Everything favored Seton Hall on Wednesday night.
Senior Night, Myles Powell’s last Seton Hall home game, Villanova, sellout crowd and the Big East regular season title serving as the Hall’s chance to win the game at Prudential Center. Nothing short of motivation there.
Instead, Villanova ruined what could have been a banner night for Seton Hall. So fitting Seton Hall’s nemesis caused all this. The No. 14 Wildcats shot 13 3s in their 79-77 victory over the No. 8 Pirates at Prudential Center that featured 16,863 watching, a new Seton Hall attendance record.
All the Pirates can settle is another patronizing pat on the head by future Hall of Fame Villanova head coach Jay Wright. This time, he came up with a doozy. He said the Pirates are capable of winning the national championship.
A cynic would say Wright is playing mind games with the Pirates. He knows the pressure they have this season. It’s about advancing to the Sweet 16 or more for them this year. Anything short of it is a failure. The players know it. Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard knows it. Wright reminded them of that.
Willard established a culture of developing winning players and a winning program at Seton Hall. The program will make its fifth straight NCAA tournament appearance in two weeks. This group of players experienced enough familiarity with each other that they should know how to win. With Powell playing at a star level in his senior season, there’s no excuse for the Hall to not get into the Sweet 16.
If we are being honest, last season served as a disappointment. As good as Wofford was, Seton Hall was good enough to beat them in the first round of the tournament. With the breakout season Powell had, everyone thought Seton Hall could go to the Sweet 16 last year.
The Pirates worked hard all summer and this season to make sure they don’t experience last season again. Their 21-8 overall season and 13-4 season make them a favorite to win the Big East tournament. But the Wildcats reminded them that the tournament goes through them by outplaying the Pirates last night. Yes, it’s not preposterous to say that. No one felt the Hall had a chance to win this game with the way Villanova shot the ball that had the Pirates playing from behind in this game.
If it was not against Villanova, no one would make a big deal about it. But the opponent magnified everything about this game. A win would have validated how great Seton Hall is. A win would make them the clear-cut favorite to win the Big East tournament. A win would have made them clinched the Big East regular season title. Most importantly, Seton Hall would continue to push on getting a higher seed heading to the NCAA tournament.
The Pirates know deep down the Wildcats don’t respect them that much. Sure, Villanova says all the right things about them, but the results speak for itself. Yes, Seton Hall won its fair share of games against their Big East nemesis, but in a big game with everything on the line like Wednesday night, Villanova gets the best of them.
No wonder this loss raises questions and doubts about the Pirates. As great as their record is, it won’t matter until what they do in March Madness. If anything now, the Big East tournament championship game could be interesting if Villanova plays Seton Hall at Madison Square Garden. In the rubber match, the Wildcats should be the favorite because they have been there and done that. They beat the Pirates last year in the Big East title game.
Make no mistake. If the Pirates lose to the Wildcats at the Garden, questions would permeate and doubts would creep in the players’ head. That’s the last thing this group needs heading to the tournament. The pressure is already enormous as it is.
The players and coaches understand the pressure they are in. There’s no way around it. Embracing the pressure should be the way to go. Are they emotionally equipped to handle it? We won’t know for sure until the results come out. That’s the best answer for the Hall.
Seton Hall’s last Sweet 16 appearance took place in 2000. A 20-year wait makes this a long time. No one can blame Seton Hall fans for being impatient. In fact, Seton Hall tested their patience a long time ago. It can’t be too much to ask for the Pirates to get to the Sweet 16. If they can’t get there now with a loaded, talented team, when will they?
This loss could be a blessing and a curse for the Pirates.
A blessing in a sense this would remind them as good as they are, they are capable of being beaten. A curse in a sense it brings a painful reminder the Pirates have to deal with their postseason demons and all the pressure that comes with it.
Only the Pirates can exorcise the demons by winning in March.
Villanova gave them a reminder there’s a fine line between ecstasy and disappointment.
Beware the ides of March indeed.