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Seton Hall Basketball: JP's Big East Tournament Preview- Providence Friars

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Can Coach Willard and the Pirates put a halt to the losing and save their NCAA chances? Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-US PRESSWIRE
Can Coach Willard and the Pirates put a halt to the losing and save their NCAA chances? Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-US PRESSWIRE

This is it, Pirate fans. Seton Hall is hanging on by the skin of their teeth in terms of the Big Dance. It all comes down to Madison Square Garden and the Big East Tournament. Seton Hall needs to get two in New York City, and as fate would have it, the Pirates are the 10-seed, and will play the 15th-seeded Providence Friars.

Why is it fate? The last time the Pirates were the 10-seed, they faced Providence in the first round. It was 3 days shy of two years ago, and there was so little defense, it was unbelievable. It was a wild game, won by the Pirates 109-106 in regulation, the highest scoring regulation game in Big East Tournament history. The casts for both teams were drastically different back then, but in that game, Seton Hall nearly blew a 29-point lead in the second half before barely hanging on despite giving up almost 70 points after halftime. I distinctly remember being horrified at what I was seeing from the student section, and despite the win, I felt embarrassed to be there as the entire Garden turned on the Pirates as they were rescinding their lead.

The point is that Seton Hall needs to conquer some demons in order to advance and solidify some confidence in their hopes to Dance, from that fateful game that spelled the beginning of the end for Bobby Gonzalez in 2010, and from the two vomit-inducing losses to Rutgers and DePaul.

Both Providence and Seton Hall are different teams from when we last saw them, in Providence on January 7th. Seton Hall was on their way to a Top-25 ranking following their first win over UConn in 11 years, while Providence was winless in the Big East and still trying to feel their way around. The game itself was a good one- Vincent Council was the axis of the offense then, and didn't have much around him. Accordingly, Council had a great game, dropping 23 PTS, 6 REB, and 9 AST on the Pirates and doing all he could to keep PC in the game. And he almost did, thanks to a really bad shooting night from the Pirates (20 offensive rebounds, but a sub-35% FG%), but it was Jordan Theodore and Fuquan Edwin who saved the day with big buckets late for Seton Hall. Edwin had what was then a career-high 24 PTS on 9-18 shooting with 5 3PM, 9 REB and 5 STL, and Theodore had 14 PTS, 4 REB, 9 AST, and 6 STL.

Now, the Pirates are struggling and hobbling into MSG, while the Friars have become more of a complete team. Aaron Cosby has been dealing with the flu, Herb Pope tweaked his foot in the DePaul game, and Aaron Geramipoor has a sports hernia that has kept him out for a while. Providence's improvement never quite showed in the standings, but LaDontae Henton came into his own as a dangerous two-way player alongside Council, and Bryce Cotton became a dangerous threat from beyond the arc. Plus, Bilal Dixon always seems to play well against the Pirates- he had 8 PTS, 4 REB and 6 BLK in the game at the Dunk on the 7th, as Seton Hall had trouble dealing with his bulk.

We've been told that Pope is expected to play, but how he's feeling is anyone's guess. Cosby may have played with the flu in Chicago as well. Regardless, I expect nothing less than a full effort level from all Pirates involved.

It all comes down to The Garden, in March, at the Big East Championship. I'll be on the call for WSOU for each game in some capacity (color commentary tonight) as long as the Pirates survive, and we can only hope for the best.

Seton Hall will win if:

- They can mentally right their ship. Losing like they have the last two games is really tough on the confidence and on the psyche, especially for the seniors. They have to show that they're in the right place mentally before they can get back on track, and this will be immediately apparent in the first half tonight. Pay attention to the first 10 minutes in this regard.

- Mobley and Auda step up. Geramipoor will not play, and we don't know how effective Herb Pope will be. Brandon Mobley and Patrik Auda need to step up and play well, especially on the boards. You can throw Fuquan Edwin in there for rebounding purposes as well. Control the boards and it means your defense is working, and Seton Hall needs that to happen.

Providence will win if:

- Seton Hall continues to be tight. Providence, like Rutgers and DePaul before them, has nothing to lose. They will be loose. Seton Hall has played tight the last two games, and it needs to stop because at night, at the Big East Tournament, the spotlight is on. If they continue to be tight, Providence has the talent to take advantage.

- Council gets help. Last time, Vincent Council was a one-man show, and because of the Pirates' shooting woes, it almost worked. Providence would like to be more spread out in its scoring. Council's been great at doing just that this year, leading the Big East in AST.