Tom Murphy is a sports reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. He was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Board-game experts: Pirates rebound better than they shoot
Seton Hall guard Khadeen Carrington, right, drives against DePaul guard Brandon Cyrus during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017, in Rosemont, Ill. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
FAYETTEVILLE -- Seton Hall's sights were set on a second consecutive NCAA Tournament berth this year, but the Pirates sure weren't playing like it in the early portion of Big East Conference play.
A 72-70 loss at Xavier on Feb. 1 dropped Seton Hall's Big East record to 3-6. The Pirates' 10-2 nonconference resume -- including a 72-65 loss to Florida in Orlando, Fla., a 91-83 victory at Iowa, and a 67-64 victory over South Carolina in New York City -- stood to be undone by a lackluster showing in conference games.
Seton Hall glance
RECORD 21-11, 10-8 (tied for 3rd) in the Big East
LOCATION South Orange, N.J.
COACH Kevin Willard (128-101 in 7th year at Seton Hall, 173-150 in 10th year overall)
NCAA TOURNAMENT HISTORY
2017 SEED 9
TOTAL BIDS 10
OVERALL RECORD 15-10
BEST FINISH 2nd (1989)
But the Pirates of seventh-year Coach Kevin Willard, led by the nation's top rebounder Angel Delgado and big-scoring guard Khadeen Carrington, won eight of their next 10 games, starting with back-to-back two-point decisions in overtime at Georgetown and against Providence.
"It was tough in conference at the start, but we grinded it out," Carrington said. "We got hot at the right time."
The Pirates (21-11) beat Marquette in the Big East Tournament before falling 55-53 to No. 2 Villanova last Friday at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Seton Hall is making back-to-back NCAA Tournament appearances for the first time since a four-year run from 1991-1994.
Willard said he thinks these Pirates, who meet No. 8 seed Arkansas (25-9) on Friday at 12:30 p.m. in Greenville, S..C., possess a different mindset than the Seton Hall team that lost to Gonzaga 68-52 in the first round of last season's NCAA Tournament.
"They have a much calmer sense about them," Willard said. "I think they understand what's at stake.
"You're playing for a chance to win a national championship and I don't think that really sunk in to them last year before the tournament."
The Razorbacks and Pirates have met once previously, with Arkansas winning 71-62 in the short-lived Big East-SEC Challenge in Louisville, Ky., on Dec. 8, 2010.
"They've got size, they've got scoring, they've got rebounding," Arkansas Coach Mike Anderson said. "I know they're an attacking team and get to the free-throw line an awful lot and they rebound the basketball, so those are some areas we've got to be good at."
Delgado, a 6-10 junior, leads the nation with 13.1 rebounds per game and 26 double-doubles. His streak of 13 consecutive games with 10 or more points and rebounds ended in last week's loss to Villanova.
Delgado, a unanimous first-team All-Big East selection, leads the nation with 4.9 offensive rebounds per game.
"It's going to take all of us to try and keep him out of the lane," Anderson said. "It's going to be important we put a body on him, without a doubt. The 32 teams they've played, those 32 teams have tried to do that, and he's still getting 13 rebounds a game."
The matchup of Delgado against 6-10 Arkansas center Moses Kingsley, the preseason SEC player of the year, will be a focal point.
Junior Desi Rodriguez, a 6-6 forward, averages 16.1 points per game for the Pirates. His 17.3 scoring average in Big East games ranked fourth in the conference.
Ismael Sanogo, a 6-8 forward regarded as the team's top defender, aggravated an ankle injury in the Big East Tournament and his status is listed as day to day heading into the NCAAs.
Shooting accuracy is not the Pirates' strength, ranking seventh out of 10 Big East teams with 45 percent shooting from the field, ninth with 33.8 percent three-point shooting and last with 64.3 percent free throw shooting.
They counter wayward shooting by outrebounding their opponents by an average of 6.7 per game. They also led the Big East with 13.1 offensive rebounds per game.
Willard said Seton Hall, which lost to Gonzaga when seeded No. 6 last season in Denver, is happy to stay on the East Coast this time in Greenville.
"Arkansas is a terrific team," Willard said. "I just watched their game against Kentucky. Great opponent, but you're going to get a great opponent in the NCAA Tournament."
Sports on 03/14/2017
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