With the big Sunday matchup against Herb Pope and Co. right around the corner, we caught up with the crew over at SB Nation's Seton Hall blog, South Orange Juice, to get a better read on the Pirates. Check out our Q&A session below and be sure to visit South Orange Juice for our answers to their questions.
Cardiac Hill: Welcome to the Hill, Jason. To begin, congrats on snapping the six-game skid, especially against your biggest rival, Rutgers, on the road. But, first, tell us what happened on that losing streak? Who's to blame and how does the team put it behind them?
South Orange juice: Well, the interesting thing is that most of what happened during the losing streak was quite simply a lack of shot-making. The shots that Seton Hall was getting in most of the streak were good shots, sometimes open shots. Nothing would drop, either from beyond the arc or in close to the rim. No one's really to blame for that part of it. On the couple occasions where it wasn't lack of shot-making, it was the senior leadership of Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope that was a little lacking. Theodore at times reverted back to his old ways, trying to do too much on the offensive end whereas when the Pirates have been successful, it has been because Theodore has been a maestro in terms of running the offense.
Cardiac Hill: How sweet is it beating Rutgers? We knocked off WVU at their place a few weeks ago and felt like it made up for many of those early Big East losses. Is it similar for you in that it feels like 3.12 wins in one night?
As you guys know when you beat West Virginia, beating Rutgers for Seton Hall fans is always big. The only reason that Seton Hall-Rutgers isn't ranked up there with the top rivalries in college basketball, in my opinion, is because both teams haven't been really good at the same time. It doesn't get a lot of publicity compared to other hoops rivalries, but it certainly should. Of the last 16 meetings, 14 have been decided by 6 or less points, or in OT. It's always intense, vintage New Jersey basketball when Seton Hall and Rutgers meet: the players all know each other off the court and are very friendly, but on the court, it's all-out war.
Cardiac Hill: Now, the Pirates are sitting here at 16-8 overall and 5-7 in the conference. It's certainly been a wild ride to get here, but how does this compare to your pre-season expectations?
To be honest, I think this season has exceeded anyone's preseason expectations. There were many questions surrounding the young Pirates this year, and in non-conference play, the team played so well that it raised the collective expectations for the season, and rightfully so (you don't start out 15-2 with smoke and mirrors). The losing streak has mitigated those expectations a bit, but in many fans' minds', this is a team that should be in the NCAAs, provided they take care of business.
Cardiac Hill: Speaking of that 15-2 start, Seton Hall cracked the top 25 for the first time in 11 years, after big wins over WVU and Uconn to ring in 2012. How much fun was that early season success for the fans?
It was a blast for the fans. I broadcast the games on WSOU, Seton Hall's student radio station, and we have a post-game call-in show that we do. The fans were really, really excited, especially following the UConn win (SHU's first in almost 11 years over the Huskies) about the ranking, about the national attention, and of course about the team.
Cardiac Hill: Now that football season is officially over, this will be THE national game to watch on Sunday. How do you see the game shaping up? Other than Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope, who is the one player that could give the Panthers fits? And, most important, what will be the rating on the Big East Network and SNY?
I'll refrain from trying to predict a rating on SNY, but other than Theodore and Pope, in terms of giving opponents fits, no one has done that better than Fuquan Edwin. He leads the nation in steals for a reason, and it's because he's an off-the-ball terror with quick hands, long arms and great athleticism. The Panthers will need to watch where they dribble, because if Edwin's in the vicinity, one bad bounce and that ball will be in his hands.
Cardiac Hill: Do you realize this game has huge "We-Do-Not-Want-to-Play-on-Tuesday-of-the-Big-East-Tournament" ramifications? Unless, of course, you are confident the Pirates can pull a Kemba-esque five day bonanza at the Garden. But, overall, where do you see this team going the last month of play? Would you be happy with an NIT bid or is it NCAA or bust?
Not only does it have huge standings implications, it's a virtual NCAA Elimination game. I think the winner keeps their hopes alive, while the loser would have no shot at the Big Dance. In reality, I think that the Pirates have a favorable schedule down the stretch with which to rally back to make the Dance, with many of the big boys out of the way. The general consensus seems to be that the team should have the NCAA-or-bust mentality. I don't think Theodore or Pope would want to settle for anything less.
Cardiac Hill: Does anyone like the Speedo guys in the Pirates' student section? Personally, I think it's incredibly creepy and I'm hoping the telecast does not show any shots of thee kids. Don't we already see enough of it on ESPN with Duke?
The Speedo Guys are the Men's Swimming/Diving team, and they started their trend in the Auburn game. The team immediately noticed it, and loved it considering the opposing team shoots free throws that way in the second half. So yes, they are part of the atmosphere now.
Cardiac Hill: Poppa Willard dragged us through some dark times in the mid-90's. While it's early in the game, it looks like you got the better end of the Willard stick. Give us your take on Coach Willard's job thus far and the overall direction of the program.
Coach Willard has done a phenomenal job so far. His first year, he got a roster full of players who had never had any defensive discipline their entire college career to not only play defense, but become one of the best defensive teams in the Big East. The overall record was largely due to Jeremy Hazell's injury- had he stayed healthy, the Pirates would have been top-8 in the league. This year, the defense has been stellar again, and Theodore/Pope have really "gotten it" when it comes to leadership. Willard was also brought in to restore Seton Hall's image, one that had been thrown in a dumpster by Bobby Gonzalez, and I think he's done that as well. Recruits are starting to take the Pirates seriously, and that's a huge step up and a good sign for the future of the program.