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