Since immediately after Seton Hall’s collapse against Arkansas last March, the success of 2017-18 was to ride upon one thing: advancing in the NCAA tournament.
25-plus wins, a Big East Tournament crown, going undefeated in league play?
All of these would have been nice-to-have accomplishments this season, but even if Seton Hall had pulled off that trifecta to this point, it wouldn’t have moved the needle of the senior class’ on-court legacy much more than an inch.
Winning at the Big Dance will.
You’ve heard the argument one too many times.
It goes something like this: At the end of the day, if they don’t win a game in Wichita, they will have as many NCAA tournament wins as the class before them, and the one before that, and the one before that… all the way back to just after the 2004 class that beat Arizona and featured the likes of Andre Barrett, Marcus Toney-El, and Kelly Whitney.
A side dish of expectations is also served alongside that perspective.
“Sure, the team has performed well enough over the past three seasons regardless of not winning a first-weekend game, but they still never met their full potential, and didn’t live up to expectations.”
Think back to around 2013-14 after Kevin Willard’s now-senior class were seniors in high school.
What were the expectations then? Aside from a potential one-and-done recruit named Isaiah Whitehead white-knighting in to save the day for a season or two.
Desi Rodriguez was an unranked, raw-but-athletic wing who couldn’t shoot the ball and was seen as a Whitehead add-on.
Ismael Sanogo was viewed as a long-shot local recruit who can defend and doesn’t have better options.
Even Khadeen Carrington and Angel Delgado were slept on to a degree.
Carrington compiled an impressive track record of volume scoring at Bishop Loughlin (N.Y.) alongside Rutgers’ Mike Williams but was overshadowed by Whitehead, while Delgado had the impressive recruiting ranking, but was seen as a defense/rebounding guy; the double-double career great Pirate he turned out to be was not expected.
There was short-term hype because the class was ranked and Seton Hall already had some pieces in place, but pre-season Sweet 16+ expectations weren’t a thing.
Like they’ve done off the court, the seniors raised the bar after their sophomore campaign, which may still be seen as peak Willard ball by some.
There is certainly truth to the aforementioned arguments.
But, early 90s Buffalo Bills style, any team that gets to the promised land several seasons in a row and fails is in a tricky situation.
They failed repeatedly, but you can’t fail if you don’t get there.
Seton Hall fans desperately longed for just getting a sniff of the promised land until 2015-16 happened.
Now, albeit with this group of players, just appearing in the tournament is seen as failure. That in itself says something.
“No matter what, I think these four guys have left a great mark at Seton Hall,” assessed Kevin Willard.
“I think more than anything, the way they’ve brought the fan base back from the way they’ve played, obviously it’s going to help if you win a game. But I just think how they’ve interacted with the fans, how they’ve kind of won a lot of big games, I think their legacy will be pretty good either way.”
As we inch closer to Thursday afternoon’s clash with North Carolina State, it’s important to cherish what has been accomplished — the 20 win seasons, the tremendous individual performances, the Big East title — and leave the legacy pondering to the players, for now.
“We haven’t spoken about that because we don’t want it to end yet,” said senior lead guard Khadeen Carrington of post-Seton Hall life.
“We’ll speak about everything after the season, whenever that may be. So we haven’t spoke about the season ending yet. I mean, you think about it, it’s senior year, I’ve been thinking about it since the start of the senior year. It’s my last year. It’s my last time to do something special.”
This is their moment too. Your anguish of not seeing a tournament win in 14 years isn’t comparable to personally losing three consecutive games.
I’ve seen the post-loss locker rooms. Two now. And there are only so many English words to describe depressing.
“We never won a NCAA tournament game, so we’re coming with the mindset that we gotta win the game,” said senior forward Angel Delgado, not far from the court that he may play his last collegiate minutes on.
“We gotta represent our school and represent our league. So we gotta be in the right way and play as hard as we possibly can.”
“I think we’ve left a pretty great legacy so far, but winning a game in the NCAA tournament, that’s something that we haven’t done,” added Carrington.
“And we’re looking forward to doing it tomorrow. I think it’s going to just add to our legacy if we do so.”