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Seton Hall is … actually not bad?

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From Nov. 20th thru Dec. 1st, I’ll be on the road, hitting 21 games in 11 days. To follow along and read my stories from the road, click here.

NEW YORK — Seton Hall’s basketball program is not exactly the powerhouse that it was during the P.J. Carlisiemo years. We laugh and we joke and we tweet out things like “Seton HaLOL”, and while it may be mean, the Pirates haven’t exactly done anything that would make those tweets seem inaccurate.

That’s what happens when you’ve made the tournament all of three times in the last 19 years.

You’d be forgiven if you couldn’t name a player on the Seton Hall roster. No one will make fun of you if you have already written off the Pirates in the new Big East. Hell, before today, I probably would have said the same thing.

But you know what? Seton Hall isn’t a bad basketball team, and I realize how silly that sounds right now considering that I’m saying this on the night that they beat ACC cellar-dweller Virginia Tech 68-67, one night after they blew a five-point lead in the last 36 seconds to Oklahoma and one week after they lost to Mercer in double-overtime.

I get that.

But I also get that this team is one epic collapse against Oklahoma and one double-overtime road loss to the Atlantic Sun favorite from sitting at 6-0 right now.

And I’ll also tell you this: Seton Hall looks better than you probably think they do. Kevin Willard actually has some talent on his roster, especially on his perimeter. FuQuan Edwin is a legitimate NBA prospect as one of the nation’s best defenders and a knock-down three point shooter. Sterling Gibbs has been one of the country’s biggest beneficiaries of the new foul rules. Tom Mayaan is a steady presence at the point, and Jaren Sina has the ability to come off the bench and score 13 points in a half, as he did on Saturday. Throw in Georgia Tech transfer Brian Oliver and senior center Gene Teague, and there is actually some reason to be optimistic in South Orange.

“We’re not dependent on one guard like we were last year,” Willard said. “It’s made these guys life easier. Eugene gets doubled every time and FuQuan gets every team’s best defender.”

The better news came after the game, when Willard told reporters that Patrick Auda’s latest exam revealed that the worst-case scenario — he bent the screw in his surgically-repaired foot — may be out of the question, which could mean he’ll be back in a month. That’s big.

Is it enough to turn the Pirates into a tournament team?

Well, probably not.

But if there is one thing we know about the Big East this season, it’s that we don’t know anything. I can make a valid argument that any of the league’s top seven teams can win the conference regular season title, especially now that Marquette and Georgetown looked closer to ordinary than they do elite. That also means that the Pirates won’t have many easy nights on their schedule.

My point, however, is that this season, Seton Hall won’t be one of those easy nights.

The Pirates are not going to be a pushover, and as depressing as it may be, that’s actually an improvement from recent years.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Some conference matchups play out before football

Oregon forward Dillon Brooks, left, reacts after scoring a basket against Utah during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. Oregon defeated Utah 77-59. (AP Photo/George Frey)
(AP Photo/George Frey)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Utah at No. 16 Oregon, 4:00 p.m.

From Rob Dauster’s Weekend Preview:

Utah suffered one of the worst losses I’ve seen in a while on Thursday night, when Brandon Taylor, for some unknown reason, decided to foul an Oregon State player firing up a half court prayer at the buzzer. The Utes, who are arguably the second-best team in the Pac-12, will look to bounce-back on Sunday against the best team in the Pac-12, No. 16 Oregon at 4:00 p.m.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. No. 12 SMU will attempt to stay atop the American standings as they travel to South Florida. While the Mustangs won the first matchup between these two teams at home by 14, they’ve dropped their last two games on the road.

2. A few more American contests are going down as East Carolina travels to UConn and Houston heads to Tulsa. The game between the Cougars and Golden Hurricane is especially interesting because both teams are sitting two games back of SMU and trying to make a move on the postseason.

3. No. 5 Iowa continues the soft part of the schedule as they face Illinois on the road. The Hawkeyes posted recent easy victories over Northwestern and Penn State and will be heavily favored again on Sunday.

4. Could be an intriguing game as No. 17 Miami travels to Georgia Tech. Although the Yellow Jackets aren’t a major contender in the ACC, they’ve been tough this season, especially at home. The Hurricanes fell victim to Georgia Tech last season while they were ranked by Marcus Georges-Hunt has to get back on track after a recent slump for that to happen.

5. There is an Atlantic 10 game that will be featured on NBCSN on Sunday: Saint Louis at St. Bonaventure (2:00 p.m.).

CLICK HERE to watch these games on NBC Sports Live Extra Sunday afternoon.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.