The Colorado men’s basketball team wasn’t nearly efficient enough on offense this season to earn an NCAA Tournament bid. The same is true of Seton Hall.
Both defenses, however, were more than good enough to compete against the best programs in the nation.
It could very well be a low-scoring affair at the CU Events Center on Tuesday night, as the CU Buffs host Seton Hall in the first round of the National Invitation Tournament (9 p.m., ESPN2).
The Pirates boasted one of the top defenses in the Big East Conference. Same with the Buffs in the Pac-12. Going into the NCAA Tournament and NIT, Seton Hall and the Buffs rank 22nd and 23rd, respectively, at KenPom.com in adjusted defensive efficiency.
“They’re really good defensively, there’s no doubt about it,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “They’re tough. They play hard. They have good defensive players. They contest every shot. The good news is, we just played UCLA, who’s pretty good defensively. Now we play Seton Hall, who’s really good defensively.
“It’s going to be a physical game. It’s going to be a game where we’re going to have to be patient, move the ball, move our bodies and make plays for each other. Because making plays off the dribble, one-on-one, it’ll be a feeding frenzy for them if we try to do that.”
Overall, Seton Hall ranked second in the Big East in defensive field goal percentage (.415), defensive 3-point percentage (.306) steals per game (8.4), and scoring defense (65.1). In a league that sent five teams to the NCAA Tournament, the Pirates were nearly as good in conference games, raking third in defensive field goal percentage (.432), defensive 3-point percentage (.320) and scoring defense (67.6).
Among Seton Hall’s more impressive wins of the regular season, at least in terms of opponent and location, was a 45-43 win on Dec. 11 at Rutgers, the top seed in CU and Seton Hall’s portion of the NIT bracket. The Pirates also defeated UConn at home on Jan. 18 and won at Providence on March 4 to close the regular season.
“Seton Hall has great toughness,” Boyle said. “You look at people’s records and sometimes you make conclusions that are not accurate. Anybody that doesn’t think Seton Hall is a good team doesn’t know what the hell they’ve been talking about. If we’re not ready to play, Seton Hall will hand us our (tails).”
The NIT can be a springboard for the next season. Last year, Xavier defeated Texas A&M in the final. Both teams enjoyed excellent seasons and are preparing for the NCAA Tournament.
It can always go the other direction, as well. Tristan da Silva, Luke O’Brien, Julian Hammond III, Nique Clifford and the sidelined KJ Simpson all played in last year’s NIT home date against St. Bonaventure. That group was coming off a recent run of eight wins in nine games, and it was the sort of young core that might have benefited from a few wins in a tournament like the NIT.
Instead, the Bonnies won 76-68, and the Buffs limped into the offseason.
“For us, it’s another opportunity to go out there and show what we can do,” O’Brien said. “It’s great we’re playing a Big East team. There’s a Big Ten team that’s in our (region). It’s extra basketball. Extra basketball is always good basketball. Obviously we wish we were in the NCAA Tournament just like everybody else in the NIT, but it’s an opportunity for us to go win something.”
Boyle’s first CU team is a perfect example of a squad that used the NIT as a means of venting frustrations and propelling into the future.
One of the last teams left out of the NCAA Tournament field, the 2010-11 Buffs won three straight NIT home games to advance to the Final Four at Madison Square Garden. CU won the Pac-12 tournament the following year, earning the program’s first NCAA tourney berth in nine years and winning a first-round game against UNLV.
“There’s no team, emotionally, that had to go from scraping themselves up off the floor mentally, emotionally, than our first year, when we literally were the No. 1 seed in the NIT,” Boyle said. “We were the last team out of the NCAA Tournament. We had to regroup, and I remember all we did the next day at practice was scrimmage. Let’s just get up and down. That’s basically what we did (Monday). We worked on a few things, and then we got up and down.
“That (2011) team, emotionally, had to overcome a lot more than this year’s team did. This year’s team, we knew we weren’t in the NCAA Tournament. We were just hoping to get in this tournament. “
The Buffs have to keep the Pirates off the free throw line. Although Seton Hall ranked last in the Big East in free throw percentage (.683), no team attempted more than the Pirates (690). Despite the lowly percentage, Seton Hall scored more points at the free throw line this season than Big East NCAA Tournament teams Xavier, Creighton, UConn and Marquette. Providence was a close second in attempts (689) and made more free throws than the Pirates. … Seton Hall is making its 18th NIT appearance, but its first since the 2011-12. … Pirates coach Shaheen Holloway, a former player at Seton Hall, has won more games overall (17) and in the Big East (10) than any other first-year coach in program history. … CU has played a Big East foe just once since the start of the 2018-19 season: the Buffs’ dismantling of Georgetown in the first round of the 2021 NCAA Tournament. … Da Silva’s 529 points this year ranks in a tie for 19th among single-season marks in program history. With just six more points, da Silva would jump to 17th. The junior forward goes into the NIT with a .402 3-point percentage, which currently sits at sixth all-time among CU’s single-season leaders — just fractions ahead of Chauncey Billups (.401 in ’96-97) and D’Shawn Schwartz (.400 in 2020-21). … Despite going 0-for-5 on 3-pointers, da Silva enjoyed a solid game in last year’s NIT first-round loss against St. Bonaventure, going 5-for-5 on 2-pointers and 3-for-3 on free throws with 13 points, five rebounds and four assists.