For the second consecutive year, Seton Hall could not box out.
In last year’s Big East Tournament semifinals, the Pirates failed to box out Villanova star Josh Hart in the closing seconds, leading to a putback layup that wound up being the deciding factor.
This season, with the clock winding down in the tournament quarterfinals, Butler point guard Kamar Baldwin blew by Seton Hall’s Michael Nzei on a pick and roll and found himself with a chance to win the game with a layup. However, Baldwin, who torched Seton Hall with 32 points on the night, missed the layup. As the ball rolled past the rim, it looked like Seton Hall was going to survive a furious Butler comeback.
Instead, Butler big man Tyler Wideman came in untouched, just as Hart did one year ago, and cleaned up Baldwin’s miss to give Butler a 75-74 victory and a date with Villanova in the semifinals.
This was not the storybook ending that Seton Hall’s senior class, a group that won the Big East Championship as sophomores, expected. This was a stage for their final hoorah at Madison Square Garden and if they could defeat Butler, they would get a final shot at beating Villanova one more time.
Now, Seton Hall heads back to South Orange a bit earlier than expected. With the NCAA Tournament looming, the Pirates cannot afford to keep their heads down for long, as there is still work to do. But Thursday night’s loss could have ramifications in terms of Seton Hall’s status in the tournament.
Heading into Thursday night, Seton Hall was entrenched as a No. 7 seed according to various bracketologists, including the reputable Joe Lunardi of ESPN and Jerry Palm of CBS Sports. A No. 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament means that if Seton Hall wins its first game, it would not have to face a one-seed in the round-of-32. Instead, the Pirates would likely have a No. 2 seed waiting for them. Going up against a No. 2 seed is no walk in the park, but it is more favorable than going up against one of the best teams in the country, such as Virginia, so early in the tournament.
For example, Lunardi currently has Seton Hall playing No. 10-seed Saint Mary’s in the round-of-64, with No. 2 seed North Carolina as the likely opponent if the Pirates survive the Gaels. That is arguably more friendly of a draw for the Pirates than a No. 1-seed matchup would be after battling a No. 9-seed.
Now with the Big East Tournament quarterfinal loss, Seton Hall may find itself in the No. 8/No. 9 seed matchup. A round-of-64 win is still an attainable feat, but a round-of-32 victory is may be a stretch against a No. 1 seed. That is not to say Seton Hall cannot make a run from that spot, as No. 1 seeds have lost to No. 8 seeds somewhat frequently in recent years, with Villanova being the most recent No. 1 seed to bow out to a No. 8 in last year’s NCAA Tournament.
The ball was in Seton Hall’s court Thursday in terms of controlling where it wound up in the NCAA Tournament, and the team failed to take full advantage of the opportunity. With a few wins in the Big East Tournament, the Pirates could have vaulted themselves as high as a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Now, the Pirates will have to wait for the seeding committee to deliver their fate on selection Sunday, with the difference between a No. 7 and 8 seed becoming a potential blow to a March Madness run.
Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.