Return trip to Georgetown another huge test for Seton Hall

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Thinking back a week and a half ago, Seton Hall’s prime time Saturday night clash with Georgetown at Prudential Center carried plenty of post-season importance. Their return game in the nation’s capital on Wednesday will hold equal weight as the Hall looks to make an NCAA push following a week off.

Quickly approaching seven days since Kevin Willard’s team finished a three-game home stand 2-1 with a close loss to Butler, Seton Hall (17-7, 7-5) find themselves squarely on the NCAA bubble and in search of a 4-2 finish over their remaining regular season games to jockey into a strong position come Selection Sunday; anything less and there’s reason to worry.

A brief respite away from the Big East’s front lines should provide extra focus going forward.

“Win or loss, it was a good time for us,” said Willard of the week-long break for his troops. “We’ve been playing hard, we’ve had a good stretch. I would have obviously liked to win all three home games, but to go 2-for-3, obviously [I’m] not that disappointed.”

“I like the position we’re in, we’re actually a little better than I thought we’d be going into the last six games. It gives us a chance to rest – I’ve been playing guys a lot of minutes — it gives guys a chance to get some rest and get re-energized.”

On paper, all seems well in South Orange — and things are, the Pirates are playing very consistent ball — but the onus is on Willard’s team to punch back after Butler torched a top-40 defense for 81 points and 1.17 points per possession last Wednesday.

“I feel bad for our next opponent defensively because Coach is going to rip us apart in practice about defending,” said Isaiah Whitehead post-Butler. “I would guess we probably touch a ball 25-percent of the time next practice.”

That next opponent that Whitehead feels bad for is none other than Georgetown (14-12, 7-6), for the second time in as many weeks.

Losers in four of their last five games and again in desperate straits as far as the post-season goes, the Hoyas perhaps unjustly will draw the ire of Seton Hall’s defense after they were held to just 61 points and .87 points per possession in Newark, their second lowest rate of scoring all season.

“Defense,” said a firm Whitehead when asked about what the team has to improve upon. “I can’t emphasize enough how much were going to work on defense all week just off of this performance alone. Coach was really getting after us at halftime and then after the game — he was kind of lost for words because he’s never seen us play defense like that before.”

If there’s one opponent that will draw the Hall back into a more sound defensive game, it’s probably ever-tough Georgetown.

In their first meeting, Ismael Sanogo and Angel Delgado played the best tandem post defense I’ve seen, perhaps all season (not to mention Sanogo was switching off on smaller Hoyas and Mike Nzei provided blocks off the pine), while Khadeen Carrington and Isaiah Whitehead also did their parts in the backcourt during what was truly a heavyweight bout on hardwood.

Last but not least, Derrick Gordon rose to the occasion and then some when he came off the bench twice for a foul-prone Desi Rodriguez and played his heart out. Georgetown lead guard D`Vauntes Smith-Rivera (11 pts, 4-10 fg, 4 asts) was held in check by Gordon after DSR averaged nearly 20 ppg & 5 apg in the games leading up to the game in Newark.

Known for his deflections and relentless defending, Gordon may be less than 100-percent after injuring his pinky twice against Butler.

“I dislocated it again,” said Gordon when asked about the splint on his finger. “I dislocated it preseason and I dislocated it twice during the game today. It’s just a minor injury … It happened so fast, I just had to pop it back into place and keep going. It’ll be fine though.”

If it’s not Derrick, then Desi will have to step up and provide another dynamic, whether it be offensively or defensively. The key for Desi has always been focusing to stay on the court, primarily due to less-than-stellar defending or quick fouls.

Whatever the micro-level details, as a team Seton Hall can now play without the distractions of being on the cusp of a national ranking and trying to extend a four-game win-streak.

There’s just one focus: navigating away from the murky NCAA bubble waters by winning on the road for the fourth time in conference play.

KenPom says: No. 61 Georgetown 73, No. 36 Seton Hall 71 (43%)

Last 10 meetings (Seton Hall 5-5):

Feb. 6, 2016, SETON HALL 69, Georgetown 61, Newark, N.J.
March 7, 2015, Georgetown 73, SETON HALL 67, Washington, D.C.
Feb. 10, 2015, Georgetown 86, SETON HALL 67, Newark, N.J.
Feb. 20, 2014, SETON HALL 82, Georgetown 67, Newark, N.J.
Jan. 18, 2014, SETON HALL 67, Georgetown 57, Washington, D.C.
Jan. 30, 2013, Georgetown 74, SETON HALL 52, Washington, D.C.
Feb. 21, 2012, SETON HALL 73, Georgetown 55, Newark, N.J.
Jan. 18, 2011, Georgetown 80, Seton Hall 75, Newark, N.J.
Jan. 14, 2010, Georgetown 85, Seton Hall 73, Washington, D.C.
Jan. 25, 2009, SETON HALL 65, Georgetown 60, Newark, N.J.

Projected Georgetown starters:

D`Vauntes Smith-Rivera (16.2 ppg, 4.3 apg, 3.2 rpg)
Tre Campbell (3.7 ppg)
Marcus Derrickson (6.7 ppg, 4.6 rpg)
Isaac Copeland (10.7 ppg, 5.1 rpg)
Jessie Govan (6.7 ppg, 3.8 rpg)

Projected Seton Hall starters:

Isaiah Whitehead (16.6 ppg, 4.9 apg)
Khadeen Carrington (13.8 ppg, 2.6 apg)
Desi Rodriguez (11.8 ppg, 5.1 rpg)
Ismael Sanogo (4.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg)
Angel Delgado (10.5 ppg, 9.9 rpg)

Time: 9pm et, Wednesday
TV: FOX Sports 1
Radio: 570AM
Opening line: Seton Hall +1.5