For the Seton Hall men’s basketball team, it was not March that came in like a lion, but February. The team endured its toughest stretch of the season early in the month, as it suffered four straight losses at the hands of No. 1 Villanova, Marquette, Georgetown and No. 4 Xavier.
In the closing weeks of the month, the Pirates showed their ability to overcome adversity, with three straight wins against DePaul, Providence and St. John’s. The key for Seton Hall in its recent return to form has been improved defending in the first half, particularly from three.
During the four-game losing streak, opponents averaged 91.2 points per game. In their recent three-game winning streak, however, Seton Hall’s defense has limited opponents to 76 points per game.
One can make the case that the Pirates were bound to give up more points per game against those teams, considering their skill level. Two of those teams are in the top-four in the country, and Marquette, despite its losing conference record, still is fourth in the Big East in points per game. That said, giving up an average of 90 points per game is not acceptable for a team with NCAA tournament aspirations.
The defensive struggles for the Pirates were rooted in poor first halves. During its four-game losing streak, Seton Hall allowed Villanova to shoot 46.3 percent from the field, Marquette 59.3 percent, George59.4 percent and Xavier to shoot 56.7 percent from the field in the first half.
The Pirates were unable to prevent teams from finding their rhythm from deep, and it hurt them in the games against Xavier and Marquette, specifically. Against Xavier, Seton Hall allowed nine threes in the first half, creating a 20-point first half hole. Meanwhile, against Marquette, the Pirates allowed six threes in the first half.
What is ironic is that the opposite was true in the Pirates’ game against Georgetown, as they limited the Hoyas to 28.6 percent shooting from behind the arc in the first half and 31.6 percent on the game. The problem in that game was Seton Hall’s failure to defend the paint and box out Marcus Derrickson, who exploited that to the tune of 22 points and 18 rebounds.
The defense in the second half was much better in three of those four games, as they limited the opposing teams to 50 percent from the field or lower in the final 20 minutes. Villanova was the only team that equaled 50 percent shooting in the second half, as the Wildcats got hot in the final 10 minutes.
The problem was that the Pirates went into the halftime with a large deficit that ended up being too much to recover from. In the four games, the team was outscored by opponents 174-136 in the first half, a 38-point differential.
The Pirate defense improved slightly in a home win against DePaul on Feb. 18, but it was the offense that led the way as DePaul shot 50 percent from the field in the first half. Seton Hall’s bizarre game against Providence proved to be the turning point, as the Pirates limited the Friars’ offense to just 41.9 percent shooting in the first half. Seton Hall’s best defensive game in the stretch was their last against St. John’s on Feb. 24, where the Pirates limited the Red Storm to just 42.6 percent shooting in the game.
Moving forward, the defense will be critical for Seton Hall as it faces Villanova on Feb. 28 and Butler on Mar. 3.
Defense wins championships and the Pirates will have to step up on that end of the floor if they want to have any postseason success.
Jose Feliciano can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @JFeliciano1101.