When the men’s basketball schedule was released before the season started, nobody with all their marbles circled Seton Hall on Feb. 19.
Oh, how things have changed.
After an uninspired 12-point loss at home to St. John’s two nights ago that left Marquette at a very vanilla 6-7 in the Big East, this Saturday’s tango with the Pirates is looking a lot more important. In all likelihood, it will determine if the Golden Eagles are NCAA Tournament material.
On many people’s schedules, Seton Hall’s name now probably looks like it got attacked by a Sharpie. Those darn Pirates are marked men.
If Marquette loses this weekend, those dreams of dancing in March are pretty much dead. Kaput. Might as well send the funeral arrangements to NIT Headquarters. Win, and nothing is guaranteed. But at least there’s air in the lungs and light at the end of the tunnel.
Scary thing is, Seton Hall has what it takes to put the nail in the coffin. Although the Pirates are only 11-15 on the year and don’t have any signature wins, they have been very, very close to knocking off a few ranked teams. Unfortunately for Marquette, that probably means that they’re due.
Tuesday night they lost by three to No. 14 Villanova, 60-57 in a game where senior Jeremy Hazell had 25 points and missed a three at the buzzer to tie it. Ten days before they blew a close game against then-No.6 Connecticut and ended up losing 61-59. Preceding this was a five-point loss to then-No. 23 Georgetown on Jan. 18. Now, this either means that Seton Hall simply doesn’t have the firepower to outgun the Big East’s best or it has been extremely unlucky.
On paper it looks like the Pirates should be, at the very least, a .500 team in the conference. Stud guard Hazell is one of the most dangerous men in the country, averaging 18.5 points per game, and along with him Seton Hall has three other players who average double digits in points.
The problem with the Pirates is they don’t know how to finish. Winning big games when you never have before is daunting. Time and time again, underdogs dominate games against ranked foes only to collapse in the end. Teams tense up and start playing not to lose instead of playing to win. Seton Hall is one of those teams. It has never succeeded when it actually mattered.
The Pirates are like a computer geek trying to get Brooklyn Decker’s number. Can’t seal the deal.
Talent and coaching aside, this is why Marquette should have the advantage this weekend. The Golden Eagles have a big-school pedigree. They’ve won when it’s counted, and they’ve won in the NCAA Tournament. They have, ahem, “cojones,” if I may.
Against Seton Hall on Saturday it definitely counts. The season hangs in the balance and NIT purgatory is the price of failure.
You got to believe coach Buzz Williams will have his team fired up and ready to make the Pirates walk the plank. This game should make any fan get sweaty palms, but it just feels like the season can’t crash and burn right now.
It can’t end like this. It won’t end like this. Come Saturday at about 11 p.m., I fully expect to be marking a “W” on my Marquette schedule.
Then I’m going to circle Connecticut’s name on Feb. 24. Life support continues until then.