The Big East isn't a league that is going to get as many bids as you would normally think. Most of that is because there are far fewer teams in the conference, but the new version of the traditional powerhouse conference is down.
With that being said, though, it doesn't mean there's only room for three Big East teams in the Big Dance. It is just a little tighter, tougher and leaner this year. The league isn't going to get the benefit of the doubt from the Selection Committee come Selection Sunday, though. Making every stretch of games more important the last.
That's where the Seton Hall Pirates currently find themselves. An important stretch of games whose first bookend is a victory over Xavier, that ended the Musketeers' 13-game home winning streak.
Now the Pirates have to stay on the road to play a Villanova Wildcats team who is far better than expected, ranked sixth in the entire nation and has only two losses on the season.
They do get to go home after facing a Nova team who seems untouchable at the moment. Granted, they aren't going to be playing cupcakes on the level of the horrid (and fictional) Club State Pool Cleaners, but even a loss at The Pavilion won't crush the madness that is currently building in their heads.
Seton Hall will then host the Marquette Golden Eagles. The game might actually be more fitting if it were to be billed as Kevin Williard vs Buzz Williams, though. The records being near identical (SH 13-9, 4-5 in Big East player. Marquette 12-10, 4-5 Big East), but with little else in common. Because of Marquette's perception being that of a program greater than Seton Hall's, the feeling is that they are having a down year. All of that, mind you, while people are starting to talk about the Pirates' chances as an NCAA Tournament team -- and by people, I mean me.
It could be easy to just assume that Williams will outcoach Williard or that the Golden Eagles will just outclass the Pirates because of recent history, but that would be ignoring that this Seton Hall team has been different from versions of the past.
The most obvious example of this would be a player like Sterling Gibbs. A transfer from Texas who only played seven minutes of action for Rick Barnes is now thriving for the Pirates. After sitting out one year after the transfer, Gibbs' minutes has more than quadrupled (30.6 mpg) and he has shown the propensity to put the ball in the basket (14.4 ppg).
That doesn't mean there is a "new guard" residing over the team. Williard is still the main man in charge, Fuquan Edwin is still the consistent player who keeps all things Pirates related from going to hell and the team is still going reletavily under-the-radar.
Depending on what happens with those two previous games (winning both would be great, but a split would do, and be far more realistic) it's another home game against a team who might be playing their best basketball of the season, the St. John's Red Storm.
The Johnnies were every person's preseason sleeper pick to be good to the point of them no longer being a sleeper. However, on the court struggles, players not living up to their billing (we see you, Rysheed Jordan) and Steve Lavin starting to be further exposed as a guy who does little in-game coaching, made them a Big East afterthought.
The Red Storm have won four out of their last five games (they play Providence tonight) and look like a legitimate team. Not the team that people thought they might be, but a team who can still make the NCAA Tournament.
And the perception of that is integral to the Pirates getting noticed. Nova and Creighton are mortal locks to go dancing. After that, though, the Big East at-large bids are anyone's guess. How many bids will the people making the decisions feel they deserve?
Seton Hall can help make their decision easier. Take down Marquette, beat the always trendy but never with substance St. John's and maybe look good against Nova, and Seton Hall could start gaining traction as a very real contender.
Obviously there is tons of basketball to be played after this. Not even mentioning the Big East Conference Tournament either. But this is the first stretch of games before another important stretch of games start. It's a seemingly never-ending stretch for Seton Hall at this point.
One game at a time might be cliché because it is, but the Pirates' NCAA Tournament hopes are actually riding on a slew of stretches in a row. Because of their record, standing in conference and perception of the program, however, none are bigger than the one they start on February 7th against Villanova and end the 13th against St. John's.
If they don't win and look good in the process, well, those other stretches will matter as much watching a T-Rex shoot the rock. Great! He can shoot. But man, he can't dribble a lick.
Ken Pomeroy has Seton Hall ranked 81st in his lauded rankings. This stretch can and one way or another will change that drastically.
It might not be time to dance, but go get your shoes shined because March is starting an entire month early for Seton Hall.