After traveling out west to Denver to play Gonzaga last season, Seton Hall sounds up to the challenge of taking on Arkansas and perhaps North Carolina on the East Coast this time around.
Drawn with the eighth-seeded Razorbacks (25-9) in Greenville, S.C., the Pirates (22-11) watched themselves tapped as a nine-seed at Kevin Willard’s Westfield, N.j. home after a full-blown celebration at Walsh last year.
“Last year when you win the Big East championship you have to celebrate that. I think last year was more celebrating that,” said Willard of the contrast.
“This year as much of a grind as it’s been, I think these guys wanted a nice night with themselves and their teammates. … When I asked the team I gave them options of doing something small at my house or something on campus. The guys are comfortable here, they come here a lot. I think they just wanted to be somewhere there were comfortable.”
“It was smaller compared to last year when we won the Big East,” added Khadeen Carrington of the Selection Show viewing.
“There wasn’t as many cameras, so it was more relaxed. It was chill.”
Set to play on Friday at 1:30 E.T. instead of late Thursday night in a different time zone like last year, Seton Hall gets an extra day of rest coupled with less travel; Arkansas also doesn’t have to go far but they do get one less day off the court since battling with Kentucky on Sunday afternoon.
“I think playing on Friday is great, it does give us another day of rest, another day of prep,” said Willard.
“Staying on the East Coast is exciting, it gives much more fans to get to it, Greenville isn’t too far away.”
“It’s great to see — we don’t have to go to Colorado again,” added Carrington of this year’s draw.
“We were getting adjusted to the climate over there [in Denver]. [Greenville is] Somewhere close — not too close but close enough, I think it’s a good place to play.”
The extra day of cushion will also help Ish Sanogo‘s sprained ankle heal — he tweaked it again in the second half against Villanova.
“His ankle was actually a little bit swollen today. He re-sprained it late in the second half, but he looked great [in the game],” said Willard of his glue-guy.
“I think he’s starting to get some of his bounce back. I think an extra day of rest will help him. I think he played phenomenal on Friday night and it was good to see that bounce-back.”
All of the talk over the past few days is the contrast between winning the conference last year and exiting early this season going into the big Dance. Either way, the junior-laden team has already displayed signs of maturity according to Willard.
“I can just tell by their attitude. They have a much better sense of what is coming at them from the media, just everything,” he said of his team’s current morale.
“They have a much calmer sense about them, they understand what’s at stake: you’re playing for a chance to win a national championship, and I don’t think that really sunk in for them last year before the tournament.”
Even though the national spotlight and North Carolina are almost surely waiting in the wings for the winner of this game on essentially a home court for the Tar Heels, Seton Hall knows they have to narrow their focus.
“You can’t just look past anybody, that’s how you get in trouble right there,” said Carrington, who literally can’t look past the Razorbacks after taking in their game earlier today.
“I’ve actually watched them play today [against Kentucky], they have some good guard play. They have a good big down low. It’s going to be a great game.”
While the path to the Sweet 16 is certainly harder than last year, perhaps the first NCAA tournament win for Seton Hall since 2004 — when they also played in the 8-9 game with a North Carolina-based ACC pending — is the immediate task at hand.
“It’s just more history being created,” said Carrington of what a mean could win for the program.
“We’ve made a lot of history since our class came here. It will just be adding to all the history we’ve already made. It would just be unbelievable.
“That’s what we’ve got to do, just make history before we leave.”