When the men’s basketball team defeated Villanova on Saturday night in the Big East Championship game at Madison Square Garden, one thing was certain: the team would be playing in the NCAA Tournament.
It had been known since the team’s win over Xavier at the Prudential Center on Feb. 28 that the team would be playing well into March, but getting the Big East crown made it official.
While the appearance is huge for the team, as well as players who trying to build their collegiate resume, like Isaiah Whitehead who has an NBA future, there is no brand that will reap bigger rewards than that of head coach Kevin Willard.
A year from being on the chopping block after a late season collapse in 2014, Willard is co-Big East coach of the year. He has gotten his team to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in his tenure and he has led Seton Hall basketballs’ resurgence to relevancy. And he’s done it with his guys.
Every single player on this year’s team is a product of Kevin Willard’s recruiting regime. The credit, which certainly needs to be given to the players for their play, also needs to be given to Willard.
After a tumultuous end to last season, Willard easily could have been fired. It made sense. You don’t get to number 19 in the country mid-season and then miss the tournament. But Willard’s Pirates did. Ultimately, Willard was given yet another chance; a pretty big gamble by Athletic Director Pat Lyons that fortunately paid off.
Willard has done a lot this year, but above all he has silenced his critics. Willard has suffered years of ridicule from media outlets, including this publication, for a plethora of deserved reasons: late season collapses, locker room tension, off-court issues with players. But in this time, when things seem to be breaking Seton Hall’s way for the first time in a decade, it is important to give credit where credit is due.