Seton Hall beat expectations getting to 4th straight NCAAs

              Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard reacts during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Villanova in the championship of the Big East Conference tournament, Saturday, March 16, 2019, in New York. Villanova won 74-72. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. (AP) — Seton Hall is heading to its school-record tying fourth straight NCAA Tournament, and this time the Pirates feel like they are playing with house money.

Picked by the Big East Conference coaches to finish eighth in the 10-team league in the preseason poll, Seton Hall surprised many, posting a 20-13 record and coming within a shot of knocking off defending national champion Villanova in the conference tournament title game.

The young Pirates are seeded 10th in the Midwest and will face seventh-seeded Wofford (29-4) on Thursday night in Jacksonville, Florida. The Terriers are riding a 20-game win streak behind the outside shooting of Fletcher Magee and the inside play of power forward Cameron Jackson.

“We fought against adversity,” Seton Hall leading scorer Myles Powell (22.9 points) said Monday. “No one expected us to be here. Everybody said this was a rebuilding year. It was up to us to believe in each other and do things that people didn’t think that we could. That’s an achievement.”

Seton Hall lost a lot after last season with seniors Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington all finishing their careers along with Ismael Sanogo, who split time at the power forward with Michael Nzei.

It was roughly 60 percent of the Pirates’ scoring and roughly 100 percent of their leadership.

Powell and Nzei stepped into the leadership role, and Powell became the catalyst of an offense that searches on a game-by-game basis for a second option. Sometimes, it’s Nzei or big man Sandro Mamukelashvili or guards Myles Cale or Quincy McKnight.

Coach Kevin Willard said his team understands Powell is the No. 1 option, whether he is hitting from long range or going to the basket.

“I have a lot of confidence in Myles Cale and Sandro,” Willard said. “I always know Mike is going to be there and give us 12 and 12. The biggest thing is that we try to adjust to is how teams are going to try to play Myles (Powell). The sophomores have done a great job. Quincy McKnight has done a great job at the point guard. We’re just kind of made up it’s not going to be the same guy.”

Willard’s focus is trying to figure out how to stop Wofford. The Terriers’ only four losses have been to tournament teams — North Carolina, Kansas, Mississippi State and Oklahoma.

Willard told everyone to remember Magee’s name. The senior guard has hit 502 career 3-pointers, breaking the old Southern Conference record set by Stephen Curry (Davidson) before he went to the NBA. Magee is two shy of the NCAA Division I record held by Travis Bader of Oakland.

Willard said Magee is excellent coming off a screen.

Wofford’s Jackson, who is averaging almost 15 points and 7.5 rebounds, will be tough inside because he is mobile.

“They are a great team,” said Mamukelashvili, who probably will get the assignment on Jackson. “They run. They have great shooters. Coach compared them to Marquette and Creighton because of how hard they play and how fast they play.”

The key to stopping them will be guarding the perimeter and getting back in transition.

It seems like a big task, but Seton Hall has found a way to do the unexpected this season. The Pirates are a tough, gritty team.

“We’re playing with a bit of a chip on our shoulder,” McKnight said. “Everybody has been playing with a chip on their shoulder all season because personally everyone was doubted, not just the team.”