6:30 PM EST, FS1 – Line: Seton Hall -5.5, Over/Under: 134.5
With the Regular Season winding down, a pair of Big East contenders look to stop the bleeding as the No. 16 Seton Hall Pirates play host to the No. 21 Butler Bulldogs from Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey. It may seem like it was ages ago, but there was a point in time this season in which Butler (19-7, 7-6 in Big East) was a stellar 15-1 and ranked Fifth Overall in the AP Poll, with their lone loss being a narrow 52-53 affair at Baylor, who have sat atop the Polls for the past month and some change. So just what in the hell happened to the Bulldogs, who just over a month later find themselves trending down the league table? Ironically, their woes began with the very same team that they’re facing tonight; LaVall Jordan’s charges hosted the Pirates back on January 15th in a matchup in which the hosts promptly blew a 40-30 lead at Halftime, outscored 30-48 in the Second Half. Indeed, it seemed as if the home side couldn’t throw the ball into the ocean on that night, particularly from long range where they only managed to knock down 6-of-21 Attempts (28.6%). Since that point, it’s as if some nefarious individual stole this team’s offensive mojo, for in the ten games that have followed they’ve found themselves embroiled in a miserable 4-6 stretch, including three of their last five outings, underlined by some fairly atrocious showings on the offensive end of the court. Continuing with last weekend’s 66-73 loss at home to Georgetown, Butler has been relegated below seventy points in seven of their last nine contests, and needed Overtime to surpass that threshold on one occasion. Dating back to that initial defeat against Seton Hall, they’ve shot just 43.9% from the field, including a dismal 30.5% from beyond the arc, while dishing out just barely more Assists (11.4) than Turnovers committed (10.0), with their own Defense failing to extend to the perimeter, where the opposition has drilled a red-hot 41.9%. It’s really been a remarkable contrast, for when it comes to closing down the Paint few have been better than the Bulldogs this season, who have relinquished just 43.3% shooting within the arc (16th Overall), but have yielded 32.4% beyond it (145th Overall). Over the last ten games they’re basically getting outscored by an average margin of 9.0 Points per Game in that regard, which has really been a problem as they face opponents with better Backcourt Play. This trend continued against the Hoyas, who took control in the Second Half where they outscored the Bulldogs 41-35 thanks in large part to their prowess from distance; the visitors netted an astounding 10-of-15 attempts from Three (66.7%), a stark contrast to the hosts, who only managed 9-of-32 (28.1%). Senior Guard, Kamar Baldwin (16.1 PTS, 41.1% FG, 31.9% 3FG, 4.6 REB, 3.2 AST, 1.0 STL, 20.8 PER), led the way with Seventeen Points on 7-of-17 shooting (41.2%), Six Rebounds and Six Assists, while Junior Forward and former Duke Transfer, Jordan Tucker (9.2 PTS, 37.1% FG, 36.8% 3FG, 4.0 REB, 14.1 PER), added Sixteen Points on 5-of-12 shooting (41.7%), Five Rebounds and Assists apiece. Senior Swingman, Sean McDermott (11.9 PTS, 48.8% FG, 40.0% 3FG, 6.0 REB, 20.3 PER), finished with Twelve Points and Seven Rebounds, but struggled on 5-of-15 shooting overall (33.3%). Butler sorely missed the presence of Junior Point Guard, Aaron Thompson (6.6 PTS, 49.1% FG, 8.3% 3FG, 3.5 REB, 5.0 AST, 13.2 PER), their leader in Assists, who sat out the affair with a concussion suffered in the previous outing against Xavier. This week is arguably the most crucial of the season for Jordan and his troops who are presented with the opportunity to correct course and reverse their recent fortunes; with matchups on the road at both Seton Hall and No. 15 Creighton, who are also sitting at First and Second in the Big East, they can close that three-game deficit and earn some more credibility in the eyes of the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. At one point, Butler looked like a bonafide Three Seed, but thanks to this month-long malaise they’re looking far less than that. While the chances of them returning to the NCAA Tournament after missing out altogether last season remain positive, they’ll need a strong showing down the stretch, and possibly even in their Conference Tournament, to secure their standing in March. Since Jordan arrived back in 2017, the Bulldogs are 2-4 against the Pirates, including two losses in Newark, though these meetings have largely been close calls, decided by an average of 3.7 Points per Game, including their last trip to Prudential Center which ended in a narrow 75-76 defeat.
Meanwhile, Butler isn’t the only team in tonight’s matchup that has struggled of late, as Seton Hall (18-7, 10-3 in Big East) looks to snap a two-game losing streak that has placed their vice-grip over the Big East in jeopardy. Just a week ago everything was going great for the Pirates, who in besting No. 12 Villanova had established a three-game lead in league play, rising to Tenth Overall in the AP Poll, their highest position since the 2000-2001 campaign. However, an 82-87 defeat at home to No. 23 Creighton followed by a shocking 71-74 on the road at Providence has closed the gap between them and the rest of the field within the Big East, which sets up an absolutely crucial stretch of the schedule. Of their final five contests, all but one come against ranked conference opponents, with Butler, Marquette, Villanova, and Creighton representing the four teams trailing them in the league table. Needless to say, a return to form for Kevin Willard’s charges could be all that is needed to clinch the conference and a No. 3 Seed in the NCAA Tournament, but any continuation of this malaise will likely prove disastrous. So with that said, the same question that we asked in regards to Butler’s struggles applies to Seton Hall: what the hell has happened to these kids? Well, it begins on the defensive end, where a team that has been among the country’s elite throughout the term has picked a rather poor time to suffer a lapse in effort. On the season, the Pirates have allowed just 39.0% shooting from the field (24th Overall), including 43.4% from within the arc (17th Overall) and 30.1% beyond it (51st Overall), in large part to their persistent deterrence around the rim, where they’ve logged a stellar 6.4 Blocks per Game (4th Overall). Towering Senior Center, Romaro Gill (7.4 PTS, 61.4% FG, 5.6 REB, 3.5 BLK, 20.3 PER), ranks second in the nation in that category, which affords his teammates the luxury of extending their pressure to the perimeter, with four different players averaging over One Steal per Contest. Case in point: when they met Butler earlier in the season, they came up with Six Steals and Five Blocks, relegating the Bulldogs to a miserable showing from downtown, where they managed just 6-of-21 shooting (28.6%). Gill was an absolute force on that night, with the veteran notching Seventeen Points on 6-of-7 shooting (85.7%), Four Rebounds and Three Blocks. You wouldn’t have known any of that by watching their last two performances, in which they yielded Eighty-Seven and Seventy-Four Points respectively, the most that they’ve surrendered in consecutive outings at any point this year. In those cases, Seton Hall struggled to apply much pressure on the perimeter, affording the Blue Jays and Friars the luxury of knocking down an efficient 39.5% of their attempts from Three, while also getting battered on the glass, where they’ve been outrebounded by an average of 5.5 Boards. Conversely, the Offense wasn’t much better, netting just 39.5% themselves, including a dismal 27.1% from downtown. Senior Guard, Myles Powell (21.7 PTS, 40.6% FG, 31.0% 3FG, 4.5 REB, 2.3 AST, 1.3 STL, 23.1 PER), who has carried the attack over long stretches for the past few years, struggled mightily against Creighton, scoring just Twelve Points on an abysmal 3-of-16 shooting from the field (18.8%), including 1-of-11 from three (9.1%). The New Jersey native bounced back against Providence with Twenty-Seven Points on 8-of-20 shooting (45.0%), but has seen his woes from long range persist on 4-of-13 shooting (30.8%). If it seemed like the Pirates were playing catch-up all night against the Friars, that would be because they were; Providence raced out to a 20-2 onslaught, leading by as many as Twenty-Five Points in the First Half. Willard’s troops eventually climbed back into the contest, cutting the lead to ten with just under two minutes left to play, but when it turned into a Free-Throw Shooting Exhibition to prolong matters, the hosts made the most of it knocking down eight straight singles. Senior Point Guard, Quincy McKnight (11.9 PTS, 42.5% FG, 33.3% 3FG, 3.3 REB, 5.4 AST, 1.6 STL, 20.2 PER), added Fourteen Points, Three Rebounds, and Four Assists, but made just 1-of-8 attempts from the floor (12.5%), instead making up the difference from the Charity Stripe where he knocked down 12-of-14 Free-Throws (85.7%).