Seton Hall faced with must-win game against Xavier

Forget the 26 games in the rear-view and temporarily ignore the remaining three-plus games that will close out the season: Xavier presents a scenario that must only go one way for Seton Hall if they wish to keep their at-large NCAA hopes alive.

Still sitting firmly on the NCAA bubble, Seton Hall (16-10, 6-8) will host a hobbling Xavier (18-9, 8-6) team that will be going into their seventh game since starting point guard Edmond Sumner was lost for the season and potentially their third game without Trevon Bluiett (ankle).

Bluiett will likely suit up but he won’t be 100-percent as the Musketeers look to prevent a four-game losing streak as they play their third road game in a week — talk about a rough stretch.

Xavier’s leading scorer at just under 18 points per game, Bluiett sank Seton Hall via 24 points and a game-winning bucket with 5 seconds on the clock in the first meeting between the two schools on February 1st in Cincinnati.

A trending downward Xavier which has lost by a combined 34 points at Providence and Marquette in their last two games bodes well for Seton Hall, who are rightfully treating this game as a must-win as a victory is key for them finishing at .500 or above in league play; it would also boost the Hall to 4-6 against the RPI top-50.

“We’ll bounce back. I’ve said this all along: I’ve got a lot of confidence in these guys,” preached Kevin Willard after Villanova blasted his team by 22 on Saturday.

“We knew this was a big home stretch. Obviously you would have liked to get all three, but in reality you had to get two out of three.”

Willard is right, in my opinion.

After taking care of No. 20 Creighton last Wednesday, the Hall was somewhat playing with NCAA resume house money against No. 2 Villanova: if you win, you cash out as a big winner. If you lose, you don’t take much of a hit other than in confidence and momentum, but it sets up a must-have against Xavier.

Trevon Bluiett pops out as the Pirate-killer when looking at the last game on paper, but Xavier received 24 points and 13 boards from the combination of forwards Kaiser Gates (5.9 ppg, 4.6 rpg) and Sean O’Mara (5.4 ppg, 2.9 rpg) off the bench while Angel Delgado (15.3 ppg, 13.2 rpg) was held to 13 points and 13 boards while just one point and five rebounds came from the Hall’s four-spot.

Willard tends to concur this mismatch made a big difference earlier this month

“We have to do a little better job of Kaiser Gates, I think he’s a guy — everyone looks at [JP] Macura, everyone worries about Trevon Bluiett — but Kaiser Gates really hurt us in the second half of the first game,” said Willard.

“Bluiett will be back by us, he’ll be healthy, but we have to do a better job on Kaiser Gates.”

In a Big East season which has featured three Seton Hall losses by four points or less — at Marquette, Providence and Xavier — the Pirates must make the extra effort on Wednesday in all the little areas by channeling three days of rest at home that the Musketeers won’t have as they wrap up a grueling road trip.

“A couple more little things,” said Khadeen Carrington about what could prove to be the difference this time around.

“Maybe a box out here, a dive on the floor for a loose ball [there] — that’s what it came down to at Xavier.”

“Guys are staying positive. We took a tough shot last time at St. John’s and then we came out and beat Creighton. We’re just staying positive, there’s no time to sit around and sulk.”

With their season on the line, Seton Hall must be hyper-alert on Wednesday to not let their guard down and succumb to another 16-3 run like the one that changed the tide at the Cintas Center in the second half; Seton Hall did lead 49-43 with 12 to play.

At this juncture, they just can’t afford any slip ups.

“A win, that’s a win that we need. There’s no ifs, ands, or buts about it,” said Carrington of the mindset going into Wednesday.

When I asked him if it’s a must-win? The answer couldn’t have been calmer.

“Yeah, definitely.”

KenPom says: No. 59 Seton Hall 73, No. 37 Xavier 72 (53%)

Series history (SH 9-6)

Feb. 1, 2017, Xavier 72, SETON HALL 70, Cincinnati, Ohio
March 11, 2016, SETON HALL 87, Xavier 83, New York City, N.Y.
Feb. 28, 2016, SETON HALL 90, Xavier 81, Newark, N.J.
Jan. 23, 2016, Xavier 84, SETON HALL 76, Cincinnati, Ohio
Jan. 31, 2015, SETON HALL 90, Xavier 82, Newark, N.J.
Jan. 7, 2015, Xavier 69, SETON HALL 58, Cincinnati, Ohio
March 3, 2014, SETON HALL 71, Xavier 62, Newark, N.J.
Feb. 1, 2014, SETON HALL 68, Xavier 60, Cincinnati, Ohio
Nov. 21, 2010, Xavier 57, SETON HALL 52, St. Thomas, VI
Dec. 8, 1979, SETON HALL 70, Xavier 67, Bloomington, Ind.
March 16, 1957 Xavier 85, SETON HALL 79, New York, N.Y.
Jan. 10, 1956, SETON HALL 84, Xavier 73, South Orange, N.J.
Jan. 11, 1953, SETON HALL 86, Xavier 78, South Orange, N.J.
Jan. 5, 1949, SETON HALL 60, Xavier 51, South Orange, N.J.
Jan. 4, 1948, Xavier 41, SETON HALL 34, Cincinnati, Ohio

Projected Xavier starters
PG – Quentin Goodin
G – JP Macura
G/F – Trevon Bluiett
F – Malcolm Bernard
F – Tyrique Jones

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

When: 7et, Wednesday
TV: FOX Sports 1
Radio: 570AM (Gary Cohen & Dave Popkin)
Opening line: Seton Hall -2