For Seton Hall basketball fans, there is no better time than March at Madison Square Garden. The last two years, the Pirates have played dramatic games, feeling both the exhilaration of a close win and the pain of a heartbreaking loss.
This year, the No. 3-seed Pirates will face No. 6-seed Butler in their Big East Tournament quarterfinal matchup on March 8 at 9:30 p.m. In the teams’ last regular season game on March 3, the Pirates broke away from Butler in front of a raucous home crowd at the Prudential Center, with a final score of 77-70.
Desi Rodriguez and Ismael Sanogo were sidelined for that game, and they are still game-time decisions for the quarterfinal rematch, according to Zach Braziller. With the two seniors out, the Pirates relied heavily on Khadeen Carrington, who finished with 25 points. Angel Delgado was also instrumental, scoring 21 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.
“It’s weird [playing Butler for a second consecutive game], but it’s better than playing someone like Creighton,” coach Kevin Willard said on March 5. “From a scouting standpoint, from the guys knowing what we’re doing, we have four days to work on us and understand what we’re going against. For us, it helps and for Butler, it helps.”
As far as playing style goes, this matchup favors Seton Hall due to the team’s sizeable athletic advantage over Butler. That starts in the paint with Delgado, who has dominated Butler this season. In the teams’ Jan. 6 matchup, Delgado finished with a career-high 28 points and 15 rebounds. Carrington also dropped 29 points and dished out six assists in that game, with Butler not having an answer for him defensively.
Still, it is yet to be determined whether the important pieces of Sanogo and Rodriguez will be on the court.
Kevin Willard: "I’m going to have to make a hard decision on both of them [Thursday night]. I’m not sure if either one of them will be ready, but they’re close. It, honestly, will be how they feel in warm-ups, how they feel [on Thursday] after practice today.” #shbb
— Zach Braziller (@NYPost_Brazille) March 7, 2018
With the Pirates’ depth in question once again, Carrington and Delgado will be looked to in carrying their load as seniors. Carrington has averaged 23.8 points in his last four games since Rodriguez has been injured, and he has shown a change in mentality.
“Definitely [without Desi] I changed my mindset,” Carrington said. “Desi leads us in scoring; he takes a lot of attention. So, when he was here I didn’t have to do as much as when he’s not here. Not just myself, but everybody has to pick their play up.”
Carrington’s hot streak has also come during Myles Powell’s cold streak. The Big East’s Most Improved Player of the Year has gone ice cold over the last three games, making just four of his 31 three-pointers. If Powell can regain his shooting touch, his scoring ability could be a difference-maker for the Pirates.
No matter how well Carrington plays, however, Butler still needs to search for an answer to Delgado in the paint. At six feet, eight inches, Tyler Wideman is Butler’s strongest post player and has struggled against Delgado in the past.
Even with Sanogo out, Mike Nzei was a force to be reckoned with next to Delgado, grabbing ten boards of his own in the regular season closer.
The key for the Pirates defensively will be stopping Butler’s Kelan Martin. That is easier said than done, however, as Martin dropped 35 points on the Pirates in last week’s game.
“Obviously when you go up against Kelan Martin, we’re going to have to figure out a way to do a little better job, because he was just dominant the other night,” Willard said. “He played like he’s played all year long, just absolutely great. So, it’s going to be another tough test.”
Outside of Martin, Kamar Baldwin and Paul Jorgenson will also pose threats to the Pirates due to their strong outside shots. If Willard can get his team to defend the three-point line, Butler will likely struggle to keep up with the Pirates offensively.
“We’ve got the 3-seed, and it’s now win-or-go-home,” Carrington said. “It’s going to be a dogfight from here on out.”
Andrew Lombardo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lombardo_andrew.