Rubber match with Creighton awaits Seton Hall in Big East quarters

Looking back at the past two months since Seton Hall was clobbered 82-67 at home by Creighton in a defeat that spawned worrying tremors, it’s amazing how much has transpired as the two schools gear up to clash in the 3-6 game late on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden.

While his impact is largely unknown to anyone outside of Seton Hall circles, Derrick Gordon quickly squashed any malcontent following the early January loss by calling a players-only meeting immediately after the game. The move has yielded a 10-4 record in Big East play since and has prompted Kevin Willard to deem Gordon the “biggest blessing in his life” because of what he’s done for this team off the court.

Seton Hall may be without Gordon on Thursday, which limits both their guard depth and ability to defend Creighton point guard Maurice Watson Jr. (14.5 ppg, 6.6 apg). Gordon has been limited in practice this week due to a head injury suffered in the second half against DePaul when he took the back of a Blue Demon’s head to his face during a rebound scrum.

Update: Gordon looks set to go after practicing on Wednesday. Per Jon Rothstein, it was a concussion.

His availability will be crucial as Watson, the heart of Greg McDermott’s offense and owner of the 9th-best assist rate in the nation, was able to score 13 and dish 14 assists in Newark but was then held to just 14 and 6 in Omaha; Creighton’s offensive efficiency is clearly contrasted between the two meetings.

In addition to the obvious importance of Seton Hall crowding the lane and playing strong defense, the production of their forwards – Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez & Ismael Sanogo – was a big reason why they lost in the first outing but won soundly at CenturyLink.

The trio put up a combined 39 points and 30 boards in Nebraska but just 17 and 14 in Newark. Let’s not forget how much of an impact the battle on the boards was in the second meeting.

Switching focus, Creighton has lost four of their last five but they’ve played fairly well including losses at Providence and Xavier by a combined nine points in their final two games.

Due to an RPI (97) that is double their KenPom rating (46), the Jays will need the conference title in order to go Dancing and can likely secure an NIT bid if they win on Thursday.

Big East Tournament overview

The Hall’s journey in New York begins as a top-three seed for the first time since 1992-93 when they last won the tournament with an unforgettable 103-70 drubbing of Syracuse in the final.

While it’s not fair to compare this Big East to past years, the other two times Seton Hall has been a top-three seed were 1988-89 and 1991-92. Good company to have, though they bowed out in the semis to Syracuse both times.

It will be interesting to see how well Kevin Willard is able to gameplan in a quick turnaround scenario, something that is safe to say hasn’t been his strength. There have been exceptions (see: Paradise Jam, 2013-14 Big East Tournament) but when coupled with a team that is largely inexperienced in such situations, schools like Xavier and Villanova get the nod in this department.

Last time I checked, Seton Hall have 9/1 odds (fourth-best) to win the title, meaning a $50 bet will pretty much finance a plane ticket to any NCAA regional destination.

My Big East Tournament predictions:

First round:
Georgetown > DePaul
Marquette > St. John’s

Villanova > Georgetown
Butler > Providence
Xavier > Marquette
Seton Hall > Creighton – my gut is actually telling me Creighton here…

Butler > Villanova
Xavier > Seton Hall

Xavier > Butler

How far will Seton Hall make it in the Big East Tournament?

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Stay tuned for another primer/in-game thread to be posted Thursday afternoon.