Seton Hall Opens Big East Play Saturday

December 25th, 2009

The results become that much more important for the Seton Hall Pirates (9-1) starting with Saturday's afternoon tilt with #6 West Virginia (9-0) at The Rock (3:30 PM on CBS). The lone college basketball game on the schedule is also the Big East opener for both, and with #5 Syracuse coming to town Tuesday night Bobby Gonzalez's squad can ill-afford to get off to an 0-2 start in conference play. Is this a winnable game for the Pirates? Certainly. But there are some things that they need to do in order to have a chance to knock off the Mountaineers.

Rebounding will be a key; despite their lack of bulk inside the Mountaineers rank second in the Big East in rebounding margin. If you watched them rebound in their 76-66 win over Ole Miss the other night then you know how Bob Huggins' squad gets it done: they just get after it. West Virginia grabbed twenty-two offensive rebounds in that win, outrebounding the Rebels 50-28 for the game. Their three most versatile players are also their three best rebounders; Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones are both averaging 7.4 rebounds per game while Da'Sean Jones averages a shade under six (5.9) per game. 

Butler and Ebanks get the majority of the hype when it comes to the Mountaineers: Ebanks came into the season as arguably an NBA Draft lottery-caliber talent while Butler currently leads the team in scoring with an average of sixteen point per game. But it's been Kevin Jones who's been the difference-maker in the early going, especially during the time in which Ebanks (who missed the first four games) was regaining his bearings. Add to this trio point guard Truck Bryant (10.1 ppg, 3.9 apg) and versatile forwards Wellington Smith (five three-pointers vs. Ole Miss) and John Flowers and you've got a solid rotation. Casey Smith, Dalton Pepper and Joe Mazzulla may also see minutes on Saturday but the bulk of the playing time is distributed among six players. 

Seton Hall hasn't been terrible on the boards, boasting a rebounding margin of +5.6 boards per game. But that's got them coming in at tenth in the conference in that category and due to pace the Pirates see their opponents grab just over thirty-nine rebounds per game. Herb Pope has been a beast on the glass with an average of 11.9 rebounds per game and John Garcia ranks second on the team with 6.7 per game. These two and Robert Mitchell have proven to be the best rebounders the Pirates have and they'll have to lead the way on Saturday if the Hall is to have a chance.

Tempo will also be important for Seton Hall; they may allow nine more points per game than the Mountaineers but they're the better team when it comes to field goal percentage defense. Seton Hall allows opponents to shoot just 36.7% from the field while West Virginia opponents have shot 42.9% from the field this season. Of course the level of competition thus far can be cited as well but the number could be a good sign for Seton Hall. If they can speed things up without being careless the game could become an upset possibility.

But whether or not Seton Hall pulls off the upset will rest on the play of their guards. Eugene Harvey runs the show at the point while junior scoring guard Jeremy Hazell will play at the two, and Keon Lawrence and Jordan Theodore will come off the bench. Harvey is one of two players (Pope) on the roster averaging more than two turnovers per game while when on Hazell ranks among the most prolific pure scorers in the nation. Seton Hall will also need Theodore, Lawrence and Jeff Robinson to play consistent basketball. Freshman forward Ferrakohn Hall rounds out the frontcourt for Seton Hall. The Pirates have more bodies but can they play with consistency? That will determine the outcome of the game.

Who wins? The safe bet would be the Mountaineers, who are expected to be a Big East title contender along with a possible Final Four squad. But to play a game the day after Christmas on the road, a conference opener at that, can throw the idea of a "safe bet" out the window. Look for Seton Hall to pull off the upset at home.