Seton Hall: Raw scenes from Mike Nzei’s Senior Day ceremony
Jerry Carino, @njhoopshaven
There are noticeable parallels to the 2016 championship squad.
After scoring 19 points in Saturday’s upset of Villanova, Myles Cale saved one last swish for the interview room.
“We don’t care about the name on your jersey,” he said. “When we get in between those lines it’s business, and if you’re not going go to hard, we’re going to go hard for you.”
That’s the perfect summation of why Seton Hall basketball is a threat to win this week’s Big East Tournament. The third-seeded Pirates (18-12 overall, 9-9 Big East) open in Thursday’s quarterfinals against sixth-seeded Georgetown (19-12, 9-9) at Madison Square Garden (9:30 p.m., Fox Sports 1). The event is the most wide open that anybody can remember. Here are three reasons why the Hall, which captured the title in 1991, 1993 and 2016, can add a fourth trophy to the case.
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Seton Hall guards Jared Rhoden (14) and Myles Cale (22) celebrate during the first half an NCAA college basketball game against the Villanova, Saturday, March 9, 2019, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens) (Photo: AP)
1. They have the best player
How about this stat? Myles Powell, who stands 6-foot-2, has been averaging 5.0 rebounds over the past 10 games.
Yes, Marquette’s Markus Howard likely will win Big East Player of the Year due to his consistently superb body of work, but nobody in the league enters the postseason on a bigger roll than the Pirates’ superstar.
“He’s a great player,” Georgetown coach Patrick Ewing said. “You’ve got to throw a lot of different bodies at him. He’s capable of shooting the ball from NBA range or deeper, he can get to the basket, and he showed in our last outing that he’s a willing passer when you send two (defenders) at him. He’s magnificent.”
2. They’ve played the toughest schedule
Last spring, after adding a trip to Maryland to a slate that already included Kentucky, Louisville, Nebraska and Rutgers, Kevin Willard said he was gaming the system, compensating for potentially declining strength-of-schedule metrics as the Big East faced a rebuilding season.
But he added this rationale, too: “These guys can handle it.”
He was right, and the payoff could be huge over the next couple of weeks. Not only did that schedule help secure an NCAA Tournament berth for his Pirates; it instilled confidence better than any pep talk.
“Knowing we can beat top-ranked teams, knowing we can compete with the best, that helps you so much,” Cale said.
3. They’re just scratching the surface
Of the nine guys in Willard’s rotation, six of them are essentially going through this for the first time. The tantalizing ceiling was on display Saturday, when Villanova did everything it could to slow down Powell, yet he still posted 20 points, seven rebounds, five boards and three steals — and his teammates did the rest.
“We’re most dangerous when we play together,” Hall forward Sandro Mamukelashvili said.
Key subs like freshman wing Jared Rhoden and junior center Romaro Gill are improving by the week. Rhoden, who missed the offseason due to shoulder surgery, has bloomed from bit player into a sixth-man weapon.
“It was just a matter of time before he caught up,” Willard said. “He’s a smart kid and he knows three positions on the offensive and defensive side. He has such a good attitude, I knew he would start playing the way he’s been playing.”
There are shades of 2016 here: A red-hot superstar, a young group coming into its own, a favorable draw with Villanova on the other side, no NCAA Tournament bubble pressure.
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“We’ve been playing pretty darn good basketball,” Willard said. “My message to them this week: We have a lot of basketball left to play.”
Staff writer Jerry Carino: firstname.lastname@example.org.