Greetings, Pirate Nation.
I realized that after the most recent loss to Connecticut that left everyone with a sinking, unpleasant feeling in their stomachs that to post 5 Thoughts on a game like that at this point in the season would sound like a death knell. I wasn't in the right mental state to deal with that loss. It was the ugliest loss of the year. I, like the rest of the team, no doubt, wanted to put that game in the rear view mirror.
That brings me back to probably the most-positive thing I've written in some time. There is some time left in the season. And since the team is free-falling, this may sound silly to you. But here are my thoughts on a situation in which the Pirates can salvage a once-promising season.
Everything henceforth is tentative based on the tracks that UConn, Notre Dame and Louisville (and MAYBE USF) end up taking the rest of the season. These are all teams that the Pirates have lost to, and teams that could, provided they still continue to win, help out the Pirates. Right now, the Irish seem like the most likely team to do this. Seton Hall needs these teams to do well.
Now, on to the scenario that COULD get Seton Hall into the Tournament (with heavy emphasis on the capitalized word). You can find it after the jump.
First and foremost, none of this matters unless Seton Hall beats Rutgers on Wednesday night. Seton Hall has to break their 6-game losing streak (the reason why pertaining to this scenario will be cleared up momentarily), and they have to do it now.
Second, and perhaps most importantly, the Pirates cannot afford another bad loss. This means that they need to beat, without question, St. John's, DePaul (on the road), and Rutgers (both times). Every one of those losses would be bad. The bar for most Pirate fans is that .500 mark in conference play to have a shot. That's fine, but 4 of the 5 wins that the Pirates have to get in that case have to be over those three teams.
What of Pittsburgh, you ask? Well, the Panthers are now playing at a high level, and they have a rather favorable Big East schedule down the stretch of the year. Because this is a home game, and certainly easier beating Georgetown, I think this could be the 5th win of the group. I also think the Pirates can make it with a loss to the Panthers (because I think they can keep rolling with Tray Woodall back; they're a totally different team with him on the court), but there are two caveats if this happens-
1) They can only afford the Pitt game to be an L if they beat Rutgers on Wednesday. If not, the losing streak will be too long to overcome (plus, you know, the bad loss thing).
2) They MUST beat Georgetown. This is not an option if the team loses to Pitt. The Hoyas are having a fantastic season and are nearing the Top-10. Beating them would (at this writing) be the best win of the year, would offset the Villanova loss, and make the Hall a shoe-in (provided wins over Rutgers twice, St. John's and DePaul) for the Tournament.
Third, they need to win a game in the Big East Tournament, regardless of who the opponent is. This would mean even more if the win was over a team that they had previously lost to, especially Notre Dame or Louisville. I'm no prophet, so I can't see what the seedings will turn out to be, but if I'm the Pirates and Coach Willard, I want another crack at those two teams if I had a choice.
Right now, various bracketologists have the Pirates on the right side of the bubble, but just barely. I honestly think they're being kind, or just ignoring the so-called "Eye Test" completely. The Hall's RPI and Strength of Schedule are strong, but those numbers are as much about who the Pirates have played as much as their record. The Pirates can control the remaining games on their schedule, not what teams they've played already do in the remainder of their seasons. Therefore, the Pirates need to take care of business on their end.
I cannot overstate that point enough. It hearkens back to the fact that Coach Willard is about rebuilding the image of the program as much as the program itself. Right now, the Pirates cannot hope, as other schools can, for name recognition to get them over the hump bubble-wise. I don't think that "backing in" to the NCAAs will fly, either with the Committee, or the team. It is for this reason that I think the above scenario is reasonable, fair, and necessary.
Seton Hall needs to take care of business, to control the things that they still can control. It starts on Wednesday, against the hated in-state rival, in a hostile environment at the RAC, against a dangerous Rutgers team. A full preview of that game will be up on The Juice Wednesday morning.
Should the season have come down to this? Probably not. But it is what it is. We all should have known that Mike Rice and Co. were going to matter more than we initially believed this year. Rivalry games always have a weird way of coming at crucial moments in the course of a season. Let's just hope that Seton Hall can claim victory for the 5th straight time in enemy territory down in Piscataway. Everything rides on it. That, too, cannot be overstated.
Hazard Zet Forward to all.