March Madness is finally here and after an arduous season, the Pirates will look to get past the first round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003.
Seton Hall heads into the bracket as the No. 8 seed in the Midwest Region, facing off against No. 9-seeded NC State Wolfpack in the first round on Thursday.
If the Pirates want to advance in the tournament in the final season for seniors Khadeen Carrington, Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez and Ismael Sanogo, they will need to play two consistent halves of basketball against the Wolfpack.
This is something Seton Hall has struggled with throughout the season. In victory and defeat, too often the Pirates either stumbled out of the gate or struggled to maintain a halftime lead.
This trend dates back to the beginning of Big East play, when the Pirates struggled defensively in the first half of its Big East opener against Creighton on Dec. 28, allowing the Bluejays to shoot 54 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes. They entered halftime trailing 53-42, but managed to limit the Bluejays to just 31 second-half points and won the game, 90-84.
There have been instances where a big second half adjustment was not enough, though. On the road against Georgetown, Seton Hall trailed 46-33 entering the break and tried to erase the deficit in similar fashion. The Pirates did rally to score 47 points in the second half thanks to a 23-point performance from Myles Powell, but the Hoyas pulled off the upset, 83-80.
If Seton Hall had turned in a more consistent effort in both halves, the team could have avoided what was potentially its worst loss in conference play.
Even the recent matchup against Butler in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals on March 8 featured a tale of two halves.
The Pirates came out firing in the first half , jumping out to a 24-10 advantage and took a 43-35 lead into halftime. That lead was enough to hold up until a Henry Baddley layup made it 70-69 for Butler with 1:10 remaining. The lead disintegrated due to a poor second half, in which the Pirates were outscored 40-31 en route to a one-point loss.
The Pirates have managed victories in games where they have not played for the full 40 minutes, but if they want to stay alive this March, they cannot afford to gamble on those odds, especially against a talented Wolfpack team.
NC State ended with a 21-11 overall record, equal to Seton Hall’s. The Wolfpack, led by first-year head coach Kevin Keatts, also finished tied with four other teams for third in the Atlantic Coast Conference, a league that sent nine teams to the NCAA Tournament, which was the most of any conference. What makes NC State especially dangerous is their ability to dominate in the second half and rip off game-changing runs.
NC State averages 43 second-half points per game, meaning it is consistently able to make second-half adjustments on the offensive end. On top of that, the Wolfpack have five victories over ranked teams this season, scoring over 40 points in the second half in four of those games: Duke, North Carolina, Arizona and Florida State.
Seton Hall can anticipate a strong offensive performance from the Wolfpack in the second half on Thursday, so the Pirates cannot afford to start slowly or become complacent after a solid first 20 minutes. To win this March, Seton Hall must be locked in for all 40 minutes and not a minute less.
Matt Lapolla can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @MatthewLapolla.