Michael Nzei may be forced to handle a bigger workload for the second straight game when No. 24 Seton Hall hosts No. 23 Creighton on Thursday in the Big East opener for both teams. Nezi played 29 minutes in place of the suspended Ismael Sanogo in last week’s victory over Manhattan and the junior could be in line for a similar role against the Bluejays.
Nzei isn’t the same defensive presence as Sanogo, whose status is questionable after being suspended for a violation of team and university rules, but he is a capable scorer who works well with fellow big man Angel Delgado. “The great thing about Mike is that he is going to score, but you don’t have to run plays for him,” coach Kevin Willard told the media. “And he really helps Angel on post-ups because he’s really sneaky on the baseline.” Nzei and the rest of the Pirates will need to be at their best to account for Creighton’s Marcus Foster, who is the nation’s active leader in career field goals and is sixth in career points. Foster has taken his game to next level in terms of shooting, particularly from the 3-point line, where his has improved his percentage by 101 points from last season to 44.2 percent for the Bluejays, who have won five straight games.
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ABOUT CREIGHTON (10-2): In addition to having one of the nation’s top scorers in Foster, the Bluejays also have the reigning Big East Defensive Player of the Year in Khyri Thomas, who has become more of a force on the offensive end. Thomas has scored in double figures in all but one game while increasing his production to 15.3 points per game. Freshmen Mitch Ballock and Ty-Shon Alexander, who have combined to average 16.8 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.1 assists, will be making their Big East debuts for coach Greg McDermott, who is 11-22 with Creighton when facing a ranked opponent, including wins this season over Northwestern and UCLA.
ABOUT SETON HALL (11-2): By averaging 14.3 rebounds over the past six games, Delgado passed Ken House (1969-72) for third place on Seton Hall’s all-time rebounding list with 1,200. The 6-10 senior center from the Dominican Republic, needs 64 rebounds to overtake Glenn Mosley (1973-77) for the No. 2 spot, but has no chance to reach the 1,697 rebounds recorded by Walter Dukes (1950-53). Delgado had 15 points and 18 rebounds in the victory over Manhattan as the Pirates improved to 46-13 when he records a double-double.
1. The 19 points scored by Doug McDermott in 2013 is the most for a Creighton player in their Big East debut, although McDermott was a senior when the Bluejays joined the conference.
2. Led by junior Kaleb Joseph, the Bluejays have seven players who average between 2.4 and 3.2 assists.
3. Seton Hall owns a 5-4 edge over Creighton in Big East games and an 11-5 lead in the series.
PREDICTION: Creighton 77, Seton Hall 73