The Seton Hall Pirates (22-11) are looking for their first trip to the Sweet 16 since 2000. Standing in the way of making all that happen, the Kansas Jayhawks (28-7) will look to show why they are at the top of the Midwest Region of the bracket.
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The Jayhawks are listed as a 4.5-point favorite over Seton Hall, according to Oddsshark.com. The over/under is set at 153.5 points.
This is only the third meeting between both teams all-time. Kansas won the previous meeting back in 2001 by 16. Before that, the Pirates beat the Jayhawks, 92-81, in 1988.
How They Got Here
Seton Hall: The Pirates were granted with an at-large bid. They enjoyed a solid non-conference portion of the schedule. Although they started Big East play with a strong 4-1, things looked in doubt when they follow that up by losing six of their next eight games. However, they did turn it around at the end to finish with a 10-8 record in conference play, but flamed out in the Big East Tournament quarterfinals. After getting bounced out of the Big East Tournament earlier-than-expected, the Pirates were able to shake off those opening round jitters to get their first NCAA Tournament win since 2004, and the first under head coach Kevin Willard. Seton Hall put on a show offensively from opening tip off, and the N.C. State Wolfpack didn’t seem to have an answer. The Pirates won 94-83 to advance to the second round.
Kansas: The Jayhawks won the Big 12 regular season title for an impressive 14th year in a row. While they ended the regular season on a disappointing note--losing to Oklahoma State by 18--Kansas got its revenge a few days later, when it ran past the Cowboys in the Jayhawks’ first Big 12 Tournament game. From there, they coasted right past Kansas State and West Virginia for the conference championship. The Jayhawks tipped off the NCAA Tournament by taking down “the best No. 16 seed ever” (at least, until UMBC did the unthinkable) in Penn. The Quakers came out swinging to start, but the Jayhawks went on a run of their own and eventually went on to win 76-60.
What to Watch For
The End of the Core Four?
For the last few years, this senior class has been at the heart of this program’s turnaround and recent success. Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington, and Desi Rodriguez have been key players since their sophomore seasons. With the rise of the Big East’s Most Improved Player, Myles Powell, the Pirates looked so much more dangerous overall this season. Altogether--on average--they account for 61.9 of the team’s 79 points per game. They are a big part of this team, and with the possibility of the next game being their last--it always begs the question of “is this the end?” Three of these guys are graduating after this season. This may be the Pirates last chance to make some noise for a while.
The Pirates will go as far as their quartet takes them. In their previous game against the Wolfpack, they were all clicking. Kansas has to slow them down, or its NCAA Tournament journey can end preemptively.
Seton Hall has a chance to pull off an upset on Saturday night, as long as Kansas’ big man, Udoka Azubuike remains planted on the bench. The 7-foot sophomore center missed the entire Big 12 Tournament with a knee injury and was meant for “emergency situations” against Penn. He did log three minutes of action against the Quakers, but he did not seem that comfortable going up and down the court. Bill Self ultimately decided to not bring him back in the second half. He’s hoping to get at least Azubuike at about 80 percent of his normal strength.
While Kansas has made it work without him, using a combination of young guns Silvio De Sousa and Mitch Lightfoot, Azibuike adds a menacing amount of size upfront and an ultra-efficient 77.4 shooting percentage that is atop the NCAA. He will be needed against the likes of Delgado, who could possibly have a field day against the smaller and less experienced tandem of De Sousa and Lightfoot. So, an 80 percent Azubuike will certainly be better than none, but will he even be okay enough to go last on the court for long stretches?
According to KenPom, the Jayhawks are ranked sixth in terms of offensive efficiency. They have an incredibly balanced offense, with an effective FG% of 57.9 (fifth-highest in the country). Their work inside and outside of the arc are among the top 15 in the nation. This is a tough team.
Five different players average in double figures and while one of them might be limited by injury, the other four are dangerous. Leading the way is Devonte Graham, who averages 17.6 points per game and an impressive 7.4 assists per game. He also impacts the court defensively with how he forces turnovers. Then there’s Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, who plays the ‘four’ although he is more of a guard. At 6-foot-8 his size stands out, but he’s finally gotten his three-point shot down and has lived up to his potential. He’s averaging 15.0 points and shoots 45.6 percent from long range. Rounding things off are Malik Newman and Lagerald Vick, two guards that average around 13 points per game and can score from almost anywhere. They are also solid rebounders for their size and at their position.
If Azibuike doesn’t play much, this can truly be a fun game between Seton Hall’s ‘Core Four’ and this Kansas quartet.