Kevin Willard entered the 2015-16 season on the hot seat.
He’ll leave a champion.
Seton Hall blew a double-digit second half lead but thanks to 26 points and three assists from Isaiah Whitehead, which included an and-one bucket with 18 seconds left to give the Pirates a 68-67 lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Villanova again got a tremendous performance out of Kris Jenkins — he had 23 points, and Josh Hart added 17 — but the Wildcats couldn’t get the bucket they needed in the final minute. Jenkins had a decent look from 25 feet, Hart had a shot in the lane off of the offensive rebound and Arcidiacono had a look at the buzzer, but Villanova couldn’t get any of them to drop.
In other words, I don’t think we can take too much out of this loss. Playing with a limited Daniel Ochefu, the Wildcats erased a big first half lead and were one shot away from winning at the buzzer. They’ll be fine, even if this loss does drop them off of the No. 1 seed line, which I think it will.
The bigger story here is Seton Hall, who suddenly looks like an incredibly dangerous NCAA tournament team, one that may be able to creep their way up to the No. 5 seed line when it’s all said and done tomorrow night. The Pirates have now won 12 of their last 14 games, including wins over the Big East’s two top five teams the last two days. Isaiah Whitehead is playing as well as any guard in college basketball and, while he didn’t win the Big East Player of the Year award, may have actually been the best player in the league during conference play.
Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez have been much improved as well this season, while Angel Delgado, Ismael Sanogo and Derrick Gordon really do excel in their roles they’re asked to play. Depth could be in issue playing two games in three days, but if it wasn’t an issue playing Xavier and Villanova on back-to-back nights, it shouldn’t be an issue getting through the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
Success in March is all about getting hot at the right time.
And Seton Hall fits that criteria.