They finished second in the rugged Big East Conference, did not lose a non-conference game, earned a No. 11 national ranking and the No. 3 seed in the NCAA West Regional, and now are headed for the Final Four--yet Seton Hall remains one of college basketball’s biggest mysteries.
Ask a casual fan outside the Northeast to name a Seton Hall player, and the typical response, if there is any recognition at all, is something like: “Don’t they have that Australian guy, what’s his name?”
This is truly a team without stars--a faceless, nameless crew that doesn’t know the meaning of the word selfish, a team of interchangeable parts.
“No one stands out on this team. That’s not the way we play,” said point guard Gerald Greene after the Pirates’ 84-61 romp over Nevada-Las Vegas in the NCAA West Regional final here Saturday.
Seton Hall, 30-6, which became the fourth Big East team in the last eight years to win the West Regional, now travels to Seattle this week for a Final Four match-up with Duke. Michigan meets Illinois in the other Saturday game.
The Pirates are venturing where no Pirate team has ever gone before, and also where none of the more celebrated Big East teams such as Georgetown, Syracuse or Pitt are headed.
“Playing in the Big East has really helped prepare us for this tournament,” Pirate Coach P. J. Carlesimo said. “We’ve played 19 consecutive high-caliber games. There’s no better preparation. And I think there’s a feeling that the league helps each other. The teams in our league want the other teams to be successful.”
But no one anticipated quite this much success from a solid, but unpretentious, team from South Orange, N.J., whose coach was nearly run out of town two years ago. The Pirates were picked to finish seventh in the conference this season.
Why the turnaround? Carlesimo credits his athletic director and chancellor for giving him time--seven years--to build a program. Long-neglected facilities had to be upgraded, and more resources were required for staff and recruiting.
Carlesimo is an expert at getting the most out of his players. He substitutes liberally, and everyone seems to contribute, as was evident Saturday. Sophomore center Anthony Avent came off the bench to score 11 points in only nine minutes. Reserves Michael Cooper and Frantz Volcy added 10 and 9 points, respectively.
A tough defense, particularly inside, is a Carlesimo trademark. Indiana couldn’t solve it, losing 78-65 in the regional semifinals on Thursday night. It was Indiana’s worst-ever loss in NCAA tournament play. Then on Saturday, UNLV likewise suffered its worst tournament loss and its worst loss in any game since 1984.
In four tournament games, Seton Hall has held opponents to 32% shooting (36 of 111) in the second half.