No. 12 Seton Hall is looking to snap a 26-year road drought and widen their lead on No. 10 Villanova in the Big East to three games when they visit Philadelphia on Saturday.
The last time Seton Hall (17-5, 9-1) won on the road at Villanova (17-5, 7-3) the entire Pirates roster was a few years away from being born and Kevin Willard was playing at Pittsburgh.
Seventeen trips down the Turnpike. Seventeen losses, by an average margin of 16 points.
Only four of those defeats were by single digits with the closest meeting coming in 2008, a 72-70 loss that saw Seton Hall go ahead 70-69 on a Eugene Harvey bucket with 36 seconds before Dwayne Anderson nailed the game-winning three with 12 seconds to go.
Rewinding back to 1994, senior Bryan Caver led the charge against a shorthanded Villanova team that sported a sophomore Kerry Kittles. The win came on the tail-end of a sixteen-game span (1986-94) that saw Seton Hall win 12 times including five wins on the road and an eight-game series win streak.
26 years removed from that era, it’s hard to fathom such a stretch of reverse dominance. Tomorrow’s clash presents one of, if not the best chance for Seton Hall to squash their road drought in a long time.
“I’m not going to tell them. Because they’ll probably bust my balls a little bit because I’ve been here ten years,” joked Kevin Willard on AM970 post-Georgetown, when asked if his players are aware of the drought.
“They can do the math– well, most of them can do the math [laughs]. That means I’ve been here a third of the years and I haven’t got a ‘W’ there.”
Willard is 0-7 at Villanova.
Simply stated, Myles Powell & Co. have a chance to do something that a great deal of Seton Hall fans have never witnessed.
And the opportunity isn’t all about the drought.
Two games ahead of Villanova in the Big East standings, Seton Hall can put a three-game gap between themselves and their nearest competitor with just seven games remaining when the dust settles.
It’s difficult to process such an outlook. Many Seton Hall fans have never seen their team atop the Big East beyond a few games into league play.
“Obviously Jay [Wright] is the elite coach in the country. Now that we’re in first place and we’ve won some games, getting everybody’s best shot is whole different level of ‘coming at ya,'” explained Willard.
“I think that’s one thing that has taken us a little time to get our minds around. We’ve always been the hunters, we’ve liked being the hunters, and when you’re sitting at the top of the conference you have teams coming at you.
“I have so much respect for what Jay and his program have done because they’ve been the elite of the conference and still are the elite of the conference so it just shows you how good of a coach he is and how good a program he runs that every year we’re all trying to get him and every year he just keeps smacking us around a little bit.”
Seton Hall rebounded from a home loss to Xavier to get the job done at shorthanded Georgetown on Wednesday night, while Villanova dropped their second straight via a buzzer-beating Kamar Baldwin three just after the Pirates and Hoyas got underway.
Villanova has only lost three games in a row one time since Big East realignment transpired after the 2013-14 season.
“I’m not thrilled going there any time. We haven’t had a whole lot of success there,” replied Willard when asked about the timing of the trip.
“I got to watch a little of the Butler game, they’re so steady at every position. We’re going to have to work on our zones, we’re going to have to play them zone a lot because it’s tough to bring Ro’ and Ike out to guard [Robinson-Earl] because he can hit that little jumper, he can drive it a bit.
“And you’ve got to do something with the pick-and-roll with Collin [Gillespie], because he uses his physicality really well, he really does. He gets you on his hip then he jump-stop-pivots, jump-stop-pivot. Jump-stop-pivot. Pass-kick-three, pass-kick-three.”
Most of Seton Hall’s team should remember their 80-52 drubbing that was over at halftime, one example of many lopsided score lines that have favored Villanova over the years.
But this season appears to be one of grit, comebacks, unworldly play from Myles Powell, and perhaps a pinch of destiny.
Surging down the Turnpike to finally nip Villanova and slide into pole position to take home a Big East regular season title for the first time since 1993 would certainly be a high water mark of sorts, calcifying “2019-20” as a season you bookmark, remember, and refer to for decades to come.
For Seton Hall hoops, the time is now.