After playing six games in nineteen days, five of them Big East battles, Seton Hall will benefit from a nine-day bye week prior to hosting DePaul next Thursday.
The Isaiah Whitehead-less stretch has seen Seton Hall become ranked for consecutive weeks after upsetting ranked St. John's and Villanova teams at home while the Pirates picked up an all-important road win at Creighton. The spell of national prominence has Hall lead guard Sterling Gibbs, who is averaging 20.5 ppg and 4.8 apg since Christmas, reflecting on his team's role in the national but also conference landscape.
"We've went from the hunter to the hunted," said Gibbs after his team lost 79-75 in overtime to Butler on Tuesday to drop to 3-2 in league play. "Now teams come in and when we go to to teams, each game is a good win for each team that we play. This is a good win for Butler, they're able to put it on their resume, they come into the game looking at that."
Seton Hall has started their Big East season as well as anyone could have hoped without the services of freshman guard Isaiah Whitehead, who is "80-percent no" for DePaul next week. Despite winning at Creighton last Saturday, I'm not yet sold on the team's ability to win away from Prudential Center. Gibbs also hinted that the two-week stay in the nation's top-25 wasn't fully taken advantage of by him and his young group of teammates.
"Once we're able to realize, being ranked and being a top-notch team, what goes along with it, I think we'll be able to capitalize on different situations."
While dropping a home game to Butler was less-than-ideal and makes the DePaul clash next week that much more important, the Bulldogs are a game team and have exceeded expectations, as put on display at the Battle 4 Atlantis and in the rugged Big East thus far. The conference is currently ranked just a hair below the ACC at third in KenPom and has around six or seven projected NCAA bids at the moment depending on who you consult.
"The Big East is back, the Big East is a tough league. There's no gimme games, there's no easy games at all," said Gibbs of the conference's grueling effects. "We knew coming into the game Butler's a tough team, we're going to have to grind this out, this is going to be a like a football game."
Although he scored 30 points in the loss, Sterling Gibbs fouled out in overtime after not picking up more than two fouls in a single game all season. An anchor at forward as just a freshman, Angel Delgado played a big 37 minutes and senior Brandon Mobley succumbed to painful cramps during the five-minute extra period.
"We've been playing so many games and we've been practicing so much, people's bodies are a little worn down and I think that showed," said Gibbs when asked about his teammate's distress late in the game.
Kevin Willard thought his available personnel late on made the difference in overtime.
"When Brandon went down again, I looked out there and we had Desi [Rodriguez], Khadeen [Carrington], Angel [Delgado], Jaren - three freshmen and a sophomore - Sterling had fouled out. That was probably the difference."
After losing two of their last three games while ranked and a handful of manageable games ahead that will shape their conference record, Seton Hall will gratefully accept the nine-day rest period, especially with Isaiah Whitehead still on the mend. The extended break will help limit the games missed by Whitehead and another guard that can create for himself and especially for others will benefit the Hall greatly upon his return. For now, Kevin Willard is playing it conservatively.
"I think you guys all know me, I will probably err on the side of caution with his foot," said Willard post-Butler. "Again we're only three weeks into this injury, really four-to-five weeks is what the doctors told me. Four weeks would be [next] Wednesday."
Willard added this morning that they "probably won't take another picture until after the DePaul game" and then go from there, which is a slight change since after the Butler game. It looks now like Butler (1/25) or Marquette (1/28) are more likely returns.
For the rest of the team, it's not about getting back on the court, but stepping away from it briefly. Guys like Jaren Sina, Sterling Gibbs and even Khadeen Carrington have logged a lot of minutes recently, compounded by Whitehead's injury. Gibbs (39 mpg), Sina (36.8) and Carrington (29.2) have all put in their time since league play began.
This type of wear and tear may have played a factor in Sina's scoreless outing and Gibbs picking up five fouls, and looks to have taken a toll on Mobley via cramps. Though not an indictment nor uncommon, Gibbs admitted post-Butler that his team was gassed after erasing the Bulldogs' nine-point second half lead and bringing it to overtime.
"We found ourselves trying to claw back and once we finally tied up the game it went into overtime they really took advantage of the fact that we had to come back and use energy."
The Hall will look to recharge their batteries during the off-week.
"I think it's more good than bad," said Gibbs of the nine-day break when asked about momentum. "I know I feel crazy right now. We've been playing non-stop and in the Big East it's brutal where each game is really a dog fight and the fact that we're able to get nine days off, coach is going to give us some time and rest so if we play a lot of minutes we can get back out there next game."
"I'm hoping it's going to be good," Willard said of the rest. "The first five games were really tough. Having such a young team, it's going to be good to watch a lot of film, get in the weight room a little bit and mentally get refreshed [...] Hopefully it's going to be good, when you're as young as we are, I think they need a little refresher every once and a while and I hope they use this to get their batteries a little recharged."
DePaul (9-9, 3-2) hosts St. John's on Sunday prior to flying East to take on Seton Hall (13-4, 3-2) next Thursday.