An exit from the 2017 Big East Tournament may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for Seton Hall.
Last year, after the Pirates won the Big East Championship, March officially became madness. The team went from holding up the Big East trophy to hosting a Selection Sunday party to being on a plane to Denver, Co. in roughly 48 hours.
It was a thrill, but not one that benefited Seton Hall once it was time to dance. In addition to a difficult draw against Gonzaga and the Rocky Mountain altitude, the Pirates were not completely focused. The Bulldogs proceeded to knock SHU out in the opening round.
“I think the biggest difference between last year and this year is we were mentally and emotionally exhausted from the Big East Tournament,” Willard said. “I don’t think we really ever had a chance to kind of mentally get back into it.”
Now, instead of playing on a Thursday in Denver, Seton Hall is playing on a Friday in Greenville, S.C. That extra day and proximity to home will allow the team to get more practices in at school before flying to Greenville Wednesday afternoon.
“This year, us playing on Friday, having a couple days to practice, I think we understand much better the opportunity that we have, where I think last year, I think everything was a little bit of a blur,” Willard said.
Junior Ismael Sanogo remembers it much like his coach.
“I think this year we’ll be better mentally prepared,” Sanogo said. “Like last year, we were still stuck on that high being Big East Champions. Now, we want to win something, so we got to go out there and prove something.”
Last year, the players were already winners. This year, they want to cross a NCAA Tournament win off their bucket lists.
Angel Delgado can’t wait to bring it on the court Friday, as he agrees the team will be more prepared. That, he said, will make all the difference.
“I think last year, everything happened too fast after the Big East Tournament,” Delgado said. “I think we got a little bit more time to prepare this year, and I think Arkansas is a really good team. It’s going to be a really good game, I can’t wait for that game.”
Last year, a championship and hectic schedule drained the team. Now, the players are confident in this season’s process. An early exit in the Big East Tournament may turn out to be a reward come Friday’s NCAA Tournament game against Arkansas.
“We came up with a tough loss, but we’re really not dwelling on the loss,” Khadeen Carrington said. “We’re taking the positives from that loss and taking them to the game on Friday.”
Elizabeth Swinton can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @eswint22.