We are one day away from watching the Gonzaga Bulldogs take on the Seton Hall Pirates. Both teams won their automatic bids in their respective conferences with impressive and consistent play.
Both teams are coming into the tournament hot, and only one team gets to advance to play the winner of Utah and Fresno State. Since Gonzaga and Seton Hall have only met once in the history of the programs, it seems important to figure out things about Seton Hall from people who watch Seton Hall. After all, we can only tell so much from the box score in 1954 when Seton Hall defeated Gonzaga, 92-70.
Thankfully, SB Nation has a full network of people who know what they are talking about, and Phil Neuffer with Big East Coast Bias took some time out of his day to answer our questions.
Isaiah Whitehead is on this team, and we all know that. Who else is on the team that can burn Gonzaga?
As you might expect of a team that just won the Big East, there are more than a couple. Angel Delgado is a double-double waiting to happen down low and has been the most consistent force for the Pirates over the last two seasons. Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez both took giant steps forward this season. Carrington is the one you really need to watch out for, as he is a 14-points per game scorer, but Rodriguez is a much improved 3-point shooter and he has been known to posterize a fool. Finally, Derrick Gordon, a former UMass guard, has been a fantastic addition to Kevin Willard’s squad. He’s aggressive on both ends and really leads for this team. He’s also the team’s best perimeter defender, posting 1.4 defensive win shares and a defensive rating of 98.6 this season.
Seton Hall won 12 of their final 14 games, but both of those losses came to Butler. Were there any consistencies in the losses, and anything Gonzaga can do to emulate?
There are two common threads from both those games. The Pirates let the Bulldogs get to the free throw line too often and they allowed them to heat up offensively in the second half in both meetings. When they played in February, Butler outscored SHU 18-11 at the free-throw line and also shot 66.7 percent from the floor in the final 20 minutes. In the rematch, the Bulldogs had a 25-16 edge at the charity stripe and a 54.2 percent success rate from the field. Defensive discipline is not always a strength for SHU, so getting some guys, especially Delgado in foul trouble early would be a great way to weaken the Pirates. (Wait, why am I giving you advice on how to beat them!?)
Back to Whitehead, who (if anyone) has found success guarding him and how do you do it?
Whitehead has been out of his mind this season, especially down the stretch. He just isn’t afraid to shoot from anywhere, any angle or with anyone on him. However, that type of hero ball can sometimes be a detriment. When his Steph Curry-range shots are splashing and his fallaway jumpers over three defenders find the net, it’s all smiles, but when those shots aren’t dropping, he can force the issue too much and become dead set on getting the offense started all alone. It was a much bigger problem last season. He has really improved as a passer and it’s hard to fault him for taking the shots he does because he is just so good.
No single team or defender has really found a way to defend him. He has scored in double figures in all but three games this season, including a streak of seven-straight games with at least 20 points which he carries into the tourney. In general, you just have to keep pressure on him and keep him from getting into a rhythm because when he is shooting confidently (which is most of the time), it doesn’t really matter what you throw at him.
How will Seton Hall attempt to defensively corral Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer?
That is an excellent question. Even with Delgado, SHU is not a very big or effective team in the frontcourt. Most guys on the team are either pure guards or swing men who don’t like to get dirty down low. Braeden Anderson, Myles Carter and Rashed Anthony are the only guys above 6-foot-7 other than Delgado, and the three of them have only played 270 minutes combined. Delgado is going to have a lot of pressure on his shoulders, but Willard may just throw Anderson and Anthony out there just as bodies to slow Gonzaga’s big guys down a bit. Unfortunately, Willard hasn’t really had to deal with too many frontcourt heavy squads in the guard-dominated Big East. The overall strategy will probably be to try to keep the pace up and play the game on the edges rather than in the paint. Or SHU will just take its lumps down low and attempt to counter with 3-point shooting and quick cuts from its guards.
It has been a while since Seton Hall was in the NCAA Tournament. Is there a fear that this team lacks the experience to make a NCAA run?
Willard has done a decent job of creating a solid program at SHU, but in past years it has failed to be anything special, often falling below preseason hype and landing in the .500 area. Whitehead was a huge recruiting coup for the program and was the signal that the Pirates were finally ready to become a contending program in the Big East. Obviously, they have reached that goal, but getting to the NCAA Tournament and being a factor there is a whole new animal. Gordon played in the NCAA Tournament with UMass in 2014, so there is a bit of tourney experience on the roster. Plus, Jevon Thomas, a transfer from Kansas State who has to sit out this season, was a freshman when the Wildcats last went dancing, so he can at least lend some vocal support.
To answer your question, I don’t think this team is afraid of its lack of experience, but from an objective standpoint, obviously there are concerns. However, there were concerns about whether the Pirates were a tourney team coming into this season and even into January and now they’re Big East champs, so I’m not sure those concerns matter anyway.
What does Seton Hall need to do to win this game?
Score more points than Gonzaga.
Joking aside, the Pirates have to get Whitehead going early. The whole team feeds off of his energy and they have to get out in front quickly because I don’t love their chances of mounting a comeback. If they can get out to a lead they just have to push the pace, keep Gonzaga on its heels and, like I said earlier, make it a game played on the wings. Attacking the big guys from the Zags could help as well, as a little foul trouble for the opponent is always nice.