandem in America, it’s close. This is how Foster and Thomas came together to rejuvenate Creighton.

A dismissal and a fresh start for Marcus Foster

The 2013-14 season seems like a lifetime ago in college basketball. That was the year of the infamous Wichita State-Kentucky game, the year Shabazz Napier led UConn on an inconceivable national title run and the year Doug McDermott rewrote college basketball’s record books.

It was also the start of Foster’s star turn. Foster was one of the breakout freshman stars in the country for Kansas State, averaging 15.5 points per game and vastly outperforming his spot in the recruiting rankings.

Then things took a turn for the worse. Foster got cocky. He gained weight. His production plummeted down to 12 points per game. He was suspended by K-State and eventually dismissed at season’s end.

Creighton provided a fresh start. After sitting out the 2015-16 season, Foster made his debut for the Bluejays last year and reminded the country he could still be one of this sport’s most dynamic scorers. He dropped 30 on Marquette, 35 on Georgetown, and 25 on Villanova. He also put the Bluejays in the Big East title game with this shot that made Gus Johnson’s vocal chords explode:

Foster has been even better as a senior, averaging career highs in scoring (19.9 points per game), assists (2.8), and three-point shooting. He’s taking 6.7 attempts from deep this season, and he’s hitting 45 percent of them. There are few players in the country who are this complete of a scorer.

Khyri Thomas is Creighton’s consummate 3-and-D guard

Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia changed everything for Thomas. He found the discipline he needed to become a D1 basketball player, and he found it in a big way:

Students at Fork Union wear uniforms and are not allowed to wear civilian clothes on campus. They are not allowed to have cell phones. Computer use is restricted, as is television viewing. They have a strict curfew.

And they march.

“They march to breakfast in the morning,” coach Donohue said. “They march out to retreat when they lower the flag at night.”

Thomas was still only a three-star recruit, ranked No. 326 in his class by 247 Sports. But Creighton saw a long, athletic guard who played hard and was just scratching the surface offensively. He became an impact player far before coach Greg McDermott expected him to be.

Thomas was in the starting lineup from day one as a freshman. As a sophomore, he turned into a two-way stud. He saw his scoring average jump to 12 points per game and his three-point shot become a legitimate weapon while being named Big East Defensive Player of the Year. Creighton fans called his lockdown ability #Khyrifense.

Thomas is also experiencing a career season as a junior. His scoring average is up to 14.6 points per game. He’s shooting 50 percent from the field, 38.2 percent from three (on 4.6 attempts per game), and 84 percent from the foul line. In the process, he’s started to gain first-round NBA buzz as a potential 3-and-D specialist.

We had Thomas pegged as the No. 25 pick in our latest mock draft. With a 6’10 wingspan, an aggressive mindset defensively, and a dependable three-point stroke, he seems primed for a long pro career as a valuable role player.

How far can Foster and Thomas take Creighton?

Creighton is off to a 17-5 start that includes a 7-3 mark in conference play. The Bluejays are third in the Big East right now and project as a No. 9 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Foster and Thomas each have true shooting percentages north of 60 percent. They have the Bluejays as a top-25 team on KenPom (No. 23) even if they aren’t currently ranked in the polls. On Thursday night, they face Villanova in their biggest test of the season.

There are some great backcourts around college basketball. Kansas, Arizona, ’Nova, Arizona State, even Boston College all have claims. But if you’re looking for a complete package of scoring, lock-down defense, and long-range shooting, it’s hard to top what Foster and Thomas have become at Creighton.