Seton Hall and Villanova will square off in the Big East Tournament yet again on Friday, creating a feeling of déjà vu.
After losing to the Wildcats twice in the regular season, the Pirates are trying to make the third time, a 6:30 p.m. semifinals matchup at Madison Square Garden, the charm. The Pirates, of course, beat Villanova in last year’s Big East Championship game. Now they will have to take down the country’s No. 2 team just to make it to the finals.
Kevin Willard said that his Pirates are a more experienced bunch than the group that won it all last year.
“I think both years are a little different. Each opponent has been a little different,” the coach said after SHU’s quarterfinals win over Marquette. “The biggest difference in the feeling this year is that these guys understand the excitement and importance of the Big East Tournament.”
Willard returns seven players, including four starters, who were all there to take the Big East title from No. 1-seeded Villanova last season.
Despite the level of comfort, Willard couldn’t help but joke about having to play one of the country’s premier teams again.
“It’s like waking up on Christmas, you’re all excited, you go down, you open up the present and you’ve got a bunch of coal,” Willard said laughingly.
The Pirates got plenty of coal in the two prior losses to the Wildcats on Jan. 16 and Feb. 18, where the Hall was defeated by margins of 30 and 22 points, respectively.
The Pirates are not harping on those defeats heading into Friday’s rematch, though.
Angel Delgado, who nearly had a triple-double against Marquette, said it doesn’t matter who the Pirates play.
“I’m happy to play anybody. I’m always happy,” he said. “I tell the coach and the guys, I’m playing ball to have fun. That’s what I’m doing right now. We can play an NBA team, I don’t care, I want to go and have fun.”
Wingman Desi Rodriguez said stopping the Wildcats starts with Seton Hall sticking to its process.
“Watch film, know personnel and know their plays and what they run,” he said of preparing for the contest. “It’s going to take defensive intensity to win the game.”
It may take more than that. With stars like Josh Hart, Kris Jenkins and Jalen Brunson headlining a Nova supporting cast that also includes Donte DiVincenzo and Eric Paschal, Seton Hall will have its hands full.
“They’re a fantastic team. I think this is Jay’s (Wright) best job by far. I think it’s his best team by far,” Willard said. “I think they’re probably the best team in the country and we’re gonna have to get to work and figure out a way.”
History has a funny way of repeating itself, but the Pirates are driven by more than just trends.
“Everybody says it’s hard to beat a team three times, but they’re the No. 2 team for a reason,” Rodriguez noted. “I think we got a shot at beating them and I’m confident in my guys going out there tomorrow and putting on a show.”
Kyle Kasharian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ItsKyleKash.