WICHITA — Seton Hall displayed no signs of nervousness during today’s media session ahead of the Pirates’ prime time matchup with one-seed Kansas on Saturday.
Kevin Willard and the four seniors were calm, cool, collected, and comical during a half hour long press conference that preceded their closed door practice.
Willard said he’s working his guys at a level they haven’t seen in some time.
“We’re doing the same thing we did when we won the Big East Championship, and last year in the Big East tournament.
“I’m trying to just get them back into that quick turnaround mode, because preparation is really important for us. It’s something I believe in tremendously in putting in the work and scouting and being prepared.”
The opponent is definitely playing a factor into the extensive prep work which included a walk-through, film session, breakfast, another film session, and finally a second walk-through all prior to their 3pm local time practice.
“When you’re playing as good a basketball team as you are in Kansas, you need to do all the little extra things to try to give yourself a chance to win,” added Willard. “You just can’t treat it like you’re playing any other team. They’re just too good. They’re too well-coached. They have too good of players.”
The busy itinerary that the players went through before practice also included an “early wake up”, that according to Willard was 9 am — which is quite early for a college student if you can remember.
Here comes some of the comedy.
“I mean I didn’t think it was that early. It was 9 am. But for Angel (Delgado), that might as well have been 6:30. The big fellow needs his sleep.
“They’re a little grumpy at the fact that before — I usually have to feed them before I do something. And so if I do something before I feed them, then I get a grumpy older group. … I think by the time they get over being mad at me, they’re going to be really excited about playing Kansas.”
Although Willard joked that they were grumpy, the seniors were very open during the press conference, laughing between themselves at times while Angel Delgado had a funny moment when he was asked to answer a pair of questions in Spanish.
ESPN International will be airing tomorrow’s game in the Caribbean (including the Dominican Republic), Central America, portions of South America, as well as Australia, according to the reporter who posed the questions, we spoke at length.
“I respond to you in Spanish? This is the first time they asked me (to do) that,” said a laughing Delgado.
After answering in his native tongue, which raised a bunch of smirks from his teammates, Angel then had to translate for the speech transcribers, which raised another laugh in the room.
“I’m really excited to be part of ESPN International because that’s what I grew up doing. I grew up watching, too. And it’s really exciting to see my family be able to see me clear. I’m just ready for the battle and representing every Latino out there.”
But the mood became more business-like when discussing Kansas, who the players clearly have a lot of respect for.
While there are many story-lines to follow, the two primary ones are Delgado against Kansas’ frontline, which includes limited 7-footer Udoka Azubuike, as well as a classic guard showdown between Khadeen Carrington and likely All-American Devonte’ Graham.
Bill Self said that Azubuike may see 20 minutes, which seems highly optimistic after his knee — which was iced following Kansas’ practice — limited his mobility in three minutes against Penn.
Still, Willard has also game-planned for the possibility that he features for the Jayhawks.
“It’s amazing when he’s not in there how well they space you out, how much they drive, kick, rely on the three-point shot,” said Willard.
“And then when he comes in the game, you know, Bill (Self) goes to the high-low package. It’s almost automatic.
“He’s a monster of a man, and they do a great job of working their high-low package when he’s in the game. So it’s amazing they play such a different style when he’s in the game than when he’s out of the game.”
Regardless of Azubuike’s availability, it sounds like Kansas will send two or three guys after Delgado and they will play smaller than usual when he’s not in the game, looking to make Seton Hall pay from the perimeter.
Switching focus to the backcourt, where Kansas has the advantage at point guard on paper, Carrington will need to play as well as he did on Thursday — and get some help — to take away Kansas’ biggest threat.
“I think with Kansas you just gotta limit (Devonte’) Graham. And that’s on me because I’m starting on him tomorrow,” said Carrington.
“Just limit his shots, make everything hard for him, because everything goes through him. So I think if you cut off the head of the snake, you know, it’s going to be hard for them to do a lot of things.”
Willard thinks Graham is as good as any guard in the country, which isn’t coaches-speak, but believes Carrington has plenty of experience going up against high caliber guards in league play, from Jalen Brunson to Marquette’s duo, to Kyron Cartwright.
“He’s played well against Jalen (Brunson). He’s one of those kids, because of his personality, it doesn’t seem like he gets pumped up for games, he doesn’t seem like he gets — he’s not a rah-rah type kid. He’s Mr. Smooth,” said Willard.
“But deep down he understands the challenge. He’ll be ready for the challenge. And I look forward to that. I think it’s going to be a great matchup between those two.”
In addition to the on-court battle, Seton Hall will of course be up against a St. Patrick’s Day evening crowd that overwhelmingly will be supporting Kansas.
I witnessed how that turned out for Marquette against South Carolina last year — the place was reverberating, the noise was actually disruptive for talking to someone next to you and painful at times.
“Just staying focused. You know, we know we’re playing against them, we’re playing against their fans. But I think if we block them out and just focus on our game plan, that we can do something special,” said Carrington of the atmosphere he’s expecting tomorrow.
“When you play in the Big East, you always expect big things when you go to somebody else court,” added Delgado.
“I think we’re kind of used to that. We’ve been playing for all four years and great teams, so I think we’re ready for the battle.”