Seton Hall was handed a much tougher hand than expected by the selection committee, but is taking their 8-seed draw against North Carolina State in stride ahead of Thursday’s clash.
The matchup is scheduled to tip in Wichita as the second game after Kansas-Penn, which starts at 2PM eastern time.
“We’re excited. It’s the third straight year, second straight year with an at-large bid,” said Kevin Willard on a Sunday evening conference call.
“If you look at the seed lines, all the teams in the 6-10 area are extremely similar, very good basketball teams. We drew a very good North Carolina State team that is playing very well, but no matter who you play you’re going to play someone good. I never have an issue with how the committee seeds, we’re just excited to be playing as part of the at-large.”
Willard said he hasn’t seen much of N.C. State aside from when they recently played Louisville in their regular season finale. Wolfpack head coach Kevin Keatts was an assistant under Rick Pitino from 2011-14; Willard also had a former staff member join Keatts while he was a head coach at UNC-Wilmington.
“I know Kevin Keatts well, I know his staff is going to do a great job. … I watched their Louisville game,” said Willard.
“Very tough, hard-nosed team. They offensive rebound the basketball extremely well. Good turnover to assist ratio and they’re very balanced. That’s one thing I saw and do remember from the other night, I thought they were a very balanced basketball team.”
North Carolina State was upset in the ACC tournament by Boston College after the game Willard watched, but won 11 games in league play including an away win at North Carolina and one at home against Duke.
The Wolfpack play at a tempo gauged at 40th in the nation and are more known for their offense than their defense, which primarily comes from within the arc.
Two of N.C. State’s three guys that average in double figures are forwards in 7-footer Omer Yurtseven (13.8 ppg, 6.9 rpg) and power forward Torin Dorn (13.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg), while wing Allerik Freeman (15.4 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.6 apg) rounds out the trio.
For Seton Hall, one major area of concern going forward is their health after Desi Rodriguez and Ish Sanogo both returned to action at the Big East Tournament, but played limited minutes.
“We’re a lot more healthy now than we were a week ago, that’s for sure.” said Willard.
“Ish (Sanogo) is back to full strength. He practiced full today. Desi (Rodriguez) practiced the most he’s practiced in probably three weeks.
“We’re not 100% healthy, but we’re as close we have been in a long time. … I liked the fact that Ish was able to go through a whole practice, and Desi was able to go through a half a practice. We’re on the right side of the curve, that’s for sure.”
Willard, who has been notoriously picky with how his team has been scheduled in the past, is surprisingly fine with getting a Thursday game instead of Friday.
“I’m actually excited to play Thursday. We lost on Thursday night, to be out there and get these guys back in action, I actually like the Thursday-Saturday,” he said.
“One extra day is not going to cure Desi’s foot. Ish is almost at 100-percent and by time we get to Thursday, Des is going to be 75, 80-percent which is pretty good.”
Seton Hall of course will be trying to right two past wrongs, a tough draw with a young group in Denver, and then a mental lapse down the stretch in South Carolina.
“Our first year, coming off the Big East championship was such a blur,” recalled Willard.
“Last year we had an opportunity that we kind of let slip at the end. This year’s focus from the time we got in the locker room at the Big East Tournament to now is to understand the next step for all of us.
“We’ve got to go out and play well and give us the best chance to get a win in the NCAA tournament.”