Butler Preview: No. 21 Seton Hall eyeing first 3-0 Big East start since ’98-99

No. 21 Seton Hall hopes to start Big East play 3-0 for the first time since 1998-99 when they clash with Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse on Saturday.

Rejuvenated by a five-day break amidst a paralyzing freeze across the region, Seton Hall (13-2, 2-0) heads to the Midwest for the first time this Big East season with ambitions to recreate a magical win at Butler (12-4, 2-1) to close out last season’s conference schedule.

Before the Big East tipped off, I wrote how the Bulldogs were playing better than expected (this is probably historically routine for their fan base) and that they were in the mix for an NCAA bid along with an unproven St. John’s and potentially-laden Marquette.

Since then, St. John’s has struggled, albeit with injuries, and Butler has made me look smarter than I am by knocking off top-ranked Villanova just last weekend.

In his first season at the helm since Chris Holtmann bolted for Ohio State, LaVall Jordan has impressed with wins over Holtmann and Utah in non-league play, but has now added a major win that will certainly hold weight if they maintain the same level of play going forward.

For Seton Hall, the smoke has dissipated from an uneasy stretch on and off the court that featured a suspension, a near transfer, and seemingly endless trash talking during games. 

Despite the tremors of negativity, the big picture says a top-25 ranking, a 13-2 record, their best start to league play in nearly two decades is within grasp, and Kevin Willard is adept at preparing his teams after prolonged rest (or is he? See below.).

Three things to watch

Seton Hall’s preparedness coming off a five-day break. Honestly, I’ve touted this claim (without researching it) built upon Kevin Willard’s common preference to like plenty of preparation: Willard is better than the pack at preparing his team when given similar rest to the opponent. Assuming similar rest, I looked into how Seton Hall has done over the past 2.5 seasons when they have had five or more days of rest between games. The result, not including Arkansas or season-openers? 10-2, with both losses (Florida, @Xavier) coming last season away from home.

A road test as tough as they come. Aside from the historic Hinkle Fieldhouse allure, Butler’s home venue is simply a fortress: they’ve won 25 of their last 27 games at home against schools not named Seton Hall, including the aforementioned upset of top-ranked Villanova last weekend. That said, the Hall and specifically Myles Powell, have nothing to fear having wrapped up their NCAA bid last season in a thriller last year at Hinkle which featured a 23-7 run to close the game.

The Kamar Baldwin-Kelan Martin one-two punch. I have admittedly not watched Butler as frequently as some other Big East schools, but guard Kamar Baldwin (15.4 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 2.9 apg) and familiar forward Kelan Martin (19.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg) can hang with any other one-two combo in the league. Freshman Aaron Thompson (5.1 ppg, 3.7 apg) has been able to shoulder some load at lead guard, allowing Baldwin and Martin to combine for 51 ppg, 12 rpg, and 5 apg in conference play.

KenPom says: No. 37 Butler 76, No. 20 Seton Hall 75

Series history: 2-7 SH

Projected Butler starters
PG – Aaron Thompson
G – Kamar Baldwin
G – Paul Jorgensen
F – Kelan Martin
F – Tyler Wideman

Projected Seton Hall starters
PG – Khadeen Carrington
G – Myles Powell
F – Desi Rodriguez
F – Mike Nzei
F – Angel Delgado

TV: 2:30ET, FS1
Radio: AM570
Opening line: Seton Hall +2.5