By Lenn Robbins
The time between the end of the regular season and the beginning of conference tournament play is a little like the NFL Combine: Players that have had solid seasons are stripped to their undies while scouts try to find flaws.
No wonder why Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard is in damage control.
The Pirates had, by any measure, a terrific season. They went 21-9 overall and grabbed a share of the Big East regular season title at 13-5 with Creighton and Villanova.
They did this despite losing top scorer Myles Powell for a couple of games with a concussion and versatile forward Sandro Mamukelashvili for 10 games with a broken wrist. The Pirates beat Maryland and snapped a 17-game road losing streak at Villanova.
Heckuva year. Until the final week.
Villanova edged Seton Hall, 79-77, in The Prudential Center. Then the Pirates got drilled 77-60 at Creighton. Had Seton Hall won either of those two games they would have claimed their first outright league title since 1993.
While the Pirates sat in a funereal visiting locker room in Creighton’s CHI Health Center, the Bluejays, who claimed the No.1 seed in the Big East Conference Tournament, partied with their fans and cut down the nets.
Seton Hall had gone from the team to beat to the team that couldn’t close it out.
“I wish I could bring my kids out here right now because they’re cutting down the nets and I’ve got 13 kids who think they failed miserably,” Willard told reporters after the game. “I just tried to tell them, this is an unbelievable accomplishment.
“Yes, we had a chance to win it outright, we had two chances and it didn’t come through for us, but to take away from what this team has done and what this team accomplished, it would be a big mistake.”
This would be another mistake: Picking against the Pirates to win the Big East Conference Tournament which begins Wednesday night in The Garden. St. John’s (16-15) and Georgetown (15-16), two of the most storied teams in the league, tip off at 7 p.m. followed DePaul (15-16) vs Xavier (19-12).
Seton Hall, the No.4 seed, opens Thursday night against Marquette (18-12). The Hall won both regular-season games, 69-55 and 88-79. A third win (not easy) would set up a likely semifinal round rematch with Nova, the No. 2.
The Pirates are the pick because of their experience, toughness, defense and the ability of Powell to turn a game. That’s what it takes to cut down the nets.