While it poured outside Walsh Gymnasium, the Seton Hall women’s basketball team dripped with swagger inside, galloping down the court with the ball at a quick dribble, terrorizing the River Hawks of UMass Lowell to the tune of a 90-57 romp.
The orchestration seemed so well-tuned, as the Pirates dished out 21 assists as a team, shot 54.2 percent from the field and 44 percent from three. But, while the Pirates now sit 6-1 with confidence at a surplus, hindsight is not treating their early non-conference opposition kindly. Only one of their seven previous foes – Saint Francis of Brooklyn – has a winning record.
Seton Hall’s early marquee opponent, UCLA, has a solid schedule, but all the while looks primed for a down year, currently 3-4.
Luckily, Seton Hall has a few litmus tests on the horizon: one with a pH level that would burn most on impact, in Storrs, Conn., against the empire that is Geno Auriemma’s UConn. The others a fairer barometer, on a neutral site in West Palm Beach, Fla., against currently 5-1 Georgia Tech and 3-2 UNC Greensboro.
Avoiding complete embarrassment against UConn, stinging the Yellow Jackets and out-jousting the Spartans are three almost crucial outcomes Seton Hall needs if it wishes to return to the NCAA Tournament.
Pirates Assistant Coach Lauren DeFalco has said that she believes Seton Hall can finish anywhere from third in the Big East – presumably behind mega powers DePaul and Marquette – to eighth, where the team finished two seasons ago.
Last season, the conference sent four schools – DePaul, Marquette, Villanova and Creighton – to the NCAA Tournament. In a glass-half-full perspective, all four earned a win. In a glass-half-empty one, none were left by the Sweet Sixteen.
This all is said to illustrate the strength of the conference, or at least what helps paint its national perception. Marquette, the 2018 regular season champions who lost in what was an away tournament final against DePaul, in Chicago’s Wintrust Arena, were given an 8-seed.
The Golden Eagles had lost their big games in non-conference play, but, by the same token, had gone 15-3 in the Big East. It was still low-end tournament-worthy in the committee’s eyes.
What does this forecast for Seton Hall, who hopes to get back to meaningful March basketball but whose non-conference is lacking a quality win? It means to reach the NCAA Tournament, the Pirates need one of two things: a downright exceptional conference season with no résumé-boosting wins before December 30, or, a really good conference season plus one or two bubble-shifting wins prior to Christmas. Why make it hard choosing the former over the latter?
Kaela Hilaire said after the Tuesday thrashing of UMass Lowell that she is “ready to win now,” but the biggest test for this team will come when the opposite happens in conference play, when the result does not go its way.
It is almost inevitable that the Pirates will drop below the .857-win percentage they are at right now, but the key will be to avoid losing streaks of three or more, or patches of four losses in six.
The positivity that radiates throughout the current roster is palpable: with role models like Victoria Cardaci and Kaity Healy in their final year of eligibility, along with maturing veterans under them like Shadeen Samuels and Kaela Hilaire. Keeping a healthy mindset, especially when offense is not clicking as fluently as it did on Tuesday, will be vital.
James Justice can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JamesJusticeIII.