After fellow New York metro area programs Rutgers and St. John's were eliminated in Big East tournament, it's up to Bobby Gonzalez and Seton Hall to give the Big Apple something to pump their fists over as the Pirates face Notre Dame in what amounts to a play-in game for Seton Hall's NCAA Tournament chances. (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)
Say what you want about Bobby Gonzalez's disposition and on-court antics, but don't discredit the Seton Hall head man's talent or the players that have now made it into the second round of the Big East tournament.
After nearly blowing a 29-point lead at Madison Square Garden against Providence last night only to survive the Friars by the final of 109-106, Seton Hall now faces Notre Dame in tonight's second round in just a matter of minutes in a game that will, for better or worse, dictate the Pirates' immediate future. Some believe that Seton Hall (19-12, 9-9 in the Big East) has already done enough to lock up an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, with big wins over Pittsburgh, Louisville and the Irish team that they square off against at the "World's Most Famous Arena" tonight, but many experts and fans alike feel that the Pirates need one more victory to cement their status as a participant in this year's edition of the "Big Dance."
"We have 19 wins and we have no bad losses," said Gonzalez during last night's postgame press conference when asked to surmise his team's chances to be one of the 65 that contends for the national championship. "We beat Notre Dame at our place (February 11th at the Prudential Center by the final of 90-87) and a lot of people say they are in."
The Pirates are usually a bubble team, but not by choice, as they have just so happened to have faced the top teams in the Big East during the early portion of the conference season in each of the last two seasons. However, Seton Hall has held it together thanks in large part to the play of junior guard Jeremy Hazell, the conference's second-leading scorer; as well as transfers Jeff Robinson and Herb Pope, the latter posting 27 points and 11 rebounds in last night's victory over Providence before fouling out late in the second half.
With Rutgers being eliminated last night by Cincinnati, coupled with St. John's heartbreaking loss earlier today against Marquette, the Pirates are the last New York-area team remaining in the Big East tournament, something that is sure to bring a smile to Gonzalez's face, as he has taken great pride in being the top program in the New York metropolitan area. In fact, his team went 3-0 against the Scarlet Knights and Red Storm during the regular season.
However, Gonzalez, who took Manhattan into the second round of the NCAA tournament in 2004, has intentions of expanding his success, and a victory against Notre Dame tonight will go a long way in determining just how far Seton Hall has come since the 46-year-old took over the reins of the Pirates from Louis Orr in 2006.