It won’t be official, but Seton Hall (19-10, 9-8) can essentially lock up their second consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament with a win at No. 13 Butler (23-6, 12-5) on Saturday.
Set to air on FOX, the Hall will be looking to notch their first-ever win on Butler soil in their fourth attempt; Seton Hall is 1-7 against the Bulldogs all-time with their only win coming at Madison Square Garden.
Butler has locked up the two-seed in the Big East Tournament while a Seton Hall loss slots them into the 6th-seed and a win can boost them higher. Coincidentally, the 6-seed path to the title game goes through Butler rather than Villanova.
The Bulldogs are playing as good as anyone in the country and have won five of six — including a 74-66 win at the Pavilion two weeks ago which snapped Villanova’s massive streak in that venue — since Chris Holtmann made a bold pair of personnel changes.
After losing two straight to Georgetown and Creighton at home, he has brought point guard Tyler Lewis and all-league player Kelan Martin off the bench in every game after they both started nearly every game this season to that point.
The results? A 5-1 record, a 29:4 assist to turnover ratio for Lewis and 20 ppg & 8 rpg for Martin over his last four games.
Replacements Avery Woodson and GW transfer Kethan Savage have also maintained or increased their production during the move.
Stroke of genius?
A well-oiled machine that is Butler does not help the recent history that goes against Seton Hall.
“I’m going to be really happy to see [Andrew] Chrabascz walk out and get his jersey. I might hand him his jersey for ‘em, to be honest with you,” joked Kevin Willard of the pending match-up.
“But no, they’re a fantastic team, Chris [Holtmann] has done an unbelievable job. I think it’s [Hinkle] one of the best places to watch a college game, the fans are into the game, they’re knowledgeable about the game. It’s going to be a great atmosphere, a great opportunity.”
This is not the first time Seton Hall has traveled to Indianapolis for a late-season game with Butler either.
The Bulldogs barked the Pirates out of the building in a season-finale 71-54 back in 2014 while they nipped the Hall over the closing minutes 85-78 last year despite 27 from Isaiah Whitehead.
“We’ve had some really good battles with them, I don’t think we’ve won since ‘97, [or] since P.J. [Carlesimo] was here,” said Willard, who may have been making a figure of speech since the two schools have never met prior to realignment.
“But it’s a great opportunity against a really good basketball team.”
For Seton Hall’s NCAA aspirations, a road win at a top-25 opponent in March will surely be enough to push their resume into 8- or 9-seed territory prior to the Big East Tournament and ensure them of a bid, while a loss puts more pressure on winning one game in New York to feel safe.
“It’s a BIG opportunity. A lot of people talking about how we get this one, or if we get this win, we’ll be in for sure, blah blah blah, but for me, the season is not over, that’s for sure,” said senior Madison Jones.
“We still have a big game coming up, beating Butler at Butler, that’s only going to make our seeding and everything else much better.”
Beyond seeding, a win could relieve pressure from the team to perform at the Mecca, providing the feeling of playing with house money and nothing to lose.
“We’re still going in, Senior Night was fun and nice and all that, but the season is nowhere near over. We’re moving onto the next day, tomorrow is a new day, we have to come prepared — we want to beat Butler,” continued Jones post-Georgetown.
Jones is friends with fellow North Carolina native Tyler Lewis, who told him all about how intimidating Hinkle Fieldhouse can be; a venue Seton Hall is 0-3 at, losing by an average margin of 15 points.
“It’s big-time,” Jones said of the venue and occasion.
“I never knew we never won there, so hopefully we can change that … It was a close game [in Newark], I felt like we were right there with them. I feel like if we stick to our game and play our game, I think we definitely have a great chance to beat them.”
To have a better chance of prevailing, Seton Hall will have to look to the availability of Ish Sanogo, who miraculously played against Georgetown after a sprained ankle against DePaul left him in crutches just days before.
“I will see how he feels on Friday when we land,” said Willard.
“Sometimes with an ankle when you fly — that’s what happened coming back [from DePaul] — it can swell up. So we’ll see how he feels. If he feels — I’m sure he’ll feel better than today — if he feels better, then I’ll play him.”
Sanogo’s presence will be key for Seton Hall if they wish to replicate the strong defensive outing put on display in Newark; Butler has averaged 88.5 ppg over their last four after scoring 61 in the first meeting.
Fresh off his triple milestone night against the Hoyas, Angel Delgado will look to string together yet another all-league performance after reeling in 22 rebounds against Butler’s front line last time around.
Delgado spoke about being a bubble team after beating Georgetown.
He and his teammates can rid that title with a win.
KenPom says: No. 20 Butler 76, No. 57 Seton Hall 65 (17%)
Series history (SH 1-7)
Jan. 25, 2017, Butler 61, SETON HALL 64, Newark, N.J.
March 2, 2016, Butler 85, SETON HALL 78, Indianapolis, IN
Feb. 10, 2016, Butler 81, SETON HALL 75, Newark, N.J.
Jan. 25, 2015, Butler 77, SETON HALL 57, Indianapolis, IN
Jan. 13, 2015, Butler 79, SETON HALL 75 (ot), Newark, N.J.
March 12, 2014, SETON HALL 51, Butler 50, New York, N.Y.
March 8, 2014, Butler 71, SETON HALL 54, Indianapolis, IN
Jan. 29, 2014, Butler 64, SETON HALL 57, Newark, N.J.
Projected Butler starters:
G – Kamar Baldwin
G – Avery Woodson
G/F – Kethan Savage
F – Andrew Chrabascz
F – Tyler Wideman
Projected Seton Hall starters:
PG – Madison Jones
G – Khadeen Carrington
F – Desi Rodriguez
F – Ish Sanogo
F – Angel Delgado
When: 230PM, Saturday
Radio: AM 570 (Gary Cohen & Dave Popkin)
Opening line: SH +9