Big East Tournament Roundtable: How far can Seton Hall go?

Seton Hall ended the regular season with some serious issues on defense, allowing Villanova and Creighton to shoot a combined 46.5% from three. With Marquette and Markus Howard on deck in the quarterfinals, there’s a chance the Pirates can get gashed from beyond the arc if they don’t get their act together. What is it going to take for Seton Hall to sure up its perimeter defense in order to slow down Howard and company?

Photo via SHU Athletics

TC: It’s going to have to start with going back to basic fundamentals. Quincy McKnight can’t be going underneath on screens against lethal shooters as he has been the past couple of games. Jared Rhoden can’t be doubling down on big men and leaving guys wide open on the perimeter for no reason. Myles Cale can’t afford to be chasing his man around the perimeter all game. Fortunately for Seton Hall, Marquette doesn’t feature a deep stable of shooters like Villanova and Creighton. With that being said, the Golden Eagles do have players not named Markus Howard that can hit threes consistently. Howard is going to get his regardless of Seton Hall’s defensive approach. At the end of the day, it’s going to come down to the Pirates’ ability to limit open looks and contain Howard off the ball. That starts with going back to the fundamentals, which have eluded Seton Hall the last couple of games.

JS: Unlike Villanova and Creighton, Marquette lacks a supporting cast for its star player to rely on when he is being defended heavily or is not hitting shots. That was the story for Marquette heading into this season, and it looks like it will continue heading into the Big East Tournament. The Pirates can bounce back from back-to-back losses as they showed in their 10-game winning run after losing to Iowa State and Rutgers. The defensive quality both Quincy McKnight and Shavar Reynolds Jr. possess will also make life difficult for Howard throughout both halves.

KK: Seton Hall’s perimeter defense over the last few games has obviously been an issue. Quick passing and movement have exposed the Pirates’ defensive strategy, especially with Romaro Gill on the court. However, despite Markus Howard’s prowess, the team has to feel more comfortable against Marquette than Villanova or Creighton. With Quincy McKnight notoriously locking up Howard, the secondary options are not as strong without the Hauser brothers for the Golden Eagles. It will still be an issue, but perhaps not as much as previously exposed if McKnight, and Shavar Reynolds to an extent, do their jobs.

Sandro Mamukelashvili had a big game against Marquette at the end of the season (26 points on 10 of 13 shooting). With Myles Powell struggling, should Seton Hall’s offense take more of an inside-out approach against Marquette instead of force-feeding Powell on the perimeter?

TC: Frankly, Kevin Willard should have gone to more of an inside-out approach a long time ago. Myles Powell is worn out and is dealing with knee tendinitis that is clearly slowing him down a bit. It would benefit him and the team to get Mamukelashvili some more touches down low. An underrated part of Mamukelashvili’s game is his ability to pass out of the post. It’s not like the ball goes down there and never comes out. Running some more offense through Mamukelashvili was the plan before he injured his wrist against Iowa State in December. Willard should go back to that.

JS: I think Seton Hall have had some of their best moments when they are not afraid to give players like Mamukelashvili, Jared Rhoden or Quincy McKnight the opportunity to control the offense. McKnight’s shown his creative prowess against Marquette with 14 assists between their two regular season meetings, and Rhoden can be an important presence off the glass to get the ball back out or go up for his own shot.

KK: Marquette is probably the team to do this against. Their game down low is not overly impressive, and it should tailor a bit more to Romaro Gill’s stature and Sandro Mamukelashvili’s post game. Mamukelashvili also has the range to step outside, though, so he will be an important asset to keeping the Golden Eagles’ defense on its heels for the whole game. With Powell being a bit off, the Pirates will need Mamukelashvili to reach nearly 20 or more points like on Feb. 29 to develop a cushion.

Seton Hall is 2-0 against Marquette this season, but as the adage goes, it’s tough to beat a team three times in a season. Other than fixing the perimeter defense, what is the key for the Pirates to beating the Golden Eagles for a third time?

TC: Throwing different looks at a Marquette team that has struggled mightily down the stretch is a good place to start. Steve Wojciechowski is preparing his team for Seton Hall’s typical perimeter-oriented offense – something the Golden Eagles have seen time and time again over the last two years. Running different kinds of offense could throw Marquette off its defensive game plan early, which would be good news for the Pirates.

JS: Powell’s supporting cast on offense needs more confidence in their own capabilities. This is an unselfish team that has thrived when everyone gets a few touches on the ball each possession. While Powell is the focal point of their offensive system, the guys around him need to recognize when his shot isn’t on or when he has multiple defenders surrounding him. Mamukelashvili showed he can be the star man when needed in the Pirates’ last meeting with the Golden Eagles. That same confidence needs to be more present in the rest of the team if they are going to get a third win over Marquette.

KK: Running a good offense around the secondary options will be key. Myles Powell will likely be locked up, despite not having a Saddiq Bey or Ty-Shon Alexander level defender on him. So, it will be up to Quincy McKnight and Sandro Mamukelashvili mainly to put up the big shot. One thing is for certain – Marquette can score. Seton Hall will need contributions from everyone in order to match that. 

Looking at the bigger picture, Seton Hall’s draw has it in the 9:30 slot for a fifth consecutive year. What kind of disadvantages does playing in the last quarterfinal game pose for the Pirates?

TC: Personally, I don’t think it’s as big of a deal as everyone makes it out to be. It’s not like Seton Hall has to come back and play a noon semifinal game after a 9:30 quarterfinal game. Yes, there is a short turnaround when it comes to the Championship game and its 6:30 tip, but players are running on adrenaline at that point in the Tournament anyway. Obviously playing in the noon slot as the No. 1 seed or even the 7 p.m. start as the No. 2 seed would have been better for the Pirates, but the 9:30 quarterfinal slot isn’t necessarily a death sentence. They made a run to the championship game as the No. 3 seed last year. They can easily do it again.

JS: The obvious one is going to be the lack of proper rest the team gets with the late start. After long season in what is arguably the most competitive conference in college basketball this year, fatigue is bound to set in on some of the guys. On top of that, seeing the teams that advance to the next round could shift the mental focus onto who is next rather than that night’s game. The team’s maturity and mental strength is in for a real test when they face off against Marquette.

KK: To put it bluntly, they should not be in this situation. However, that’s what they played into by going 3-5 to end the season. The 9:30 game is kind of a kiss of death, but Seton Hall battled through it to make it to the championship game and nearly beat Villanova last season. The main disadvantage is the timing, as you have a late game on Thursday against a team with ample rest and then you have to play on Friday late again. It messes with your psyche a bit, but it’s nothing that cannot be overcome.

How deep of a run can Seton Hall make in this year’s Big East Tournament?

TC: They should be able to make it to the Championship game, but who knows what version of the Pirates are going to show up at Madison Square Garden beginning on Thursday night. If it’s the team that started Big East play 10-0, then Seton Hall should be on track for a title game appearance. If it’s the team that finished conference play 3-5, an early exit could be in store.

 JS: There is no reason why they can’t repeat an appearance in the final or go on to win the entire thing. Aside from Creighton, Seton Hall have beaten every team in this tournament at least once this season. While they weren’t outright champions, they showed that they are a top team in the Big East. Just like in the regular season, they need to take each game as it comes if they are to make a run in the tournament.

KK: Seton Hall should be able to beat Marquette, but I think the end this year is in the semifinals against Villanova barring a Xavier or DePaul upset. With Saddiq Bey’s prowess both offensively and defensively, it may be too much to overcome at this point in the season, especially while taking into account other weapons such as Collin Gillespie and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl.

Considering preseason expectations, would it be a disappointment if Seton Hall doesn’t at least make the Championship game?

TC: Yes. Maybe if Seton Hall won the regular season title outright this wouldn’t matter too much, but it does now. Expectations for this season have been sky-high throughout the year. A conference championship game appearance has long been discussed and frankly, expected – even before the Pirates couldn’t lock up the regular season crown. If Seton Hall isn’t playing on Saturday for the second consecutive year, it’s a disappointment. That’s the bottom line.

JS: Not making the final would be a huge disappointment for the Pirates. Preseason expectations aside, the caliber of play they showcased at times throughout the season is deserving of an appearance in the championship. With a potential National Player of the Year and Big East Defensive Player of the Year on their roster, this squad has the talent and capability to win the entire thing.

KK: Yes, 100%. Frankly, losing out on the regular season sole-possession crown after starting 10-0 is a major disappointment. If the team cannot make a run here, it will get even worse. The Pirates have one of the best Big East scorers in history and one of the best players in the country, so to lose out on both a standalone regular season title and a tournament title would be devastating. The program is not going to see another team of this caliber for a long time. So, if that is the case, the only thing that can salvage it may be a run to the Elite Eight or beyond.

Tyler Calvaruso can be reached at tyler.calvaruso@student.shu.edu. Find him on Twitter @tyler_calvaruso.

Justin Sousa can be reached at justin.sousa@student.shu.edu.  Find him on Twitter @JustinSousa99.

Kevin Kopf can be reached at kevin.kopf@student.shu.edu.  Find him on Twitter @KevinKopfHWH.

Author: Tyler Calvaruso

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