By Jon Rothstein
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No one predicted it in October -- but on February 14, Seton Hall has a legitimate chance to go where they haven't been since 2006 -- the NCAA Tournament.
After opening the season 15-2, the Pirates went through a six-game losing streak before rallying to post back to back wins last week over Rutgers and Pitt.
At 17-8 and 6-7 in Big East play with five conference games remaining, Seton Hall's fate is in its own hands if it hopes to hear its name called on Selection Sunday.
"We always kept our kids focused on the big picture," Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard said after Sunday's win over Pitt. "We're moving the ball around now like we did in early January. That's when we're at our best."
Check below for a comprehensive breakdown of the Pirates final five regular season games and some of their keys down the stretch.
FINAL FIVE GAMES:
VS. ST. JOHN'S
THE SKINNY: The Red Storm might have the two most talented players on the floor in freshmen D'Angelo Harrison and Moe Harkless but they're just that --- freshmen. If Seton Hall wants to play in the NCAA Tournament, they have to find a way to beat the younger, less experienced Red Storm at the Prudential Center.
THE SKINNY: Like the Pirates, the Bearcats are right on the cusp of the NCAA bubble. Mick Cronin's team has shown flashes of greatness this season and needs several more victories to ensure a bid to the field of 68. This game will come down to whether or not Seton Hall's supporting cast is capable of handling Cincinnati's vicious pressure for 40 minutes.
THE SKINNY: Hoya paranoia? Quite possibly. Georgetown has been the surprise team in the Big East and John Thompson III's freshmen class of Otto Porter, Greg Whittington, Mikael Hopkins, and Jabril Trawick looks like it will be a special in a few seasons.
THE SKINNY: Despite their struggles, Mike Rice's young Scarlet Knights have proven this season they're more than capable of taking quality teams to the brink. After losing narrowly to the Pirates at the RAC, expect nothing less than Rutgers taking this game down to its final possession.
THE SKINNY: Be afraid, be very afraid. Very quietly, Oliver Purnell has built up the talent level of the Blue Demons and made them much more competitive than they've been in recent years. They may not be out of the Big East basement yet but DePaul is no pushover. Their full court pressure will be a nuisance for Seton Hall to deal with on the road.
FINAL SYNOPSIS: At 17-8 and 6-7 in Big East play, Seton Hall would put itself squarely on the bubble by winning three of their final five games and would probably need a victory or two in the Big East Tournament to solidify a bid in the field of 68. Four wins in their final five games would bring the Pirates to ten wins in conference play and almost automatically ensure their presence in the NCAA Tournament.
KEEP AN EYE ON: What VCU does. The Rams have improved leaps and bounds since the Pirates beat them early in the season in the Charleston Classic and have won 11 games in a row and 19 of their last 21 heading into tonight's game against George Mason. If Shaka Smart continues to work wonders with his team and they win the CAA, it gives Seton Hall another quality win on their NCAA resume.
THEO'S THIRST: Seton Hall senior point guard Jordan Theodore regained his early season form in the past two games, averaging just under 20 points per game while dishing out 12 assists to only three turnovers. If the Pirates are to have a chance to win Theodore has to be near flawless and resemble what he looked like in early January ---- the best point guard in the Big East.
COSBY SHOW: One of the noticeable traits of Seton Hall when they've had success this year has been a clear third scorer next to Theodore and Herb Pope and over the last few games, it seems like freshman combo guard Aaron Cosby has emerged in that role. After making a monumental three point shot at the end of last week's win over Rutgers, Cosby had the best game of his young career in Sunday's 73-66 win over Pitt. In the win over the Panthers, the 6-foot-2 freshman scored 19 points and made five three pointers.
UNSUNG PRESENCE: He hasn't stood out to people from the periphery but Seton Hall freshman Brandon Mobley adds a new dimension to the Pirates. The 6-foot-9 face up forward missed the season's first nine games with an injury but has quickly integrated his way into this team's starting front court next to Pope thanks to his ability to stretch the defense and hold his own on the backboards. In last week's win at Rutgers, Mobley grabbed an impressive10 rebounds
in 32 minutes of action.
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