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How we see the Big East: Why Seton Hall is going to the dance

[caption id="attachment_13566" align="alignnone" width="838"]Joey Khan/Photography Editor Joey Khan/Photography Editor[/caption]   Nobody likes a know-it-all. Or someone who rubs it in when a prediction they made comes true. But I don’t care. I was right. One month ago, right after the Seton Hall basketball team dropped its first loss to Butler on the heels of a four-game winning streak, I proclaimed to Pirate Nation that the team would be dancing come March. Things looked shaky as the Hall stood at 17-7 (7-5) with no clear statement win on its resume. Still having to play their second games against Providence and Xavier, a bid to the NCAA Tournament didn’t appear as likely for the Pirates as it did just a week before. From covering this team last year and witnessing its epic collapse to having been on the SHU beat this season and witnessing the turn around firsthand, I knew this time was different. I wasn’t the only one. Sophomore wing Desi Rodriguez felt the same.
“It kinda feels like that we shut everybody up,” Rodriguez said of not repeating last season’s disaster. “Everybody talked negative about us at the beginning of the season, saying that we didn’t have Sterling (Gibbs) so we wouldn’t be a good team. I think all players stepped it up a notch.” The Hall finished the regular season 22-8 (12-6) with a program-best six conference road wins. More importantly, the Pirates finished February 6-1. That’s opposite of the 1-6 record in the month last season. A team that floundered in a tough Big East last season propelled itself to third in the conference. The Pirates were picked to finish seventh in the preseason. There were times of doubt during the season, though. A road win against then-ranked No. 12 Providence was sandwiched between two losses to Villanova, a drubbing at home to Creighton and a road loss to Xavier.
That was 1-4 in a five-game span right at the beginning of conference play. Not a great sign. The buzz I caught around campus from students was much of the same from the prior season. People were expecting a collapse. Pack it in and go home now, because the Pirates were headed for another barren postseason experience. Then the team hit an extra gear. Isaiah Whitehead began playing at the level people expected from him when he got to South Orange. From that moment, the Pirates finished the season 9-2 and Whitehead averaged 22.1 points per game coupled with 5.6 assists and a stunning 2.1 blocks. The star guard knew those who judged this year’s group based off last year were mistaken. “We just felt it as disrespect,” Whitehead said. “That was our mindset throughout the whole year, and it still is. Just because you disrespect us and we prove you wrong, doesn’t mean we don’t want still prove a lot more." I'm just glad I was on the right side of the prediction game this time.
  Dennis Chambers can be reached at or on Twitter @DennisChambers_

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