Preview: No. 22 Texas Tech presents Seton Hall another chance to prove its worth

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Following a lukewarm showing in Brooklyn for the NIT preseason tip-off, Seton Hall has just barely dropped out of the AP top 25 prior to a meeting with newly-ranked Texas Tech.

Instead of stringing together their fourth consecutive week in the AP top 25 for the first time since 2000-01 and 1992-93 before that, Seton Hall has fallen from 20th to 26th in the poll.

Perhaps 26th is the best spot to be.

Even being the 25th ranked team in the country means you get those little numbers next to your name everywhere. On the ESPN ticker, scouting reports, newspaper articles, everywhere — I know because I’ve had to remember to prefix “Seton Hall” with that number over the past few weeks.

Now at 26th — ever so slightly downstream from 20th — Seton Hall at surface level just blends into the rest of the pack and is primed to play somewhat more of an underdog role, which arguably they are more accustomed to doing. 

That said, the Hall can vault themselves back into the land of the ranked if they can take down No. 22 Texas Tech at Madison Square Garden tomorrow night in the Under Armour Reunion. 

If this sounds familiar to you, it’s because the Pirates nipped a ranked South Carolina on a last second Desi Rodriguez drive in the same event last year.

Ranked for the first time since 2009-10, the Red Raiders (6-0) haven’t played the stiffest of competition but were propelled to the cusp of the polls following a win against Boston College and an 85-49 dismantling of then-ranked Northwestern on consecutive days. 

Like the Gamecocks last year, Texas Tech is stout defensively (9th in efficiency) and is doing just about everything right on that end of the court; opponents are averaging 55.5 ppg and no one has scored 70 against them yet.

Offensively, guards Keenan Evans (15 ppg, 3.2 apg) and Jarrett Culver (11 ppg, 1.8 apg) are the only two Red Raiders to average in double figures, though that is certainly a result of having the third-most bench minutes in the nation; their depth has yielded nine guys averaging six or more points per game.

Both schools are coming off a few days of rest following a busy string of games: Texas Tech won four in seven days while Seton Hall played four over nine days. 

The R&R will give Kevin Willard time to look closer at the point guard position (more on that below) and sync up on the offensive end as a whole.

“I think they all need it,” he told AM 970 post-Vanderbilt about practice time.

“It’s one thing with this group, when we have good consecutive practices and get in good rhythm with that stuff and we can work on specific things, we play better. We’re going to have to play better against Texas Tech and Louisville. I’m looking forward to getting into the weight room with these guys and getting their bodies refreshed. It’s been a long, quick quick two weeks really. We have a chance to get back home and a chance to get in a nice rhythm offensively.”

Three things to watch:

If you haven’t already, check out Willard’s quote on point guard play hereI made a few damning Twitter observations on the point guard situation during the two NIT games, but let’s give some benefit of the doubt here and say that Willard just needs a little more time to get things going. It’s not as much of a skill-set problem as it is a combination of Jordan Walker’s injury and the team collectively getting derailed on the offensive end and defaulting to individual play, to varying degrees; the Hall’s AST:FGM ratio (51%) currently ranks 200th in the country.

The half-court offense. As mentioned, Texas Tech is ninth in defensive efficiency and they play at the 270th-quickest tempo — those are usually not statistics associated with a gun-slingin’ up-and-down opponent. We witnessed a series of Seton Hall offensive droughts over the last two games and some slow starts in the half court in the games prior. This will be the Hall’s toughest half court test yet, let’s hope they studied.

New wrinkles. Usually new wrinkles are not a positive thing, but in this context they are. We’ve seen a few of them already this season: three-quarter court press, integrating freshmen into the rotation, Eron Gordon at point guard, flip-flopping of Mike Nzei and Ish Sanogo at the ‘four’ — to name a few. Willard has had five days in the lab to iron out some things — particularly regarding the above two areas of concern. Does he have any new tricks up his sleeve? As he said, the team must play better than they did in Brooklyn.

KenPom says: No. 24 Seton Hall 71, No. 15 Texas Tech 70 (50%)

Projected Texas Tech starters:
PG – Keenan Evans
G – Niem Stevenson
F – Justin Gray
F – Zach Smith
C – Tommy Hamilton

Projected Seton Hall starters:
PG – Khadeen Carrington
G – Myles Powell
F – Desi Rodriguez
F – Ish Sanogo
F – Angel Delgado

TV: 6:30ET, FOX Sports 1
Radio: AM970
Opening Line: Seton Hall +1