Kevin Willard managing injuries, fatigue heading into St. John’s

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Facing a quick turnaround compared to St. John’s, Kevin Willard and Seton Hall must account for injuries, illness, and a lot of logged minutes from their core rotation.

Before you start getting ideas, no, this isn’t going to be another preview that includes a few quotes from the Pirates’ skipper that highlight how the Red Storm (11-14, 5-7) had a week to prepare compared to Seton Hall.

It’s true, but for the first time in a few attempts Willard largely declined to go in that direction and instead discussed how a team that is now 283rd in bench minutes and will be without Ismael Sanogo (ankle) on Saturday is coping heading into the core of their conference schedule.

“I think we’re on [a] Wednesday night at midnight and then Saturday at noon [schedule] for the next three weeks, so tomorrow will just be an off day to be honest with you,” Willard said after beating Providence late Wednesday night.

“We don’t have school [Thursday] which is nice, the kids will be able to sleep in and rest. We will watch film tomorrow at 4PM, we’ll lift. We’re on the second of the round robins so the scouts are a little easier and the kids know each other … So it doesn’t take as much for us to [prepare].

“I’m treating Angel [Delgado] like Patrick Ewing anyways right now. He’s hardly practicing to keep him fresh. And really most of the other guys are not practicing that much anyways. We’re in a loop where we have to stay fresh and this time of year you have to stay fresh more mentally anyway, that’s what I’m happy about, mentally they’re pretty good.”

Beyond general fatigue, the departures of three fringe rotation players in Veer Singh, Jevon Thomas, and Myles Carter this season have shortened Willard’s deck and leave the team with just one point guard in Madison Jones  (5.7 ppg, 3.7 apg) and nine scholarship players available for St. John’s.

From the looks of it, rarely-used freshman Eron Gordon, who sat out the last two games with the flu, will see time behind Jones; I’d imagine Khadeen Carrington (16.8 ppg, 2.9 apg) will also fill in here if absolutely necessary.

On the other side of the Hudson, St. John’s has traded wins and losses since their defeat at Prudential Center last month, picking up victories at Providence and at home against Marquette while losing to Xavier and Villanova.

The Red Storm are 1-3 at the Garden in home games this season with losses against Penn State, Villanova, and Xavier but most-recently they took down the Golden Eagles on the first of February.

In place of guard Marcus LoVett (17.2 ppg 3.8 apg), back-up center Tariq Owens (5.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 2.4 bpg) received his first start since December in St. John’s last game, but it’s unclear if that was just a temporary move. It is of note however after Seton Hall man-handled the paint at the Rock against a smaller frontcourt; Delgado had 21 and 14 while Mike Nzei (4.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg) and Sanogo combined for 18 points.

Despite Sanogo’s absence, the paint battle will probably be Seton Hall’s to lose though I’m sure Chris Mullin worked all week on a formula to stop Delgado after he compared Angel’s performance in the first meeting to Moses Malone. 

In the back court, Carrington set the bar high by tallying a career-high 8 assists the first time these two schools met, but it will be interesting to see if St. John’s tries to initiate things and get a thin Seton Hall into foul trouble, subsequently forcing Kevin Willard’s hand. 

Zooming out to the big picture, this is another must-win for Seton Hall’s NCAA hopes and they know that. The Pirates are just inside the RPI top-40 (36) and are in the fields of all reputable bracketology sites (if they aren’t, leave a note below). 

While St. John’s is a must-have and shouldn’t be over-looked, the core of where the Hall can boost their stock starts next Wednesday with Creighton.

KenPom says: No. 53 Seton Hall 75, No. 88 St. John’s 74 (51%)

Last 10 meetings (SH 6-4; all-time 34-50):

Jan. 22, 2017, SETON HALL 86, St. John’s 73, Newark, N.J.
Feb. 21, 2016, SETON HALL 72, St. John’s 71, New York, N.Y.
Jan. 27, 2016, SETON HALL 79, St. John’s 60, Newark, N.J.
Feb. 21, 2015, St. John’s 85, SETON HALL 72, Queens, N.Y.
Dec. 31, 2014, SETON HALL 78, St. John’s 67, Newark, N.J.
Feb. 13, 2014, St. John’s 68, SETON HALL 67, Newark, N.J.
Jan. 23, 2014, St. John’s 77, SETON HALL 76, Queens, N.Y.
Jan. 27, 2013, St. John’s 71, SETON HALL 67, New York, N.Y.
Feb. 14, 2012, SETON HALL 94, St. John’s 64, Newark, N.J.
March 3, 2011, SETON HALL 84, St. John’s 70, Newark, N.J.

Projected St. John’s starters
G – Marcus LoVett
G – Shamorie Ponds
G – Malik Ellison
F – Bashir Ahmed
F – Kassoum Yakwe

Projected Seton Hall starters
PG – Madison Jones
G – Khadeen Carrington
F – Desi Rodriguez
F – Mike Nzei
F – Angel Delgado

When: Noon, Saturday
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: AM 570 (Gary Cohen & Dave Popkin)
Opening line: TBD