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Previewing Creighton: NIT chances on the line for Seton Hall

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With tough games against Providence and Georgetown on tap, the Hall needs to register a win against the Jays to boost their NIT chances.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

If Seton Hall wants to salvage their season and boost their chances of making the NIT when the field is revealed on Selection Sunday, disposing of their six-game losing streak by beating Creighton tomorrow afternoon would be a good place to start.

As John Templeton of Big Apple Buckets outlined for Jerry Carino, Seton Hall needs to win at least two more games before their season is over to feel somewhat confident of their NIT chances. The selection of the NIT is generally more unpredictable than the NCAA tournament's process and it will depend upon the performance of mid/low-majors that win regular season titles (automatic NIT bid) but lose in their conference tournament (winners receive automatic NCAA bids). If a team in this situation can't earn an at-large bid, they automatically eat up a spot in the NIT, taking away from a school like Seton Hall.

None of that will ultimately matter if the Hall's slide continues against Creighton (13-15, 4-11), which isn't far-fetched. The Bluejays don't sport an impressive overall record but have played well over their last seven games without key guard Isaiah Zierden (9.5 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 1.5 apg) who tore his MCL and patella against Butler last month.

Greg McDermott's team has alternated wins and losses over their last seven including a win over St. John's and a road win at Xavier after starting 0-8 in the conference. No young players have particularly stepped up in Zierden's absence, but an experienced core of seniors in point guard Devin Brooks (7.6, 5.1 rpg, 2.9 apg), leading scorer Austin Chatman (10.6 ppg, 3.8 apg, 3.5 rpg), Avery Dingman (4 ppg, 2.7 rpg), and Ricky Kreklow (7.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg) have all shouldered the extra load at the one-through-four positions.

After seeing limited minutes for most of the season, 7-footer Geoffrey Groselle (5 ppg, 2.4 rpg) has stepped up of late and has earned three starts over usual center Will Artino (6.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg) to add some depth in the paint for a general one-in, four-out approach. Groselle is averaging 10.8 ppg and 5 rpg over his last five games.

Creighton's balanced scoring attack is evident with only Austin Chatman averaging in double figures and has received boosts from guys like James Milliken (8.6 ppg, 2.8 rpg) and forward Toby Hegner (7.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg). Hegner scored a career high 21 in a win against St. John's and Milliken, who has started eight of the last 12 games after seeing little time prior, has reached double figures five times since Zierden went down.

The 6-foot-10 Hegner (43-118, 36%), Chatman (33-120, 28%), Milliken (30-90, 33%), and Kreklow (38-95, 40%) can all stroke it from beyond the arc and will look to spread the floor against Seton Hall's 28 percent three-point defense (4th in country). The Bluejays have the 19th-highest 3PA/FGA ratio in the country at 43.7 percent.

Seton Hall will be playing their second game without leading scorer Sterling Gibbs (16.7 ppg, 3.7 apg), who is sitting due to a two-game suspension for hitting Villanova's Ryan Arcidiacono.

Three things to watch

Seton Hall's perimeter defense. Most know by now that the Hall's statistical three-point defense is good (best in Big East, 4th in country), but are wary of how it passes the eye test. St. John's and Villanova combined to shoot 23 of 53 (43%) against it over the last two games including a plethora of open looks for both teams. In the first matchup, Creighton only attempted 15 threes, their lowest total of the season since also launching 15 in late-November against Middle Tennessee. Even without Isaiah Zierden, the Jays have the ability to space the floor and move the ball around. I would expect Kevin Willard to concoct a game plan that leaves the interior open and focuses on staying around the arc. Recall that the Jays had several open guys along the perimeter on their last possession with a chance to win the game in first meeting.

A more comfortable Isaiah Whitehead. Kevin Willard dismissed any possibility that Whitehead was affected by St. John's hostility toward him last Saturday and chalked his his liberal shot selection up to some near misses. I'm not so sure of that explanation, but I do expect Isaiah to have a much better game, especially early, tomorrow. Sterling Gibbs had a field day (22 pts, 4 asts) including the game-winning shot in the first meeting, Whitehead and Khadeen Carrington have the ability to pick up the slack.

Bench rotation. In the first few minutes of the St. John's game we saw a handful of different combinations that included Stephane Manga, Haralds Karlis, Rashed Anthony, and Desi Rodriguez. With Gibbs still out, I don't expect this to change tomorrow. At this point, Manga deserves his starts with the early energy he brings but Karlis definitely earned himself another look after an impressive stretch against St. John's. I do think Willard left Karlis in for a little too long last Saturday, but what were his alternatives?

Series history (SHU 2-2):

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

KenPom says: No. 80 Seton Hall 70, No. 97 Creighton 64 (71%)

Projected Creighton starters:

G - Austin Chatman
G - James Milliken
G/F - Ricky Kreklow
PF - Toby Hegner
C - Geoffrey Groselle

When: Saturday, 4pm
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: 970 AM
Opening line: Seton Hall -3