Tough road test for Seton Hall in Big East opener at No. 10 Creighton

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There will be no rest for the weary when Seton Hall travels to Omaha to take on undefeated and tenth-ranked Creighton on Wednesday night in their Big East opener.

Fresh off a brief holiday rest and a win over Rutgers that put some icing on a 10-2 non-conference schedule, Seton Hall will be faced with one of their toughest tests of the entire season at a packed CenturyLink Arena.

“We played pretty well in the non-conference considering the amount of travel we’ve had to do,” said Kevin Willard on Tuesday’s Big East conference call. “I was proud of the way we progressed, especially defensively considering the fact that we didn’t have a whole lot of practice time at home.”

A team that has gained more than they lost this off-season, Creighton has turned heads nationally after bowing out to Seton Hall in the first round of last year’s Big East Tournament and a three-game NIT run that ended in a loss to BYU.

“The game at Creighton is a huge test,” proclaimed Willard. “They’re by far the most talented team we’ve seen top to bottom, inside and out. Their experience, they’ve added some tremendous players and the guy a lot of people aren’t talking about, Khyri Thomas, is probably the most improved player in the league.”

In addition to Thomas, who has doubled his scoring average of 6.2 ppg from a year ago, two-guard Marcus Foster (19.1 ppg), another former teammate of Jevon Thomas’, leads the Jays in scoring and has been a huge addition along with impact freshman center Justin Patton (12.3 ppg, 6 rpg).

Greg McDermott’s team won the Paradise Jam and has taken care of five top-100 KenPom opponents by an average margin of 13 points per win including a 79-67 win over Wisconsin at home.

An annually proficient offense has been torching defenses yet again this year to the tune of 89.8 ppg (8th), ninth in offensive efficiency, first in 3PT%, eighth in 2PT% and 19 assists per game, leaving Kevin Willard with a ton of game planning to do for an opponent with five guys who can knock down three-balls.

“I didn’t have a very Merry Christmas,” joked Willard about game-planning for a dynamic Creighton.

“Greg [McDermott] and I are good friends, I texted him on Christmas and I told him ‘the best way for someone to ruin Christmas is to watch your team and try to prepare for your team.’

“We went back and watched how we played them last year but you can’t go back and play a team the same way you played them last year because they didn’t have Marcus Foster. Thomas and Foster on the wings — they’re so much more athletic, they’re so much more explosive offensively on the wings. They don’t throw the ball inside as much, but [point guard] Maurice Watson gets paint touches anytime he wants.

“I went back and looked at both times we beat them and realized that was nice, but there’s no way we can play them the same way we played them last year, they’re so much better offensive and defensive you need to come up with a new game plan.”

While the task is objectively difficult, one would think Willard should be given the benefit of the doubt after last year’s team held the Jays to 73 and 65 points after getting torched for 82 in Newark, a home loss which infamously led to a players-only meeting called by Derrick Gordon; the Hall has also won their last two games at CenturyLink.

Despite some recent success against the Jays, Willard isn’t as optimistic.

“Every year teams change, just because you won against a team the year before, doesn’t mean you’ll win this year. They didn’t have Marcus Foster last year scoring 20 points at will, they’re much better defensively with Thomas and Patton out there.

“Each year you have to adjust, your team has to adjust, we’ve been in some pretty good environments this year but this will be the biggest test that we’ve had. You always go back on some experiences, but each year brings new tests. This Creighton team is much different from the Creighton team we faced last year.”

Regardless of the outcome Wednesday night against a shoe-in top-25 opponent, Seton Hall should be wary to put too many eggs in this emotional basket with games against Marquette (2x), DePaul and Providence looming on the horizon.

Willard has been public about how he breaks up the conference schedule into portions and a 3-2 showing to start league play heading into an away game at Villanova is probably a passing grade.

KenPom says: No. 21 Creighton 83, No. 49 Seton Hall 75 (22%)

Series history (Seton Hall 5-3)

Mar. 10, 2016, Seton Hall 81, Creighton 73, New York City, N.Y.
Jan. 30, 2016, Seton Hall 75, Creighton 65, Omaha, Nebraska
Jan. 9, 2016, Creighton 82, Seton Hall 67, Newark, N.J.
Feb. 28, 2015, Seton Hall 67, Creighton 66, Newark, N.J.
Jan. 10, 2015, Seton Hall 68, Creighton 67, Omaha, Nebraska
Feb. 23, 2014, Creighton 72, Seton Hall 71, Omaha, Nebraska
Jan. 4, 2014, Creighton 79, Seton Hall 66, Newark, N.J.
March 16, 1991, Seton Hall 81, Creighton 69, Salt Lake City, Utah

Projected Creighton starters
PG – Maurice Watson Jr.
G – Marcus Foster
G – Khyri Thomas
F – Cole Huff
C – Justin Patton

Projected Seton Hall starters
PG – Madison Jones
G – Khadeen Carrington
F – Desi Rodriguez
F – Ish Sanogo
F – Angel Delgado

When: Wednesday, 8et
TV: FOX Sports 2
Radio: AM970 (Gary Cohen & Dave Popkin)
Opening line: Seton Hall +9

    • VinBick

      Real tough opponent for first BE game, but our team should be ready to play. No excuses, if Pirates are as good as advertised. Beating another ranked team will put the Hall in Top 25 next Monday if we take care of business at home on Sunday, too.

  • Andrew Herbst

    Will be a great test for us. Creighton’s always a tough place to play. Most likely will come down to wire. But we’re ready for it.

  • PadrePirate

    Perimeter D will be a huge factor. Looks like all 5 starters plus two main bench guys shoot over 40% from the arc. 90 ppg vs a pretty decent OOC schedule. But they don’t seem to have real beasts in the paint. Maybe something we’ll exploit.

    Win or lose, I’d love to see a strong defensive showing from the Hall.

    • They have at least 5 guys who can hit 3s including their freshman center, who is a stealthy 4-of-6.

      May see more J.T. due to this

  • Fishjam

    Creighton has much better athletes and shooters around Watson this year but he makes them all shoot even better by getting them wide open looks. He pushes the pace every posession and puts so much pressure on a defense you have to collapse on him and he is so adept at finding the open man and hitting him right in his chest. Watson leads the Nation in assists and is one of the best PG in the country.

    Our whole team has to get back on defense and stay with their man. Jones and JT have to play off Watson a bit and not let him beat them down the court. Make Watson beat you with his shooting….he’ll make some shots but if you double him he will find teammates for open 3s and dunks all day long. Let the PGs and Ish worry about his penetration. They have done a great job stopping penetration the last 5 games and Ish is playing at a high level again. The rest of our guys have to lock down the perimeter and Angel needs to keep a body on Patton as most of his points are on dunks and alley-oops.

    • LBP

      Fishjam –I was hoping that Jones and JT would harass Watson baseline to baseline–but that is easier said than done– Creighton is too good when Watson runs the Game –hopefully at home at home Myles will be better–believe that he is the key as to how good this Team can be (although it is still Delgado’s Team).

  • Joe Schmoe

    This game could be won or lost on the free throw line.

  • Matty P

    One area that Creighton sometimes struggles is stopping offensive rebounds. They give up on average 11 offensive rebounds per game and have given up 15+ offensive rebounds 4 times this season, all of which came against high major teams (Wisconsin, Ole Miss, Nebraska, and Arizona State). This might be the one area that Delgado, Sanogo, and Nzei can exploit and slow down their offense from running.

    • Joe Schmoe

      Hopefully we wont need that many second chances,,,,lol… game will come down to fundamentals. I liked what I saw vs Rutgers. team came out frozen, then lit it up in 2nd half. there were many times where they could have given up and didn’t. Game will be a fight down to the wire.

      • Matty P

        The team is going to need any advantage they can get in front of a packed house against Creighton. This will probably be the second hardest game on the schedule outside of playing Nova at the Pavilion. If the team comes out slow against Creighton like they did against RU there’s very little chance they will be able to claw back.

        • Joe Schmoe

          Agree… Delgado’s buckets need to fall…and we need a big night from Miles Powell.

  • Joe Schmoe

    I think SHU is the better team on paper, if they execute. If Creighton is dropping 3’s lights out, its going to be tough, but Creighton doesn’t have the rebounding prowess we have in Delgado, ish and Nzei. If they are limited on the boards, and have a below average shooting % night (for them), the Pirates will be in good shape.

  • RonD

    In the 2nd and 3rd games vs Creighton last year our guards went under screens when defending Watson. It cut down on his penetration and forced him to take some outside shots. Of course last year we had IW and Gordon to go along with Ish. Very interested to see how Jones and Thomas defend Watson.

  • Matty P

    CBS giving the BE some love and trying to help make the rest of the country aware that they should be included as a major conference for basketball. Oh and they also gave SHU some love by mentioning them in their top 5 of the conference and a team that should be included in the tournament.

  • Joe Schmoe

    I noticed they chartered a jet to Omaha. How many people typically travel on the team plane?

  • PadrePirate

    I saw the Jays play AZ State–a lot of drive and kicks by Watson. The guy is fast and has good court vision. They spread the floor well and leave 2 or 3 guys on the wings to hit wide open 3’s when the defense collapses. That’s probably why they don’t rebound well.

    t’d be interesting to watch the vs Oral Roberts game to see how that cupcake-ish team held them to 66 pts.

    • Joe Schmoe

      Poor shooting night. OR controlled the tempo…a slow game. OR was hitting their shots and the Jays seems confused with botched assignments and poor defense. Jays were down 5 with 6 to play and then the defense woke up. Defense held OR to miss final 8 shots and force three turnovers down the stretch…

  • As usual, I will be leaving this primer/preview post up to be used for in-game chat. Will have a recap + thoughts post up after the game.

  • hallstorm

    By the time this game is over, the refs will call fouls on Seton Hall’s bench and fans. I’ve never seen so many phantom fouls being called and I’ve seen Powell get hacked twice on jumpers and Jones get fouled going through the lane. Creighton doesn’t need the help.

    • LBP

      hallstorm– no way SHU could get a fair shake in Omaha–unfortunately it does not work the same in Newark

  • Andrew Herbst

    Rough 1/2. Have to improve our d. And make our free throws.

  • Matty P

    The team has looked stagnant at times on offense which is making it difficult to get decent looks. Hopefully they come out of the half looking better but I was worried about them being down by this much at the half. I’m not sure if they can overcome this deficit against a good team like Creighton.