The Big East features its share of stout defensive teams, but Seton Hall Pirates has not seen a defense like the one North Carolina State will throw at them in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday.
Led by first-year head coach Kevin Keatts, the Wolfpack employs a full-court, man-to-man ball pressure scheme with an occasional full-court press thrown in. While plenty of teams in the Big East apply man-to-man ball pressure, none of them do it in the full court for the duration of the game like NC State does.
Part of breaking NC State’s pressure defense relies on the opposing point guard not only dribbling through traffic, but also making smart passes in order to get out of dangerous situations. For Seton Hall, that responsibility falls on the shoulders of senior Khadeen Carrington.
A converted point guard, Carrington has struggled at times this season while adjusting to his new role. Whether it was his shot disappearing or his court vision lacking, Carrington has not seemed entirely comfortable running the point at times this season. It is well known that Carrington thrives playing off the ball, and as the point guard, he has not been able to play to all his strengths.
Despite Carrington’s inconsistency at the position, Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard has stuck with Carrington. Now, with Seton Hall’s season hanging in the balance, the responsibility will be on Carrington to weather the storm that is NC State’s defensive philosophy.
“I’ve been seeing pressure all year, I’ve been seeing the best defenders all year,” Carrington said. “I just have to take it on like I know how to take it on.”
At times this season and in past years, Seton Hall has been unsteady handling the ball in pressure situations. Whether it is an opposition steal or a dribble off the foot, the Pirates have found ways to turn the ball over in the most crucial situations. Thursday’s game will likely come down to how Seton Hall handles NC State’s pressure defense, as costly turnovers down the stretch are not a recipe for success in the NCAA Tournament.
“We were working on it today, I’m sure we’re going to do well against their pressure,” Carrington said after practice on Monday. “We’ve played teams that pressure too, a bunch of teams we’ve played show pressure well, so I think we’re prepared for it.
“I wouldn’t say the game would come down to [dealing with NC State’s press]. We whave to take care of the ball and that starts with me. There are other factors of the game, like us playing defense. Once we lock in defensively, I think we can beat anyone.”
If Seton Hall finds a way to break NC State’s press, capitalizing on opportunities will be key, as the Pirates cannot afford to succumb to NC State’s half court man-to-man ball pressure defense. NC State can be had offensively if the Pirates do break the press, as they allow 74.5 points per game, and rank 140th in the NCAA in defensive efficiency.
“I was watching them play Boston College the other day and Boston College did a good job getting easy buckets [out of breaking the press],” Carrington said. “I think that’s why they were up by 20 at one point; they were just beating the pressure to get easy baskets. That’s what coach means by making them pay, and we’re just going to try to execute our game plan against them.”
Despite its propensity to struggle when pressured, Seton Hall is a team that has thrived at times while playing in transition, and this get-out-and-run style could prevent NC State’s pressure defense from getting off the ground.
“[Playing in transition] could definitely play into our hands,” Carrington said. “Them coming up to trap me, I can hit Myles [Powell], Myles hits Desi [Rodriguez] and again, we’re good in transition. We’re good in that type of role.”
As prepared as Seton Hall’s is to deal with NC State’s defense, the Wolfpack have had the chance to see some of Seton Hall’s weaknesses on film as well. The main point of emphasis for the Wolfpack has likely been to disrupt the flow of the Seton Hall offense by attempting to force its point guard into poor decisions.
Carrington knows that NC State will be gunning for him from the opening tip, meaning that composure will be essential for the Pirates to get into their half-court offense where they can then exploit the Wolfpack’s subpar defense.
“I put it on myself to stay composed, be calm and beat the pressure,” Carrington said. “Once we beat it, we’ll get easy buckets.”
Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.