Friday, February 09, 2007

Preview of Villanova @ Seton Hall, Saturday, February 10, 2007, noon

By Craig Dimitri

The Viewpoint on the Seton Hall Pirates

Coach: Bobby Gonzalez – career record 141-87 (eighth year), SHU record 12-10 (first year)

Gonzalez is the 18th man to take the helm at Seton Hall, and is currently commanding his maiden voyage from South Orange, as Captain of the Pirate Ship. It’s been a very tumultuous voyage, as we shall see below.

Gonzalez was hired to replace former Syracuse star Louis Orr, who was forced to walk the plank after the 2005-06 season, after five seasons. Orr's final team qualified for the NCAA tournament as a #10 seed in 2006, losing to #7 Wichita State in the first round. Gonzalez had been in the coaching buzz for quite a while, due to his success during his seven-year-stint at nearby Manhattan (ironically, the same stepping stone that former Villanova coach Steve Lappas used to catapult himself into his nine-year tenure as head coach on the Main Line). It was widely believed that Gonzalez would end up somewhere in the Big East someday, and that speculation turned out to be accurate. He is from a Big East coaching tree, having served on Pete Gillen’s staff for four years at Providence from 1994-98. Gonzalez was a protégé of Gillen, also serving on his staff at non-Big East schools Xavier and Virginia (those stops bookended Gillen’s time at PC). He has a reputation for being an outstanding recruiter, particularly in the New York metropolitan area.

2006-07 Season Analysis of the Pirates
(3-6 Big East, 13th place, 12-10 overall, #121 RPI, #68 Strength-of-schedule as of games completed at the end Super Bowl Sunday, February 4, 2007, as compiled by Jerry Palm’s

Seton Hall, simply put, is not a very good team this year. The Pirates head into Saturday’s game with Villanova having lost four Big East games in a row, with the only interruption being a nonconference rout of down-the-NJ-Turnpike Princeton on January 29, 2007. The Pirates will be lucky to stagger home at .500 and receive a NIT bid, and consequently qualify for the Big East tournament with a 12th-place or better finish. If the tournament started today, the Pirates would be marooned, their season over.

Nonconference Schedule

SHU opened the year with a rout of non-Division I Caldwell, so their genuine record is only 11-10. They played an OK nonconference schedule, and still lost four games. Virginia Tech (RPI #33) and BYU (#29) were good losses; Oral Roberts (#104) and nearby Fairleigh Dickinson (#185) – at home, no less – were not. Their chances for an at-large NCAA bid are nil. The Pirates did achieve the rare feat of playing both Penn and Penn State in the same year, winning both games. They also beat St. Mary’s (#149) in double overtime.

Big East Play

SHU’s three conference wins have all come at home: a blowout of St. John’s, and two narrow wins over Rutgers and Providence (at #50 RPI, their best win of the season, in or out of the Big East). It’s worth noting that the Pirates had some resilience; Providence utterly destroyed the Pirate Ship up at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center, 91-69, on January 6, 2007. But eleven days later, the Hall held off the Friars by a single point at the Meadowlands. As for their half-dozen Big East losses – five of them have been by double-digits. The only single-digit loss was to in-state rival Rutgers, who avenged their defeat at the Meadowlands, by beating the Hall in double overtime at the RAC.

Seton Hall Pirates Starters/Rotation


#15 Eugene Harvey - 6/0 - Point Guard - Freshman - 16.0 points/3.2 rebounds/4.3 assists in 35.0 minutes (Brooklyn, NY)

Harvey has had a powerful impact as a freshman, as he is a leading candidate for Big East Rookie of the Year honors. He has already been named BE rookie-of-the-week three times, something matched only by Notre Dame’s Luke Harangody. Harvey has started all 22 games this season – very unusual for a freshman point guard in the Big East.

Harvey averages 4.3 assists versus 3.0 turnovers, as well as 1.7 steals. But he doesn’t just run the point – he’s one of Seton Hall’s top two scorers, along with Brian Laing, and he plays a lot of minutes. As is often the case for a point guard, he’s an outstanding foul shooter (82.6%). The one significant gap in his game is as a three-point threat: Harvey is shooting a dreadful 21.4%, from beyond the arc. This will permit Villanova to take their chances with Harvey’s outside shooting, and instead concentrate on stopping other perimeter threats.

#22 Paul Gause - 5/11 - Guard - Sophomore - 9.0 points/3.6 rebounds/1.6 assists in 24.9 minutes (Pittsgrove, NJ)

Jamar Nutter actually averages far more playing time, over 31 minutes. Gause takes a lot of three-point shots, but with poor accuracy: he averages only 29.1% from that range. However, Gause is also an outstanding defensive player, leading the Big East in steals at 3.23 thefts/game. He also can fall into foul trouble, as a result of such aggressiveness on defense. Gause averages over three fouls a contest, and the Pirate crew is sufficiently shorthanded with a seven-man rotation, that it’s important that he stay on the floor.#35 Larry Davis - 6/3 - Guard - Freshman – 8.3 points/3.7 rebounds/1.6 assists in 20.8 minutes (Middle Village, NY)
Davis plays – by far - the fewest minutes of the five starters, with Nutter surpassing him as well. Davis has made just eight starts this season. He is a highly dangerous threat from three-point range, shooting 45.6%, as well as 85% from the free-throw line.

#14 Brian Laing - 6/5 – Guard/Forward - Junior - 16.6 points/6.6 rebounds in 36.2 minutes (Bronx, NY)

Laing is the Pirates’ best player, leading the team in scoring, rebounding, and minutes. He is a mild threat from three-point range, shooting 31% from beyond the arc.

#23 Stan Gaines - 6/7 – Forward - Senior - 6.3 points/4.5 rebounds in 25.4 minutes (Chicago, IL)

Gaines has started all but three of SHU’s games this year. He is an accurate three-point shooter at 40%, and also ranks second in rebounds. However, he is also prone to fall into foul trouble, averaging 3.4 personal fouls a contest.

Off the Bench

#2 Jamar Nutter - 6/2 - Guard - Junior – 12.4 points/3.3 rebounds/2.1 assists in 31.1 minutes/game (Bloomfield, NJ – Seton Hall Prep)

Nutter is not listed among the probable starters by SHU, but Nutter has in fact started 17 of SHU’s 22 contests this season. Accordingly, his minutes rank third on the team, significantly outlogging Gause, Gaines, and David, all of whom are listed among the starters. He is the leading scorer among Pirates still around from last season’s voyage, the final journey under Orr.

#31 John Garcia - 6/9 – Forward/Center - Freshman - 4.5 points/2.0 rebounds in 11.8 minutes/game (Bayshore, NY)

Garcia has been plagued with significant injuries, since he arrived in South Orange. Garcia missed all of 2005-06 (taking a medical redshirt) and the first 16 games of this season due to his need to recover from knee surgery. His numbers reflect only the half-dozen games he’s participated in since his return.

Worth Noting – An 8th Player

#33 Grant Billmeier - 6/10 – Center - Senior – 3.4 points/3.4 rebounds in 13.8 minutes/game (Pennington, NJ)

We won’t see Billmeier at all, since he’s out for the season with an injury. However, his absence is worth noting because it is one fewer big man for Gonzalez to have available. Billmeier was important, as he started 10 of the 13 games he participated in, prior to his season-ending injury.

Overall Analysis of the Pirates

Villanova will be facing a Seton Hall team, which is rebuilding its foundation under a new coach. As with all regime changes, Gonzalez is now forced to coach players, the vast majority of whom he didn’t recruit and who may not fit well in his coaching philosophy and/or his personality. Seton Hall is also plagued with injuries, with Billmeier out for the season, Garcia coming back from a year and a half out with an injury. Two days ago, there was also the sudden departure of senior Mani Messy on Wednesday, February 7, with no official specification as to why, other than the announcement itself from Gonzalez of the mere fact that Messy is no longer with the program. Messy’s messy departure won’t make things any worse than they already are, but he did average over six minutes/game and it’s yet another body Gonzalez no longer has among his depleted ranks.

Seton Hall can match ‘Nova in one area – the Pirates are second only to the Wildcat in free throw accuracy, among Big East teams. They play a more uptempo style, and as a result, SHU both scores and allows more points than Villanova. With Billmeier out of the picture, this will be a rare Big East contest for Villanova, where they won’t have to contend with an imposing, bigger post player with their quicker, nimbler team. Seton Hall isn’t really any bigger than ‘Nova, and that would certainly work to ‘Nova’s advantage. The Hall only has seven Pirates to man the ship, two of whom have a serious propensity for foul trouble, chasing faster players.

The problem for Villanova recently has been offense - they’ve won their last two games against Louisville and St. Joseph’s by scoring just 57 and 56 points, respectively. Villanova’s guard-heavy team tends to rely on the three-point shot, and if they aren’t falling, it’s difficult for Villanova to make up for it by feeding the low post. In addition, the team’s best post player, Will Sheridan, did not play much in either of the last two games. However, it was not immediately clear, why Jay Wright had suddenly decided to limit the senior forward’s minutes sharply over the course of the past week (previously, he had logged almost as many minutes as anyone else in the rotation.) Another story has been the sudden rise in stock of freshman Reggie Redding, from St. Joseph’s Prep in Philadelphia. Redding’s been seeing a lot more court time recently.

The Pirates, even with a shorthanded crew, do have a very potent offense and scoring in the 50s is not going to be enough to beat them. It also happens to be bad luck that Villanova is happening to visit during “Spirit Week”, in which the SHU student body redoubles its efforts to fill the huge Meadowlands venue with Pirate fans.

Villanova/Seton Hall Series History

Seton Hall is one of Villanova’s most ancient rivals, not surprisingly for two Catholic schools separated by a short distance. This will be the 96th meeting between the two schools. Villanova has won the last four clashes, and leads all-time, 58-37. During the 2005-06 season, the schools met only once, at the Pavilion on January 17, 2006- the Wildcats won 73-64. Seton Hall’s last triumph was at the Meadowlands, winning a close one, 70-68, on February 21, 2004.

At the Meadowlands, Villanova is just 5-12, all-time.

Villanova Update

The Wildcats (4-5 Big East, 15-7 overall) are coming off a glorious Holy War trouncing of St. Joseph’s, sweeping the Big Five for the second consecutive year. There will undoubtedly be many Villanova fans at the game, given the vast seating available at the Meadowlands, its location in the heart of Villanova alumni country, and its proximity to campus. They may even outnumber the Seton Hall fans there.

For Villanova, the magic number is four – the number of BE wins needed to get to .500 and probably assure them of a reasonably weak opening round tournament game in New York and an at-large NCAA bid. This game at Seton Hall is undoubtedly being banked as one of those four.

I'll have a full recap after the game.

Questions? Comments? Information? You can contact Craig Dimitri at

No comments: