No. 10 Creighton opens conference play against Seton Hall (Dec 28, 2016)
In three seasons as members of the Big East Conference, Creighton players and coaches have learned not to overlook any opponent.
Even when the 12-0 Bluejays open their fourth season of Big East play Wednesday against Seton Hall as the nation's 10th-ranked team they know that's not an option. Not even with No. 1-ranked and defending national champion Villanova next up on Creighton's schedule three days later.
Creighton's sole focus since winning at Arizona State Dec. 20 has been on preparing for the 7 p.m. CST game with the Pirates at CenturyLink Center in Omaha, Neb.
Though the Pirates (10-2) aren't ranked, they are the defending Big East tournament champions and have four of the five starters back from that squad. Among that crew is 6-foot-10 junior forward Angel Delgado, who is averaging 14.7 points and 11.8 rebounds per game.
"They're going to get it to Delgado and we're going to have to deal with it once it goes there," Creighton coach Greg McDermott said. "We'll mix up our looks on him and try to make him as uncomfortable as possible."
McDermott said there has been no peeking ahead to the Top 10 showdown with Villanova on New Year's Eve, especially taking into account Creighton's recent games against Seton Hall. The Bluejays have lost their last two to the Pirates, including an 81-73 setback in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Big East tournament.
For Saturday's game to have the meaning so many want to assign it, a loss Wednesday to the Pirates would take some of the shine off the Villanova game.
"Our defense is going to be tested, our physicality is certainly going to be tested," McDermott said. "If you're not ready for this game, you don't have a pulse. This is an important game for us."
Seton Hall has won its past two games on Creighton's home court. Only two other Big East teams -- Villanova and Providence -- have won at CenturyLink Center since the Jays joined the conference in 2013.
"To have the Big East tournament champions come in for the first game and the national champions come in for the second game, it's a big week for us, an important week for us," McDermott said. "If you're going to compete for the league title you're going to have to protect your home floor. It's that simple."
Pirates coach Kevin Willard has guided Seton Hall to a 5-1 record in Big East openers. The Pirates also have another winning streak they want to protect Wednesday night -- five consecutive victories over nationally-ranked opponents since Feb. 25.
"They're a really good rebounding team," Creighton guard Maurice Watson said. "They play with toughness, they're aggressive going to the rim. We have to get on them on the dribble and rebound."
As usual the Pirates are relying heavily on their defense, which was especially strong in wins over California, Iowa, South Carolina and Rutgers. Something will have to give Wednesday -- Seton Hall is allowing just 67.9 points per game while Creighton is eighth nationally in scoring at 89.8 per outing.
"Obviously they're terrific defensively, they play with a tremendous amount of toughness," McDermott said. "They've played a good schedule, they've got a good record, this is a legitimate Top 25 team that I think will be in the NCAA tournament."
Cutting down on turnovers will be key for the Bluejays as well after they coughed the ball up 15 times in the win over the Sun Devils.
Even with four players averaging in double figures -- led by 19.1 per game from Kansas State transfer Marcus Foster - the Bluejays must make the most of every possession the next two games if Creighton wants to remain one of the few unbeaten teams when the calendar changes to 2017 on Sunday.
"We're going to make a few mistakes because we want to attack and I want our guys on the attack," McDermott said. "When you do that, you have to live with a few of those. The key is we just can't afford the turnovers that lead to a basket on the other end. Those pick-six turnovers are tough ones to live with."