SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. (AP) - Getting to the NCAA Tournament for a second straight year isn’t going to be good enough for Seton Hall.
The guys that put the Pirates (21-11) back on the collegiate basketball map for the first time in a decade don’t want another one and done. They want to walk away with a win or two or three, or even six, starting with Arkansas (25-9) on Friday in Greenville, South Carolina.
The Razorbacks remind Pirates coach Kevin Willard of fellow Big East foe Creighton, an uptempo team that has guards that can shoot and a big man inside.
“My message to them is we have a great opportunity and we need to be focused and ready to take advantage of that opportunity,” Willard said.
The scenario is much different than a year ago, when the Pirates knocked off eventual national champion Villanova to win their first Big East title in two decades.
They got a No. 6 seed, flew to Denver to play No. 11 seed Gonzaga and were dominated. The Zags dominated 68-52, getting 21 points and 16 rebounds from Domantas Sabonis.
Seton Hall looked mentally and emotionally exhausted.
After losing a heartbreaker to Villanova in the conference semifinal this year, the Pirates have had a couple of days to get over it and get back to practice. There is certainly no lingering high, and the loss to the NCAA Tournament’s top-seeded team is a confidence builder.
Center Angel Delgado said the sole focus now is getting ready for the eighth-seeded Razorbacks and not losing.
“If you lose you are going back home,” said Delgado, who leads the nation in rebounding (13.1) and double-doubles (26). “You are not dying, but you are going back home and I don’t want to go back home. I want to go to the next round, the next round, the next round. Everybody is motivated. Everybody wants to win games. I think we are really prepared.”
The Pirates posted an 8-3 record down the stretch with two of the losses coming to Villanova. Their strength has been their junior leaders - Delgado, point guard Khadeen Carrington and forwards Desi Rodriguez and Ismael Sanogo, the team’s top defender.
Carrington (16.9), Rodriguez (15.9) and Delgado (15.3) provide most of the scoring, while freshman guard Myles Powell has double figures in seven of the last 14 games.
“Last year was just getting our feet wet,” Sanogo said. “The whole altitude thing was crazy. This year we’re experienced.”
The Pirates have room to improve their shooting in the tournament. Last year, leading scorer Isaiah Whitehead was limited to 10 points on 4 of 24 shooting. A foul-plagued Delgado was held to 7 points and 6 rebounds, while Rodriguez and Carrington had 8 points apiece on 6 of 16 shooting.
Seton Hall, which has posted consecutive 20-win seasons for the first time since 1992-93, does have a fallback. It is playing excellent defense. Villanova scored 55 points in its semifinal win.
“The way we played defense that whole tournament, I don’t think we let up at all,” Carrington said. “The Marquette game we shut them out for six or seven minutes, and Villanova, we played unbelievable. We just have to take that defensive mindset into the Arkansas game.”
This marks the first time that Seton Hall has gone to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments since reeling off four straight appearances from 1991-94.
“We’re going to the tournament with a lot of confidence,” Rodriguez said. “We just have to stay together and run our offense and defend. If we defend, and we get out and run, we are a very tough team to beat.”
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