After all is said and done, Seton Hall is out

Miss March Madness, will head to NIT in rare home game instead


Seton Hall senior point guard Jordan Theodore was all smiles and hopeful before the season that the Pirates could qualify for the NCAA Tournament this season, however, that didn’t happen as the Pirates learned their fate Sunday night that they’re headed to the NIT instead.

By Jim Hague

Ever since the Seton Hall Pirates lost their last two regular season games to Rutgers at home, then a 28-point shellacking at the hands of DePaul on the road, there was all this speculation about the Pirates’ chances of earning a berth into March Madness, namely the NCAA Tournament.

The Pirates defeated Providence in the opening round of the Big East Tournament, then lost to eventual champion Louisville in the second round. The speculation continued. Are they in? Are they out? In? Out?

Two expert bracket predictors, Joe Lunardi of ESPN and Jerry Palm of CBS Sports, had the Pirates in all week. So that had to bring some hope to the Pirate faithful, who have not experienced the NCAA Tournament since 2006. It also had to bring hope to the Pirates themselves, especially seniors Herb Pope and Jordan Theodore, who never got a chance to experience March Madness during their time in South Orange.

So the Pirates waited and wondered. As the other leagues were holding their respective tournaments, the Pirates had to hope some of the other so-called “bubble” teams lost in order to secure a clear path to the Grand Dance known as March Madness.

Sunday night, the bubble burst.

The Pirates did not receive an invitation to the Dance. They were once again left on the outside looking in. They were not as secure in their place, even with a 20-12 record, as the bracket experts believed.

“Of course, I’m very disappointed that we’re not going to the NCAA Tournament,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said Sunday night in a conference call. “We thought we had a legitimate chance. The (NCAA Tournament) committee has a very tough job. It’s hard to go through everything and make sure the right teams are in.”

Willard said that he felt especially bad for the Pirates’ seniors.

“They took it hard,” Willard said. “They took it really hard. And it was tough to console them. It was really an emotional time for them. Both of them gave so much to us and this program. Both overcame tremendous obstacles. I wanted it for them more than anything.”

It’s really not a consolation prize, but the Pirates will now move on to the National Invitation Tournament, where they will get a rare treat.

The Pirates will face Stony Brook in the opening round, but the game will be played at the historic Walsh Gym on the South Orange campus. Only the Seton Hall women regularly play at Walsh.

“We’re excited to still be playing basketball,” Willard said. “I’m really looking forward to playing in Walsh. I love the Prudential Center (in Newark). It’s one of the main reasons why I took the job here. It’s a great venue. But for us to get an on-campus game is tremendous. I love Walsh Gym and the history of it. I’m excited about being in Walsh.”

Willard was asked what he can do differently to prevent another NCAA Tournament snub.

“I seriously think we have to change the way we do scheduling,” Willard said. “We’re not going to play away games and stay at home until the conference (Big East) games begin. We put together a good non-conference schedule this year and I thought that would work out for us. But playing tough non-conference games hasn’t helped. We only lost one game out of conference to a good Northwestern team, but that competition didn’t help us. So I’m going to take a look at it to see if we don’t have to leave the state of New Jersey until the Big East schedule starts.”

There was another slice of irony. It appears as if the at-large bid that Seton Hall was battling to receive went to Iona instead. Willard left Iona to come to Seton Hall two years ago.

“I’m ecstatic for them,” Willard said. “It’s incredible for them to get an at-large bit. Four of those guys I recruited there, so for obvious reasons, I’m happy for them. It’s tremendous for their program.”

Willard was asked if he could determine why the Pirates were left out.

“Unfortunately, they looked at the last two games of the season (losses at home to Rutgers and on the road to DePaul) and not the whole season,” Willard said. “It’s tough to play on the road in this league. It’s almost impossible to win.”

However, losing and getting humiliated by the league’s worst team by 28 points are two totally different things.

“After struggling in the middle of the season, we came back and beat Pittsburgh and Georgetown,” Willard explained. “We went to the RAC and beat Rutgers, which isn’t easy. But I guess they looked at the last two games and decided that’s who we are, when obviously, it’s not who we are.”

The Pirates will now get a chance to prove the NCAA committee wrong with a solid performance in the NIT, but that won’t lessen the sting that players like Theodore and Pope are experiencing right now. There’s nothing like March Madness and they once again won’t get that chance.

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