Thursday, January 21, 2016

Villanova 72, Seton Hall 71: JP's 5 Thoughts

By Jason Guerette (@JPGuerette)

1. Live By Isaiah, Die By Isaiah

This game was the perfect encapsulation of Isaiah Whitehead's Seton Hall career to this point- unbelievable highs, but also dramatic lows. His first half was very rocky, as the All-American went just 1-for-7 from the floor with a trio of assists. In the second half, he displayed what he's capable of, shooting 5-for-11 from the field en route to 19 points in the half. Coming down the stretch of the second half, Whitehead almost literally put the team on his back on both ends of the floor, knocking down incredibly tough shots on offense and then channeling former Pirate great (and my favorite Seton Hall player) Paul Gause with a tenacious defensive effort on Phil Booth that ended up drawing a foul when Isaiah himself stripped the ball.

But, the finish for Whitehead was shaky as well, as he settled for a tough three with the game tied, leading to the go-ahead layup from Ryan Arcidiacono. Whitehead then missed a runner and committed a crucial turnover in the game's final seconds when the Wildcats gave Seton Hall a gift with a turnover on the previous inbounds pass. Head coach Kevin Willard said afterwards that he has the utmost confidence in Whitehead to make plays and would not tell him to not be who he is, and while some fans want to question his play in the games waning moments, there is zero reason the team would have been in a position to win the game were it not for Whitehead being Whitehead in the second half.

2. Missed Opportunity

That's what the game feels like, and not just because of what happened in Newark. Down at the Pavilion a few weeks back, the Pirates got uncharacteristically cold shooting from the Wildcats in their building but could not take full advantage, resulting in a close loss. This time around, they got veteran big man Daniel Ochefu in foul trouble, and remained close despite Villanova shooting the daylights out of the ball from deep, resulting in a close loss. It was a chance for the Hall to make a big statement against a team that has had a real hard time at the Prudential Center (more on this in a bit), and one would hope that the Pirates can use this as yet another lesson learned for later. Just too many late errors to overcome.

3. 'Nova's Kryptonite?

Villanova has run roughshod over the entire Big East since the conference restructured, rarely losing a conference game. Interestingly enough, however, Seton Hall has their number. The Pirates just seem to consistently play the Wildcats tougher than any other team in the Big East. It was the Hall that knocked out Jay Wright's club two years ago at the Big East Tournament when they were the #3 team in the nation, and the Pirates upset the then-undefeated Wildcats at the Rock last year in January. Coming into this game, although Seton Hall's struggles at 'Nova are well-documented, the Wildcats were just 3-2 all-time in Newark. One of those wins was in OT and another was also a Jeremy Hazell shot away from being in OT. For whatever reason, when the Pirates and Wildcats meet, the Hall always gives them everything they can handle.

4. Rockin'

There were nearly (and legitimately) 9,000 fans in the stands tonight for a 9:00 tipoff on a Wednesday. The student section was completely full (of students) for the first time ever, per Seton Hall athletics. There have been other times when other fans have bought those tickets, but tonight sections 1-4 were completely full of students. The crowd was raucous and into the game from the get-go, and while they had to endure the whistlefest in the second half (led by the "great" Wally Rutecki, naturally), they brought it tonight. Kudos to the Pirate fans for making the place a madhouse.

5. NCAA Horizon?

Most sources I see have the Pirates close to the NCAA bubble off their strong non-conference slate and RPI ranking. Now, chances are pretty good they'd be out right now at 3-3 in conference play following tonight's loss, but the Hall showed what they can do tonight, especially when they knock down enough jumpers from outside to add to a darn good rebounding/driving core. Jay Wright was asked about the Pirates and the NCAA chances and the veteran Wildcats coach said that the Pirates "definitely" were an NCAA tournament team in his eyes, complimenting the Pirates on their shooting, saying that "most teams that drive the basketball can't really shoot it," but that the Pirates can. The key, of course, is consistency, but this is a Pirates team that guards well, rebounds pretty well and certainly can get into the paint with the big boys off the dribble. Tonight was another reminder that if the Hall can make a few outside shots they are a dangerous team that can challenge the elite in the Big East.

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