If Seton Hall (20-7, 10-5) wants to leave the bubble behind them and match their highest regular season win total since the 1992-93 season in which they won the Big East Tournament, they can do just that with a massive win over fifth-ranked Xavier (25-3, 13-3) on Senior Day.
Victorious in seven of their last eight games since losing to the Musketeers on the road in late January, Seton Hall has a chance to improve upon their current projected NCAA seed of 9 and knock off a school ranked in the top-five for the second time in as many seasons and fifth time ever; Xavier came into this week fifth and knocked off top-ranked Villanova mid-week.
The Hall played Xavier closely for 30 minutes at the Cintas Center but an inefficient Isaiah Whitehead and superior Musketeer forward depth proved to be the difference as Chris Mack’s team used a 21-7 second half run and 40-12 bench point advantage to leave Seton Hall in the dust after they trailed 50-49 at the under-16 timeout.
Instead of a sold out Cintas Center, Seton Hall will now have the edge of playing in front of a packed Prudential Center crowd for Senior Day, which was officially declared a sell out mid-day on Friday. The lone senior being recognized is fifth-year graduate transfer Derrick Gordon (8 ppg, 3.4 rpg), who has been an intangible difference-maker on and off the court since joining the program last spring.
“I can’t say enough good things about DG, I can probably go on for about seven hours,” said an emotional Kevin Willard on Thursday night. “He’s such a pleasure to be around, he’s such a good person, he’s such a good teammate. He’s unselfish, he’s sacrificed his role this year for the betterment of the team. I’ve been very blessed that I’ve been able to coach him, I think we’re all very blessed to have him as a teammate.”
Fresh off his 13th double-double of the season, Angel Delgado (10.2 ppg, 9.8 rpg) will need to stay out of foul trouble after he left his younger forward counterparts exposed to a talented Xavier forward trio of Jalen Reynolds (9.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg), James Farr (10 ppg, 8 rpg) and Sean O`Mara (3.4 ppg, 1.8 rpg) in the first meeting; Farr posted 25 points and 15 boards off the bench.
“When they have Farr and Reynolds in there, they’re such a great rebounding team and it makes it really hard to double because they work off each other so well,” said Willard of Xavier’s front court. “So I would say those two keys are huge because they got a lot of easy buckets and Farr and Reynolds really took us to the woodshed [in the first meeting].”
Isaiah Whitehead has played a lot better since his pedestrian 6-of-20 shooting performance in Cincinnati that included five assists and five turnovers, indicating that Seton Hall can improve upon their 76-point output in the first meeting if he receives scoring support from teammates.
“That’s where he has matured. In the past it was about him, the reason why he’s playing so well: It’s no longer about him, he understands it’s about the team,” said Willard of his lead guard. “He’s growing into a point guard.”
One member of Whitehead’s supporting cast that is primed to help out is high school teammate Desi Rodriguez (12.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg), who is a streaky scorer and is averaging 17.5 ppg and 5.5 rpg over his last four including a 24-point career high against St. John’s that snapped a previous best of 21 set against Xavier in January.
We can be sure that defense has been an area of emphasis for Seton Hall over the past few days despite allowing just 59 ppg over their last three games. Xavier scored 1.14 points per possession and 84 in total last month in an uncharacteristically bad defensive outing for the Hall that was largely due to the mismatch in the paint but a product of mental lapses as well.
Over their last four games, Chris Mack’s team is playing as well as they have all season as seen by their 13.3 point average margin of victory, making a feel-good win on Senior Day that much tougher. Every Musketeer is doing their share and Mack’s ability to go at least seven guys deep is certainly a strength; sixth-man JP Macura is averaging 13.2 ppg and 2.8 apg over his last four.
Xavier will be looking to maintain their strong push for a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament with a win while upset-minded Seton Hall won’t suffer much from a loss but can ease even more pressure off themselves with a third straight win over the Musketeers in Newark. Xavier is 0-5 on the road against Seton Hall, dating back to 1949.
Feel free to use this post for all post-game discussion until I publish my first recap.
KenPom says: No. 32 Seton Hall 75, No. 12 Xavier 75 (52%)
Series history (Seton Hall 7-5)
Jan. 23, 2016, Xavier 84, SETON HALL 76, Cincinnati, Ohio
Jan. 31, 2015, SETON HALL 90, Xavier 82, Newark, N.J.
Jan. 7, 2015, Xavier 69, SETON HALL 58, Cincinnati, Ohio
March 3, 2014, SETON HALL 71, Xavier 62, Newark, N.J.
Feb. 1, 2014, SETON HALL 68, Xavier 60, Cincinnati, Ohio
Nov. 21, 2010, Xavier 57, SETON HALL 52, St. Thomas, VI
Dec. 8, 1979, SETON HALL 70, Xavier 67, Bloomington, Ind.
March 16, 1957 Xavier 85, SETON HALL 79, New York, N.Y.
Jan. 10, 1956, SETON HALL 84, Xavier 73, South Orange, N.J.
Jan. 11, 1953, SETON HALL 86, Xavier 78, South Orange, N.J.
Jan. 5, 1949, SETON HALL 60, Xavier 51, South Orange, N.J.
Jan. 4, 1948, Xavier 41, SETON HALL 34, Cincinnati, Ohio
Projected Xavier starters:
Myles Davis (10.7 ppg, 4 apg, 3.6 rpg)
Remy Abell (5.9 ppg)
Edmond Sumner (11.7 ppg, 3.4 apg, 3.3 rpg)
Trevon Bluiett (15.1 ppg, 6.5 rpg)
Jalen Reynolds (9.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg)
Projected Seton Hall starters:
Isaiah Whitehead (16.9 ppg, 5 apg)
Khadeen Carrington (13.9 ppg, 2.4 apg)
Desi Rodriguez (12.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg)
Ismael Sanogo (4.7 ppg, 6.9 rpg)
Angel Delgado (10.2 ppg, 9.8 rpg)
When: 12:30et, Sunday
TV: FOX Sports 1
Radio: 970 AM
Opening line: Even