No. 16 Seton Hall returns home on Wednesday to face No. 21 Butler in Newark, N.J., aiming to snap a two-game losing skid that significantly narrowed the Pirates' Big East Conference lead.
Seton Hall (18-7, 10-3 Big East) pulled ahead three games of its nearest Big East challenger following its Feb. 8 win at Villanova.
However, dropping games at home to Creighton on Feb. 12, 87-82, and on the road against Providence on Saturday, 74-71, shaved the Pirates' advantage to just one game. Creighton is within striking distance, and it gets Seton Hall in Omaha to close the regular season on March 7.
Pirates coach Kevin Willard lamented in his postgame radio interview following the Providence loss that Seton Hall is dealing with "some guys with bad attitudes right now.
"When we lost to Creighton the other day and we played terrible, and I'm sitting in practice and I'm thinking, 'I've got a guy moody that doesn't want to go through practice who hardly played. I have another guy who played 25 minutes that can't make a shot and didn't have a rebound. I have another guy that got embarrassed defensively.'"
Willard did not single out any Pirates by name, but the apparent malaise probably does not extend to Myles Powell. The high-scoring guard finished with 27 points at Providence, and he added four assists and two steals.
In Seton Hall's last matchup with Butler -- a 78-70 win at Indianapolis on Jan. 15 -- Powell scored 29 points and made three steals.
Powell is one of four Pirates averaging more than a steal per game at 1.3. The others are Quincy McKnight at 1.6, Jared Rhoden at 1.2, Myles Cale at 1.1.
Along with the rim protection provided by Romaro Gill, who ranks second in the nation with 3.5 blocked shots per game, Seton Hall is No. 10 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, per KenPom.com. That adds to the unexpected nature of the losing streak, as the 87 and 74 points surrendered equal the Pirates' highest back-to-back point yields of the season.
Butler (19-7, 7-6) comes into Wednesday's matchup off of a 73-66 home loss to Georgetown on Saturday. That marks three consecutive games in which the Bulldogs fell short of 70 points, and five in the past six. Butler's record over that stretch is 3-3.
In Saturday's loss, however, Butler coach LaVall Jordan pointed to defensive struggles.
"(The Hoyas) were prepared and they answered every run we had," he said in his postgame press conference. "In this league, you can't afford to not play well, and we didn't today. We really struggled to guard them off the bounce all day."
Georgetown's dribble-drive penetration freed up shooters from long range, resulting in a 10-of-15 shooting day from behind the 3-point arc. Butler's defense has been outstanding inside the arc on the year, limiting opponents to 43.3 percent shooting, but the Bulldogs rank just No. 138 nationally defending the 3-pointer with opponents hitting 32.4 percent of their attempts.
The story has been reversed on the other end of the floor: Butler is shooting 53.3 percent inside the arc, college basketball's 37th-best average, but a middling 34 percent beyond it.
--Field Level Media