March Madness might be starting a week early for UConn and Seton Hall.
The Big East Conference rivals will meet Wednesday night in Newark, N.J., and both teams’ hopes of an NCAA Tournament berth might ride on the outcome.
Depending on which bracket expert you believe, the Huskies (12-6, 9-6 Big East) and Pirates (13-10, 10-7) are either safely in the field of 68, ticketed for the First Four or even left out. Both teams have resumes dotted with big wins and sketchy losses that have left them in hailing distance of the bubble.
And in the case of UConn, coach Dan Hurley is taking the glass-half-full approach to this situation. The Huskies’ 80-62 rout of Marquette on Saturday assured them that they will finish no worse than sixth place in the Big East.
“We’ve come a long way,” Hurley said. “I don’t think people understand how far we’ve come in three years to this point. These kids deserve so much credit. They’ve done an incredible job.”
UConn leaned on its backcourt of James Bouknight and R.J. Cole for much of its scoring against Marquette. Bouknight scored a game-high 24 points and Cole chipped in 21 as the Huskies made 51.6 percent of their shots form the field and committed only seven turnovers.
Bouknight, who missed eight games in January and February with an elbow injury that required surgery, remains the team’s scoring leader at 20.5 points per game.
Meanwhile, Seton Hall is in desperation mode after consecutive conference losses on the road. It struggled to score in a 61-52 defeat at Butler on Feb. 24, hitting only 37.9 percent from the field.
The Pirates ran into trouble after intermission of that defeat, with the Bulldogs enjoying a 20-6 run to start the second half. They received 14 points from Jared Rhoden and 11 from Sandro Mamukelashvili but simply couldn’t find enough traction offensively.
Mamukelashvili averages team-best totals in points (17.8) and rebounds (7.1), while Rhoden is averaging 14.6 points and Myles Cale 12.
Seton Hall rode a four-game winning streak into a Feb. 20 trip to Georgetown, but lost that game and couldn’t bounce back at Butler.
That leaves the Pirates in the same mode as UConn.
“Oh, yeah, we have a lot of work to do. We have two good opportunities,” Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said, referring to Wednesday’s game vs. the Huskies and Saturday’s road game against St. John’s.
–Field Level Media