Seton Hall picks up NCAA tourney boost at Providence’s expense

Coming into the season, many said that Kevin Willard needed to make the NCAA Tournament to save his job at Seton Hall. Or at least show growth toward that eventual goal.

Following Thursday’s victory, it looks like Willard may be on his way to fulfilling that objective.

The Pirates defeated Providence 70-52 to complete a season sweep of the Friars and move to 10-5 in the Big East with a home game against Xavier on the docket for the weekend. Isaiah Whitehead — as he so often has during Big East play — led the way for Seton Hall. He was the best player in college basketball Thursday night, scoring 25 points, dishing out nine assists, grabbing six rebounds and blocking four shots. But he wasn’t just productive, he was efficient. He shot 8 of 12 from the field, made five 3-pointers and only turned the ball over once.

It’s impressive that Whitehead was the best player on the floor in this game because Ben Bentil was absolutely terrific. With Kris Dunn playing less like himself due to illness, Bentil carried the Friars’ sinking ship on his shoulders by scoring 31 points, grabbing six rebounds and blocking two shots. He brought the Friars back from a 21-point deficit to within seven, but then was ejected for a flagrant-two foul on Desi Rodriguez.

The win helps Seton Hall’s résumé, but the Pirates probably need a couple more to feel safe. A big one could come Sunday against Xavier at home. If they can pick up that win, they would likely be able to get to 12 conference wins on the final day of the season against DePaul and feel comfortable at 22 wins. The Pirates are in a good place, but they’re not a lock yet by any means.

On the other side, Providence is a fiery mess. The Friars haven’t beaten a team not named “Georgetown” for over a month, dropping six of eight games in that time frame. With home games coming against DePaul and Creighton and a road game against St. John’s, they should be able to pick up three wins here at the end of the season. But lose one of those games against DePaul and St. John’s, and the Friars’ place in the NCAA Tournament will be in some trouble.

But the bigger problem is the Friars need to start playing better. A team that was once 15-2 is now 19-9 and has only beaten one team in the past month. If that improvement doesn’t happen, all of their terrific early-season work is going to go for naught, be it in the final two weeks of the season or in the postseason.

Isaiah Whitehead was terrific against Providence Thursday night. (USATSI)
Isaiah Whitehead was terrific against Providence Thursday night. (USATSI)

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