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.
With an eye toward NCAA Tournament run, Seton Hall beefs up non-conference schedule
NEW YORK — Kevin Willard and the Seton Hall Pirates have made the NCAA Tournament in each of the past two seasons.
But each time, they were saddled with an unfavorable seed or an unfavorable first-round opponent — or both.
In 2016, the Pirates got a No. 6 seed. Their reward? A trip to Denver for a Gonzaga team seeded at No. 11, and a prompt 68-52 first-round exit.
In 2017, Seton Hall earned a No. 9 seed and faced No. 8 Arkansas in Greenville, S.C. Once again, the Pirates were bounced in the first round, 77-71.
“Obviously, if you just look at the history of the [NCAA] Tournament the lower seed obviously you’re going to have such a better chance of advancing,” Willard told me at Big East Media Day, where the Pirates were picked to finish second in the league behind defending champion Villanova.
“If you look at what the NCAA Tournament came out with last year about what they’re looking at, it’s not just RPI anymore. It’s who are you scheduling, who are you going to play? Wins and losses don’t matter as much as who you’re playing. So we challenged our guys this year to a very tough non-conference schedule.”
So heading into the 2017-18 season, where Seton Hall is armed with two Preseason All-Big East First Team players in Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington, Willard beefed up the team’s non-conference schedule with an eye toward building a more impressive résumé for the Selection Committee.
Consider that within their first nine games, Seton Hall will face Monmouth, Indiana, Rhode Island, Vanderbilt or Virginia, Texas Tech, Louisville and VCU.
Talk about a tough early road.
“One reason we scheduled the way we scheduled, not that our schedule has been bad in the past but we’ve kind of been stuck with some games and tournaments that have hurt us,” Willard said.
“When you play in these tournaments where if you lose your first game you don’t know who you’re playing in the second game or if you win your first game, you don’t know who you’re playing, we’ve been hurt with that a lot. So that’s why we wanted to play in the Preseason NIT. You kind of know who you’re playing.”
In the Preseason NIT, Seton Hall opens on Thanksgiving at Barclays Center against Atlantic 10 preseason favorite Rhode Island, coached by former Pirates guard Dan Hurley. After that they would play either Vanderbilt or Virginia on Nov. 24.
“It sets up our schedule much better,” Willard said. “If you play in these tournaments where you don’t know who you’re playing, you could get two teams that hurt your non-conference schedule and you didn’t schedule them, and it hurts you. So now for us, we really went out and we scheduled aggressively to say we’re playing against a Top 10 team in Louisville on the road. We’re playing in-state rival Rutgers on the road. We’re not just sitting at home playing bye games. We went out and scheduled to help us with our seeding in the NCAA Tournament.”
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.