Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
Seton Hall Dismantled By Villanova, Putting NCAA Tournament Hopes in Question
By DENNIS CHAMBERSNEWARK — In front of a sell-out crowd of 16,733 on Saturday against the reigning national champions, Seton Hall didn’t do any favors to its NCAA tournament résumé.
Instead, following the 92-70 beatdown they received from No. 2 Villanova at Prudential Center, the Pirates laid out the crystal clear path they need to take in order to have a shot at returning to the Big Dance.
As it stands, Seton Hall (16-10, 6-8) is sixth in the Big East with four games remaining on their schedule. Conventional wisdom says the Pirates need to finish at the very worst 9-9 in conference play – anything below an even record wouldn’t warrant a tournament invite.
Up next for the Pirates is their second meeting with Xavier, this time at home on Feb. 22. By all indications, the last game of their current three-game home stand is a must-win.
Even with his team’s back against the wall, head coach KevinWillard isn’t sweating yet.
“We’ll bounce back,” Willard said. “I’ve said this all along, I got a lot of confidence in these guys. We knew this was a big home stretch. Obviously you’d like to get all three, but we knew in reality you had to get two out of three. So we get a day off, which is nice, then we’ll come back.”
Xavier comes to play at the Prudential Center below full-strength. The Musketeers lost starting point guard EdmondSumner to a torn ACL back on Jan. 29 against St. John’s. Most recently, team leading-scorer TrevonBlueitt tweaked his ankle and has missed one game.
Head coach ChrisMack said on the 4 Quarters Podcast that Blueitt would be “day-to-day.”
In their last meeting, the Pirates dropped a home contest to the then-ranked No. 11 Bulldogs, 61-54.
With the big rematch ahead, which is pivotal for Seton Hall’s tournament hopes, their big man in the middle believes a win is contingent on playing hard.
“We just now gotta take advantage and play harder than before,” AngelDelgado said about the importance of beating Xavier. “Like play harder than ever, because we got a big opportunity now and we cannot let that opportunity go.”
Though the path is clear to return to the NCAA tournament, the outlook is rather bleak. Following Xavier, the Pirates must play at DePaul on Feb. 25, home against Georgetown on Feb. 28, and travel to Butler on Mar. 4 to close out the season.
The Pirates haven’t defeated Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse since the Bulldogs joined the Big East. Barring a bucking of trends, that would leave the Pirates with must-wins against DePaul and Georgetown.
Seton Hall beat Georgetown on the road in overtime 68-66 back on Feb. 4, and dominated DePaul 87-56 back on Jan. 7.
With the picture painted on their season however, KhadeenCarrington feels no worries from himself or his teammates.
“Guys are staying positive,” Carrington said. “It’s a positive attitude. We took a tough loss last week at St. John’s and came out and beat Creighton. Now we take a tough loss versus Villanova, so it’s just staying positive. There’s no time to sit around and sulk.”
The next few weeks for the Pirates will be the determining factor if they can pull off back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances. Before Saturday’s loss, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi placed Seton Hall in a 12-seed play-in game against Illinois State.
Despite a tough road ahead, Delgado isn’t treating the upcoming schedule as a chance to play back into a tournament invite.
The nation’s leading rebounder believes the Pirates are still right there.
“In my opinion, we’re going to the NCAA tournament,” Delgado said. “We’re not backing out, we’re still in it. I think we’re going to be there for sure.”
Photo: Julio Cortez
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