During their week off between playing St. John's last Thursday and Georgetown this Thursday, Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard challenged his team to finish the Big East regular season 6-0. "I put a goal out on the board," said Willard on 970 AM post-Georgetown. "Let's try to go 6-0. Let's try to string some wins together, see what we can do."
With one game in the books toward that goal, an 82-67 thumping of Georgetown at Prudential Center, Willard and his Pirates now face the biggest obstacle on their remaining Big East schedule: A road trip to Omaha, Nebraska to take on No. 11 Creighton. The Bluejays have won three straight, including their second drubbing of No. 9 Villanova on the season, since falling to St. John's 70-65 at Madison Square Garden two weeks ago.
Sporting the nation's top three-point field goal percentage (42.6%), and sixth-best two-point field goal percentage (55.6%), Willard admits how different a matchup Creighton poses for his team compared to Georgetown. "The craziest thing about it, it's such a different game. You go from having to guard two guys behind the line [versus Georgetown] to having to guard all five. When they put [center] Will Artino in the game, that's the only time you don't have to guard [all five beyond the arc]," said Willard. Creighton has four players who shoot the three at greater than 40%, three of whom have attempted more than 100 three-pointers on the season in forward Doug McDermott (65-145, 44.8%), guard Austin Chatman (25-61, 41%), guard Jahenns Manigat (48-108, 44%), and the 6-7 Ethan Wragge (89-180, 49%). Creighton ranks third in the country in percentage of total points coming from beyond the arc (38.6%) and eleventh in 3PA/FGA (43.7%).
After grinding out a 68-63 win at Butler last week, Creighton took care of Villanova at home and Marquette on the road in their two games since. The Bluejays were an efficient 9-15 (25-38, 65% 2pt) and 12-23 (16-22, 72% 2pt) from downtown against their opponents, respectively. "I watched them against Marquette the other night, I watched the Villanova game yesterday [Wednesday]. I don't know, I think they're as good as any team in the country. We're going to have to change our philosophy, our mentality, from playing soft-ish [Willard was hard to hear...] to try and get a little bit aggressive. We have not played zone, I don't know if we should even try zoning them, I'm not even going to waste my time tomorrow [in practice] with that," said Kevin Willard. "McDermott is always moving, they are always pushing the pace and eventually you break down and lose Wragge. And he really is the key of the team, they feed off him making threes. Both Villanova games he's gone off, Marquette the other night he made two big ones and then you loosen up and McDermott hits one. Greg [McDermott] has done a great job with that basketball team."
As well as Creighton has played offensively over their last two games, and most of the season, there is some hope that the Big East leaders "struggle" like they did against Butler (8-20 3pt, 16-28 2pt). Willard went so far as to say he didn't think that the Pirates defended that poorly against Creighton when they visited a Teague-less Seton Hall in early January (21-40 2pt, 10-27 3pt). "We didn't do a bad job defending them here. We didn't do a good job scoring against them. You know, that's something that no one really talks about Creighton, the reason why they are really good is because they are really good defensively, they are solid. They're not going to do anything specular, they are just a solid defensive team," diagnosed Willard. Generally, Willard is accurate in describing a Creighton defense that is ranked 71st in adjusted defensive efficiency, but is ranked sub-320 in turnover percentage (325th), steal percentage (337th), and block percentage (345th).
Also playing their best basketball of the season, this is Seton Hall's best chance to notch the first road win for any Big East team at CenturyLink Arena. The Pirates were without centers Gene Teague and Aaron Geramipoor in the first meeting, while Fuquan Edwin (ankle) and Patrik Auda (foot) played, but were not 100-percent. The latter two players struggled, evident by Auda being completely outmatched by Doug McDermott in the paint and away from it, and Edwin scoring just eight points on six shots off the bench. Geramipoor is playing the best basketball of his career, but may unfortunately be a defensive liability as his strength is not playing away from the basket. If he does see extended minutes, Aaron will be asked to crash the offensive glass with Teague, Auda, and Brandon Mobley in an effort to notch more than the one offensive board they snared in the first meeting. "We're going to have to go back and watch the film and figure that out a little bit, maybe run some other stuff to get both of our big guys in there [the paint]," Willard said post-Georgetown. "We try to space our guys out a little bit, but we need to get some more offensive rebounds." Seton Hall ranks 306th in the country overall (26.7%) and last in Big East play (21.4%) on the offensive glass.
The clash at CenturyLink Arena, a venue that has seen a visitor triumph just once in the past two calendar years (11/28/12, Boise State), resulting in a 16-game home win streak, is undeniably Seton Hall's toughest test on the season, but could provide an unprecedented springboard for a four-game-in-nine-day stretch, regardless of the ultimate outcome. "We've played in big places, playing there's not a big deal," proclaimed Kevin Willard, whose team has won at Providence, Xavier, and Georgetown this season. "It's just a matter of playing them, [laughs]."
KenPom says: No. 2 Creighton - 83, No. 84 Seton Hall - 66 (6%)
Projected Creighton starters:
6-0 Jr., G - Austin Chatman (7.6 ppg, 4.3 apg, 3.4 rpg)
6-1 Sr., G - Jahenns Manigat (7.7 ppg, 3.1 apg, 1.2 spg)
6-5 Sr., G - Grant Gibbs (6.6 ppg, 4.3 apg, 3.8 rpg)
6-7 Sr., G/F - Ethan Wragge (11.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg)
6-8 Sr., F - Doug McDermott (25.8 ppg, 7.1 rpg; 39 pts 15-17 fg versus VU; 24 pts 9-12 fg versus MU)
When: Sunday, 5 p.m. ET
TV: MSG (locally), FOX Sports National
Radio: AM 970 WYNM