Well, here we are. The showdown we were all expecting in the top half of the Big East Tournament bracket: Seton Hall vs. Providence.
Seton Hall shocked the college basketball world by defeating top-seeded Villanova Thursday afternoon, just 15 hours after beating Butler on Wednesday night. Sterling Gibbs hit this shot to lead the Pirates to their first back-to-back wins at the Big East Tournament since 2001.
On the other side, Providence has now won 4 of 5 to put itself on the right side of Joe Lunardi’s latest Bracketology. On Thursday afternoon, the Friars raced out to a big lead before holding on late against D’Angelo Harrison and the NIT-bound Red Storm of St. John’s. Providence would have liked the opportunity to knock off Villanova in the semi-final to bolster its resume, but a win against Seton Hall will put Ed Cooley’s squad in position to guarantee a bid on Saturday night.
Trivia Question: Which of these teams last made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament?
Answer: Seton Hall. The Pirates lost to No. 7 seed Wichita State in the first round of 2005-06 NCAA Tournament, 86-66. Providence’s last appearance was in the 2003-04 season, when No. 12 seed Pacific upset the Friars in the first round, 66-58.
So, how have these teams played against each other this season?
In their first game of the Big East conference schedule on December 31, Seton Hall took down Providence in double OT at the Dunkin Donuts Center. At the time, it was Providence’s first home loss since January 31 of last season against Connecticut (a 82-79 OT loss). Bryce Cotton had 25 points and 5 assists in the loss but was just 1-8 from 3P, while Tyler Harris added 22 points and 9 rebounds. Brian Oliver (19 points on 4-7 from 3P), Brandon Mobley (16 points and 6 rebounds), and Sterling Gibbs (15 points and 4 assists) led Seton Hall to victory.
In the rematch on February 28 at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, Bryce Cotton (24 points), Kadeem Batts (14 points and 11 rebounds), and LaDontae Henton (13 points, 8 rebounds, and 4 assists) led Providence to a 74-69 win. Sterling Gibbs (20 points) led Seton Hall in scoring in the loss. Gene Teague also added 17 points and 12 rebounds.
What are we expecting tonight?
Providence has the 31st most efficient offense in the country despite its 244th rated effective Field Goal Percentage. The Friars are careful with the ball (110th best Turnover Percentage) and strong on the offensive glass (42nd best Offensive Rebounding Percentage) – but their ability to score inside the arc is a problem (276th 2P% nationally). Defensively, PC does not force a lot of turnovers (285th rated defensive Turnover Percentage), but they do keep opponents from the free throw line (58th best defensive Free Throw Rate) and avoid giving up easy baskets (132nd ranked defensive effective Field Goal Percentage).
On the other side, Seton Hall has the 73rd most efficient defense nationally. Something’s got to give on the glass because the Pirates give up the 36th lowest amount of offensive rebounds. Offensively, Seton Hall’s strengths lie in shot selection (48th best effective Field Goal Percentage, 60th best 2P%, and 95th best 3P%). However, they do not rebound well on the offensive glass (312th rated Offensive Rebounding Percentage) – and they rely heavily on the 3-ball, as 39.2% of their offensive production comes from beyond the arc (42nd highest nationally).
There was lots of information in those two paragraphs – so I’ll simplify a bit now. I think the key part of this game will be Seton Hall’s ability to take good shots (see: Seton Hall’s offensive eFG% vs. Providence’s defensive eFG%).
Also of note, neither of these teams is especially deep, so foul trouble will be a factor. Seton Hall has 7 players that average more than 45% of the team’s allotted minutes, and Providence has 6. 5 of Seton Hall’s 7 players heavily involved in the rotation average over 3 fouls per 40 minutes, while 3 of Providence’s 6 players do, as well. Both coaches are going to have to work to keep their players on the floor.
Fun Fact: Seton Hall leads the all-time series between these two in Big East Tournament games, 5-2. The first matchup was in 1983 when No. 9 seed Seton Hall beat No. 8 seed Providence, 73-64. The most recent matchup was a 79-47 No. 10 seed Seton Hall victory over No. 15 seed Providence in 2012.
Seton Hall needs two more wins to receive an NCAA bid. Providence likely needs just this one.
Ed Cooley’s bunch has played all year for this opportunity, and I don’t think Bryce Cotton and Kadeem Batts will let it slip.
This one will be as close as the first two matchups between these teams, but Providence will advance to the Big East Championship on Saturday night.
Providence 74, Seton Hall 68.