Seton Hall to host Providence in pivotal clash

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In search of a win that should leap-frog them over Providence in most projected brackets and supply the first 20-win season since 2011-12, Seton Hall (19-7, 9-5) will host a slumping Friar team on Thursday night at Prudential Center.

Still just a few seeding spots ahead of the Hall, Providence (19-8, 7-7) has defeated only Georgetown over their last seven games since their exciting overtime win against Villanova at the Wells Fargo Center exactly a month ago.

Looking to exact revenge after falling to the Pirates 81-72 on their home court in mid-January, Providence continues to be largely a two-trick pony in the form of NBA-bound point guard Kris Dunn (17.3 ppg, 6.6 apg, 6.1 rpg, 2.9 spg) and power forward Ben Bentil (20.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg). 6-8 three-point threat Ryan Fazekas (30-83, 36%) has played solid of late and may draw the defensive attention of Desi Rodriguez on the wing.

Still, Ed Cooley’s team is prone to losing even if his two stars are producing as seen in a double overtime loss to Marquette when Bentil poured in 42 points and 12 boards while Dunn — who didn’t partake in Providence’s practice on Monday due to a stomach bug — added 17 points, 6 assists and 7 rebounds.

Both were held to solid but modest totals in the first meeting but a 12-3 Seton Hall run late in the first half afforded the upset-minded visitors a cushion to work with that they never relinquished over the final 20 minutes.

Coming off a crucial but ugly win over St. John’s, Seton Hall will need to refocus ahead of Thursday night if they want to take home the ‘W’. A win coupled with a road victory at DePaul to end the regular season (never a given) will more likely than not lock up the 3-seed in the Big East tournament.

My three keys to the game:

Improvement in the post, specifically offensively. Granted St. John’s has a top-ranked block percentage defense for a reason, Seton Hall’s forwards were man-handled to the tune of getting swatted at least 10 times at the Garden. That stat is what it is, but the way in which they were blocked was repetitive — a help defender knew that Angel Delgado, Ismael Sanogo & Co. was going up to the rim and stuffed them seemingly every time.

Seton Hall’s forwards (Delgado, Sanogo, Nzei, Anthony, Anderson) have scored a total of 19 points from 22 attempts over their last two games. Ben Bentil and Rodney Bullock are a tough duo — can the Hall’s guards help out the cause by drawing fouls? Let’s not forget the 50-36 rebounding margin in favor of the Pirates last time around.

Offensive efficiency (and consistency). In the first meeting, Seton Hall was lights out from the charity stripe (20-24), while we’ve also seen them struggle mightily like they did at the Garden (18-30). Further, Kevin Willard’s team appears much more potent offensively when Isaiah Whitehead is posting solid assist-to-turnover ratios. He’s done that for the most part over the last 10 games or so, but obviously came up short in this department against the Johnnies and it showed on the scoreboard.

There’s a fine line between Willard letting his guards “just play” and his team playing street ball and they have toed that line as seen during extensive field goal droughts against St. John’s and Georgetown.

Shutting down Kris Dunn. Did you think I would forget this one? In a rare start, Derrick Gordon (15 pts, 7 rebs) was phenomenal in the first meeting and drew a few charges on Providence’s star; Whitehead also helped out. Those are probably the only two Pirates that have the ability and size to do the job again.

KenPom says: No. 34 Seton Hall 74, No. 56 Providence 68 (73%)

Last 10 meetings (Providence 6-4):

Jan. 16th, 2016, SETON HALL 81, Providence 72, Providence, R.I.
March 4th, 2015, Providence 79, SETON HALL 66, Newark, N.J.
Feb. 14, 2015, Providence 69, SETON HALL 62, Providence, R.I.
March 14, 2014, Providence 80, SETON HALL 74, New York, N.Y.
Feb. 28, 2014, Providence 74, SETON HALL 69, Newark, N.J.
Dec. 31, 2013, SETON HALL 81, Providence 80 (2ot), Providence, R.I.
March 5, 2013, Providence, 76, Seton Hall 66, Providence, R.I.
Jan. 13, 2013, Providence 67, Seton Hall 55, Newark, N.J.
March 6, 2012, SETON HALL 79, Providence 47, New York, N.Y.
Jan. 7, 2012, SETON HALL 66, Providence 57, Providence, R.I.

Projected Providence starters:

Kris Dunn (17.3 ppg, 6.6 apg, 6.1 rpg, 2.9 spg)
Ryan Fazekas (6 ppg, 2.7 rpg)
Junior Lomomba (6 ppg, 2.7 rpg)
Rodney Bullock (12.4 ppg, 7.1 rpg)
Ben Bentil (20.3 ppg, 7.7 rpg)

Projected Seton Hall starters:

Isaiah Whitehead (16.6 ppg, 4.8 apg)
Khadeen Carrington (13.9 ppg, 2.5 apg)
Desi Rodriguez (12.4 ppg, 5 rpg)
Ismael Sanogo (4.8 ppg, 7 rpg)
Angel Delgado (10 ppg, 9.8 rpg)

When: Thursday, 7pm et
TV: FOX Sports 1
Radio: 970 AM
Opening line: Seton Hall -5.5