Seton Hall starts Big East title defense against Marquette

Safely in the NCAA field, Seton Hall (20-10, 10-8) meets Marquette (19-11, 10-8) in the Big East quarterfinals on Thursday with tournament seeding and the defense of their 2016 crown on the line.

Potentially without Ish Sanogo, who is still recovering from a sprained ankle that limited him against Georgetown and sidelined the junior glue guy for Butler, Seton Hall may be down to a six-man rotation yet again for the rubber match between these two schools.

Marquette is in roughly the same seeding scenario as Seton Hall: securely in the field at around a 9- or 10-seed with the potential to move up past the 8-9 game if they can win on Thursday, but likely safe from the ‘first four’ in Dayton with a loss. 

The regular season series couldn’t have been much closer with both games coming down to the final possession including an overtime heart-breaker for the Hall at the Bradley Center and a mad scramble for a free-throw rebound at Prudential Center.

Kevin Willard was left burying the box score from the last time these two schools met in Madison Square Garden: a 78-56 no-contest which marked rock-bottom for the Willard era at the tail-end of the 2014-15 campaign.

Like Seton Hall, the Golden Eagles have come on strong down the stretch in the form of winning four of their last five and look to be a team that is peaking at the right time.

Steve Wojciechowski’s guys rely on three-pointers just as much as any team in the country: Marquette has a top-ranked percentage from deep (43%), 37% of their total points come from long range (19th), and freshman guard Markus Howard (13.1 ppg, 2.2 apg) shoots it at the highest rate in the nation at an astounding 55-percent (76-of-138). 

Seton Hall did a decent job on the perimeter back in January (9-for-24 and 9-for-20, respectively) but will need to do even better if Sanogo stays sidelined with dangerous snipers like Katin Reinhardt (10.9 ppg, 54-of-141) and Sam Hauser (8.7 ppg, 59-of-132) roaming the wings; Reinhardt drilled 5 of his 8 attempts in Newark.

Similarly, senior guard Madison Jones, who is playing in his first Big East tournament game, will need to do his best to help contain Howard & Co.

“Madison Square Garden, there’s isn’t much motivation, anything you need [to motivate you],” said Jones.

“You’re playing on the biggest scene in the biggest tournament there is, I can’t wait to be honest. Playing in the ACC tournament was big too, it was exciting playing there too, but Madison Square Garden is a whole new story, that’s what kids dream of right there.”

On the Hall’s side of the court, they must become more efficient on the offensive end despite their big three all reaching double figures in both previous games: the Pirates have turned it over 36 times against Marquette this year; Willard’s team averages 13.6 mistakes per game on the season.

With NCAA uncertainty off their minds — this Seton Hall is very aware they are in the field — it will be interesting to see how the team responds with substantially less pressure on them for the first time in about a month and half since falling in an early 3-6 conference rut.

Despite a perceived lack of onus compared to last season’s entry into the Big East Tournament, Kevin Willard has assured that is not the case.

“This team doesn’t need any inspiration, you’re playing in the Big East Tournament. There’s no rah-rah — you respect the tournament, you respect MSG, you understand the legacy that’s there, you understand that we’re a big part of legacy,” he said.

“We’re a little bit older — we’re past that. You’ve just got to get out and play.”

KenPom says: No. 28 Marquette 79, No. 54 Seton Hall 75 (38%)

Last 10 meetings (SH 4-6; 5-16 in Big East; Willard is 5-9)

Jan. 11, 2017, Marquette 89, Seton Hall 86 (OT), Milwaukee, Wisc.
Jan. 1, 2017, Seton Hall 69, Marquette 66, Newark, N.J.
Feb. 3, 2016, Seton Hall 79, Marquette 62, Newark, N.J.
Dec. 30, 2015, Seton Hall 83, Marquette 63, Milwaukee, Wisc.

March 11, 2015, Marquette 78, Seton Hall 56, New York City, N.Y.
Feb. 7, 2015, Marquette 57, Seton Hall 54, Newark, N.J.
Jan. 28, 2015, Seton Hall 80, Marquette 70, Milwaukee, Wisc.
Feb. 11, 2014, Marquette 77, Seton Hall 66, Newark, N.J.
Jan. 11, 2014, Marquette 67, Seton Hall 66, Milwaukee, Wisc.
Feb. 19, 2013, Marquette 67, Seton Hall 46, Newark, N.J.

Projected Marquette starters
PG – Markus Howard
G – Andrew Rowsey
G/F – JaJuan Johnson
G/F – Sam Hauser
C – Luke Fischer

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

When: Thursday, 230PM ET
TV: FOX Sports 1
Radio: AM970 (Gary Cohen & Dave Popkin)
Opening line: TBD