Seton Hall’s road clash with Creighton has NCAA implications

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Sitting at 14-6 (4-4), the same record that they held this time last year, Seton Hall has an opportunity to notch another résumé-building win when they play at NCAA-hopeful Creighton (14-7, 5-3) tonight in Omaha.

Fresh off a 79-60 drubbing of St. John’s on Wednesday that snapped a two-game skid, Seton Hall is looking to turn their flight to Nebraska into a business trip after the Jays thoroughly bested the Hall 82-67 at Prudential Center in early January, prompting a preemptive players-only meeting call from Derrick Gordon.

“Being 4-4 is where I thought we would be,” reflected Kevin Willard after his team’s win over St. John’s. “I thought we might steal a Nova or a — obviously the Creighton game [hurt], but it’s right where we want to be. The schedule’s not easy, but having three out of four at home [coming up] is a little bit more conducive than what we just had to go through.”

Tonight’s battle with Creighton is the lone road game nested before a three-game homestand against Marquette, Georgetown and Butler. The surprise of the Big East thus far this season, Creighton are five-point favorites and will have over 18,000 fans on hand tonight; I’d argue it’s the toughest test of the four games.

“Last game was weird, we got up 22-17, and we just didn’t have a whole lot emotionally,” recalled Willard of his team’s poor loss to Creighton. “When you haven’t played them in a while, they are a very tough team to play because of the speed they play at. I thought that their speed surprised us a bit and took us off-balance.

“I think the biggest thing for us is we’ve got to rebound the basketball and we’ve got to do a better job on [Maurice] Watson because Watson got in the lane way too much against us,” said Willard of Creighton’s point guard, who scored 13 and dished 14 assists in Newark. “We struggled offensively and he really hurt us.”

“We’ve got to contain Maurice Watson, he’s a good player, fast. He reminds me of JT [Jevon Thomas],” said Khadeen Carrington. “We’re going to try to contain him and we’re going to try to get another one on Saturday, we’ve got to get on a little run right here.”

Isaiah Whitehead concurred with both his coach and backcourt mate.

“It’s just about keeping him [Watson] out of the lane. If we do a number keeping him out of the lane he really can’t make the defense collapse, so if we have some good ball pressure and keep him out of the lane I think we’ll do a good job on him.”

Outside of Watson, 7-foot center Geoffrey Groselle gave Angel Delgado fits en route to 20-point, 4-rebound performance. Delgado struggles at times against superior length and will need to channel what inspired him to score 15 and grab 17 boards against St. John’s.

If Seton Hall can clamp down defensively and grab offensive rebounds to slow the Jays down, they’ll give themselves a good chance tonight. Creighton’s well-drilled offense missed a batch of high-percentage shots early in the last meeting but then heated up and really frustrated the Pirates, setting the tempo of the game along the way; Greg McDermott’s team is 32nd in offensive efficiency and 66th in tempo.

Beating Creighton would give Seton Hall their second résumé win away from home — assuming the Jays keep playing at this clip — joining the upset of ranked Providence in Rhode Island. While everyone but Derrick Gordon hasn’t played in these NCAA-laced situations before, the players at least know the importance and implications of games like tonight.

“We talk about it every day, every day I’m telling you,” says Khadeen Carrington of the NCAAs. “That’s why we came here. We’re trying to turn the program around. I thought we did an alright job last season to start. I would say we were young so we didn’t know what to expect as the season went along, but this year all of us have experience so we’re just taking it one game at a time.”

When asked if he was obsessed with March’s darling tournament, Carrington confirmed.

“I’m definitely obsessed. I want to get there, I want to know what it feels like. So I’m going to do everything in my power to get there. And I’m going to try to bring the guys along with me, just ride everybody every day.”

“Growing up, you always watch TV and see the big tournament on all the channels and you always dream about being there,” agreed Isaiah Whitehead. “That’s just one of the dreams we had growing up and I think we have a great chance of getting there.”

With Creighton also sitting on the same premature NCAA bubble as Seton Hall, these are the types of games I’ve been pegging since league play started as make-or-break opportunities, for both schools.

If Seton Hall wants to improve the chances of their dreams coming true, replicating the DNA of their win at Providence, a performance that will hold weight come March, is the goal.

“We just have to bring that mental edge and that mental toughness that we did when we played against Providence,” said Whitehead. “We really went out there and it was a business trip and if we do that going into Saturday we’ll come out with a win.”

KenPom says: No. 35 Creighton 79, No. 42 Seton Hall 74 (32%)

Series history (Seton Hall 3-3):

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:

Maurice Watson Jr. (14.1 ppg, 6.5 apg)
Isaiah Zierden (12.3 ppg, 2.6 apg)
Khyri Thomas (7.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg)
Toby Hegner (6.5 ppg, 4.2 rpg)
Geoffrey Groselle (11.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg)

Projected Seton Hall starters:

Isaiah Whitehead (15.7 ppg, 4.5)
Khadeen Carrington (14.7 ppg, 2.6 apg)
Desi Rodriguez (12.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg)
Ismael Sanogo (4.6 ppg, 7.5 rpg)
Angel Delgado (9.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg)

Time: 8et, Saturday
TV: FSN/MSG (locally)
Radio: 970 AM
Opening line: Seton Hall +5

  • LBP

    Creighton is very beatable. Would go miles if the Hall plays hard and controls this Game.
    Do not like that Willard is satisfied with the record. This Team has the best Talent in years. Coach with higher expectations and less excuses.

    • PadrePirate

      Yes, that caught my eye too. As tough as this league is this year, I think we can do better than .500. These guys seem to be pushing themselves harder than the coach (cf. KC quotes above). Wish the tournament hunger would spread. Looking at remaining games, 10-8 or 11-7 is not out of reach.

      Regardless of the outcome, I want to see intensity tonight from the first whistle. No 10 min of flat ball, like vs. St John.

      This is a winnable, must-win game.

    • Louie Dee

      Amen

    • There is truth in what KW said. Before he made statement, I had thought schedule was front-end heavy. Hall next 6 games are not X/PC/Nova; already played Nova twice.

      • Fishjam

        With their schedule so far, 4-4 is par….5-3 would have been a birdie. The key is shooting a birdie over these final 10…..6-4 should get them in the NCAAs. Every single game is going to be tough. The Georgetowns, Creightons, Butlers and even Marquette aren’t getting a lot of credit from people but I believe between those 4 and Seton Hall, 3 should get NCAA invites.

  • VinBick

    Happy the game is on MSG because YES is not on Comcast Cable here at the Shore. Talk about “must wins” here we go, again. All three teams coming into the Rock are going to be hungry and mean opponents. No easy wins in this league…

    • Nice. I’m usually not in region for MSG but happen to be this weekend.

  • SHULaw05

    Game Day! Rebounding, tough defense and sharing the basketball will bring home the win. Assign Gordon to Watson for the majority of the game. We need the entire team to focus and perform. The Hall can do it tonight.

  • Andrew Herbst

    Tonight is a chance to make a statement. We need to play tough d and attack the boards. We can win this game. Have to stay focused.

  • fouline

    Since many analysts have put us in the NCAA tourney already, then starting tonight, it’s ours to lose.

  • Fishjam

    Great article Chris. This is going to be a tough test for the Pirates. Creighton is a seriously good team, I’d ay borderline Top 25. I re-watched a lot of their games and they are so well coached and move so fast and efficient offensively. If not for 2 last-second 1-point losses at Prov and vs GTown, they’d be 7-1 in Big East.
    We were soundly whipped in the first meeting becuase they had Villanove-hangover and took the BlueJays too lightly. The young Pirates are a very emotional team and play flat & unfocused when they have negative emotion. When they feelmotivated they play much better and I think they have the right mind frame coming into this one. They have given great efforts in “revenge” games this year against Georgia, Wichita St, Marquette, Providence and the 2nd Nova game. They have A LOT of incentive to get revenge on Creighton for embarassing them at The Rock.
    I said before the first game that Watson was one of the best kept secrets in the BE….not anymore. He’s now got some recognition and is one of the Conference’s best players averaging 17 pts & 7 assists while shooting 50% in BE games. He plays very well with Groselle on the pick and roll. The Pirates have to stop him from penetrating and creating. I would play off him and make him beat you with his jump shot…..he will hit some but when he penetrates he’s nearly unstoppable so pick your poison. Groselle is so good at positioning, He gets so many easy buckets because of this and he also creates offensive rebounding opportunities and lanes for Watson to drive through by using his body to box out prior to shots going up.
    Angel and Ish really have to step up to limit Groselle and Hanson. If they come off them to help, someone else needs to get a body on them to prevent them from hitting the offensive glass. Watson and company got Whitehead and Carrington into very early foul trouble last game. Time to put Gordon back in the starting lineup….same strategy they used versus Kris Dunn. Try to limit Watson’s penetrating with Gordon, frustrate him a little, maybe pick up a foul or 2 and KEEP IW & Dino out of foul trouble so they can drive and create on the offensive end. If you recall both sat out big portions of the 1st half so our offense struggled after we were up 22-17 midway through, IW even got his 3rd PFin the 1st half.
    Creighton doubled Angel everytime he touched the ball and it frustrated the shit out of him. He turned it over, got abused by Groselle and eventually got the Technical. Go to Angel early down low to get him some confidence. He has to catch and make his move to shoot quickly. He shouldn’t be handling the ball a lot far from the hoop…when he does someone has to get the ball from him quickly.
    Try to get ahead early to keep the crowd under control. Willard will need to save his timeouts to use when Creighton goes on a little run to prevent the crowd from going nuts. Very tough matchup for Pirates but they can win it if they give an effort we’ve seen them give several times this year.

    • LBP

      Fishjam and Chris should form as a Team-both provide nice and cogent analysis and insight.
      I am strapping on my seatbelt and will be disappointed -really disapointed- with a loss.If SHU can get their bigs in foul trouble , the Creighton Team loses all luster. Not good defensively; slower and no magic shooter. They do have a “pit” ,but frankly, it is no Dunkin Donut Center-lets get the win

      • Fishjam

        Thank you LBP…hope the Pirates take care of business so I can enjoy the rest of my weekend. I get so frustrated when they play poorly. lol

        I just realized this week that Chris and I are from the same town although I suspect I have about 20 years on him. Chris, what year did you graduate SPF? I graduated SPF 91’/SHU in 95′.

        • LBP

          Sad to say I have 21 years on you and -oh my Chris!!!

          • Fishjam

            Its all good LBP….3 generations united by our love of Pirate basketball, it’s a beautiful thing when they play like they played in the 1st half.

  • LBP

    Best Half of SHU Basketball I have seen in 10 years- Willard and staff had them ready-hope they keep up the energy-Jays look befuddled