Gavitt Games: Nebraska poses tough road test early in Seton Hall’s season

The Gavitt Games will provide a shaky Big East with an early test and Seton Hall won’t get off easy with a tough road trip to Nebraska.

Seton Hall fans won’t have to wait long this season to see what their young team is capable of.

Receiving votes in the AP poll (No. 28), Nebraska (2-0) looks keen on building upon a 22-11 campaign that saw them miss out on the NCAA tournament after a loss to Michigan in the Big Ten Tournament doused their hopes.

The Cornhuskers lost only about 30-percent of their scoring from last year (one starter, sixth-man) while returning leading scorer James Palmer Jr. (17 ppg, 4.5 apg), point guard Glynn Watson Jr. (17.5 ppg, 3 apg), and former Georgetown forward Isaac Copeland (10.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg).

Over their first two games — albeit against proverbial cupcakes — Nebraska has beaten Mississippi Valley State and SE Louisiana by an average of 60.5 points while holding their two opponents to 36 ppg.

Given that Tim Miles’ squad last year had a top-50 KenPom defense, it would be no surprise if Wednesday night’s clash — the first between these two schools — is decided by which side creates the most offensive opportunities while defending their own hoop.

After a 40-point drubbing of Wagner on opening night, Seton Hall appeared to regress slightly by letting a 17-5 run down the stretch result in just a 73-62 win over D-II New Haven in an exhibition on Friday; the Pirates played without freshman Jared Rhoden and sophomore Shavar Reynolds.

Seton Hall led by double-digits between the two under-eight media timeouts but based on the WSOU radio call, it sounded like their zone was shredded by a pesky New Haven over the closing six minutes or so.

Regardless of the final score, the Hall was always going to play the underdog role for this Big East-Big Ten Challenge given their younger make-up and Nebraska’s home court advantage; the Cornhuskers were 16-1 at home last year, losing only to Kansas by a point.

Three keys to victory

As alluded to above, Seton Hall needs to create points from their defensive play. Their showing against Wagner exuded positive signs regarding defensive rebounding, blocked shots, corralling loose balls, and getting out in transition, but that was against an opponent not nearly as good as Nebraska, who will want to play at a bit of a slower pace.

It looks like the Cornhuskers have a stout defense, so anything Seton Hall can get outside of their half court offense will certainly help.

Winning on the road against a favored opponent sometimes requires luck and percentages to go in your favor to come away with the upset — that’s where outside shooting and made free throws come into play. After shooting 69.8-percent from the free throw line last year, the Hall is 79.5-percent from the charity stripe over two games.

You can bet Nebraska is going to focus on shutting down Myles Powell on the perimeter, so his supporting cast will need to shoot a decent percentage from three. Non-Powell Pirates went 5-17 from three against Wagner, with five different players connecting on shots.

Seton Hall’s efficient assist:turnover ratio against Wagner (20:8) needs to replicated. Despite playing most of the second half leading by 20 points, the Pirates kept a tight handle on the rock in their opening game, with Quincy McKnight, Anthony Nelson, Myles Powell, and sometimes even Shavar Reynolds playing lead guard. Nelson said at media day that he wants to average six assists per game — he had five in his debut.

Big East Round-up / Gavitt Games preview

Unlike the past few seasons, the Big East hasn’t done much to impress over the first week of this campaign. The toughest opponent the conference has faced is Wichita State on a neutral court (after they lost to Louisiana Tech at home by 13), and Providence failed that test.

While there have been some blowouts of low-majors, a series of Big East schools have looked shaky in victory including St. John’s (84-80, Bowling Green), Creighton (75-69, East Tennessee State), Xavier (91-85, Evansville), and Georgetown (85-78, Central Conn.) — all of those games were within a possession late in the second half.

The conference will have to shape-up quickly. Below is the Gavitt Games schedule with KenPom ratings included and my prediction in bold.

Wisconsin (22) @ Xavier (64) — Tuesday, 6:30 (FS1)
Georgetown (68) @ Illinois (73) — Tuesday, 8:30 (FS1)
Michigan (27) @ Villanova (6)– Wednesday, 6:30 (FS1)
Seton Hall (40) @ Nebraska (33) — Wednesday, 7:30 (BTN)
Marquette (28) @ Indiana (26) — Wednesday, 8:30 (FS1)
Ohio State (32) @ Creighton (37) — Thursday, 7:00 (FS1)
Penn State (35) @ DePaul (72) — Thursday, 9:00 (FS1)
St. John’s (41) @ Rutgers (119) — Friday, 7:00 (BTN)

Final tally: 4-4, with a mild upset in DePaul winning and Marquette winning a big one at Indiana. I think Ohio State – Creighton could be a big rubber matchup here, with that one going either way. Ohio State is better on a neutral court, but CenturyLink Arena is anything but neutral.

KenPom says: No. 33 Nebraska 77, No. 40 Seton Hall 71

Series History: First meeting

Projected Nebraska starters
PG – Glynn Watson
G – Thomas Allen
G/F – James Palmer
F – Isaac Copeland
F – Isaiah Roby

Projected Seton Hall starters
PG – Quincy McKnight
G – Myles Powell
G/F – Myles Cale
F – Sandro Mamukelashvili
F – Mike Nzei

TV: 7:30 ET, Big Ten Network
Radio: AM970
Opening line: Seton Hall +8.5