To the Wildcat faithful-
Here's a preview of the battle between #3 - soon to be #2 - Villanova, as the Seton Hall Pirates sail down to the Pavilion on Groundhog Day... A Seton Hall upset would be the Pirates' first victory over Villanova since 2004, and their first victory at the Pavilion since 1994...
A Viewpoint on the Pirates
2008-09 Season: 7-11 Big East (11th place out of 16), 17-15 overall (overall record counts their two Big East tournament games, not reflected in the Big East record)
The Pirates were - justifiably - hoping to merit an NIT bid last season, given that they were in a power conference, loaded with Top 25 teams, and had a winning overall record. Unfortunately, and surprisingly - they did not receive an invitation to the traditional tournament. I speculate that the chief reason for the NIT snub was the 101 RPI ranking, which is low for a Big East program.
Had Seton Hall had one more quality win, they had a fighting chance of making it. When they fell to sixth-seeded Syracuse in the quarterfinals, however, that probably doomed their chances.
When Seton Hall faced Villanova last season, at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ, on January 6, it was one of the most exciting and historic games the Wildcats played in the magical 2008-09 campaign. The host Pirates forced the Wildcats - ranked #18 nationally - into overtime, before succumbing, 89-85. At the forefront were - as is so often been the case over the past three and a half seasons - heroics from Scottie Reynolds.
He matched his career-high by detonating for 40 points, including 5-8 from three-point range and an incredible 15-16 from the free throw line. Villanova somehow made their final 18 free throws of the contest, a remarkable percentage.
Equally heroic was Reggie Redding. In the second half, the defensive specialist helped to contain the Pirates' star, Jeremy Hazell, who had scored 23 points in the first 25 minutes of the contest. (He would finish with 26 points, ultimately.) However, despite Redding's tenacious defense, Hazell had tied the game at 76 at the end of regulation, with less than 10 seconds to play. When Reynolds missed a shot at the buzzer, overtime commenced - and the Wildcats managed to foil the upset bid by the Pirates.
That game was the 53rd meeting all-time between the schools, whose rivalry goes all the way back to 1920-21, the Wildcats' inaugural season. Villanova now leads all-time, 33-20; as members of the Big East, Villanova holds a 30-17 record in the regular season, and a 2-1 advantage in Big East tournament play.
It was a heartbreaker for Seton Hall, which dropped its seventh consecutive game against Villanova. The Pirates' last victory in the series was on February 21, 2004 (Jay Wright's third season at the helm) - my game story can be read here....
Seton Hall's last victory at the Pavilion is even more distant - February 26, 1994, in which they won 70-59.
Seton Hall is currently at 3-5 Big East (12th place out of 16), 12-5 overall. Their current RPI (52) is currently far stronger than it was last season, when it finished at 101. Moreover, the addition of Villanova's potent #4 RPI to the mix - win or lose - will help boost the Pirates' profile as well - as will their next opponent, Pitt, who is at #20.
The Pirates are once more led by their star, Hazell. He averages 22.5 points/game, and is also the only prolific three-point shooter Bobby Gonzalez has. He averages over 10 three-point attempts per contest, more than twice as many as the next highest, Jamel Jackson, who plays less than 13 minutes a game.
Herb Pope is the only other Pirate who averages in double figures - a double-double, as he averages 12.3 points and an outstanding 11.4 rebounds per contest. His Achilles' heel is at the free throw line, where he converts a shockingly low 42.4% of his attempts. Seton Hall's rotation appears to be a eight-man variety, as only eight Pirates participated in their most recent contest, an overtime loss to USF.
Three Pirates played elsewhere, before transferring to Seton Hall. One is Jeff Robinson, a forward who transferred after two years with Memphis, who averages 9.7 points, and 5.5 rebounds. The other is guard Keon Lawrence, who came to South Orange after two years at Missouri, and who averages 5.2 points, 2.6 rebounds. Robert Mitchell left Duquesne after a single year, and the wing player averages 8.8 points, 4.6 rebounds per contest.
Jordan Theodore (guard, 8.3 pts, 3.3 assts, 1.3 turnovers) and Eugene Harvey (8.0 points, 4.6 assts, 2.5 turnovers) appear to share duty at the point, due to the assist numbers. Fifth-year senior John Garcia (forward/center, 4.2 pts, 4.3 rebs) rounds out the rotation.
It appears that Gonzalez has a deep rotation - something which most Villanova opponents haven't had. The deep bench gives Seton Hall a key advantage, as the Pirates can go 10 deep, just as Villanova can.
What has to be particularly galling for Seton Hall, this season, are the near-misses. The Pirates have three overtime losses this season - West Virginia, Virginia Tech (in the exotic location of Cancun, Mexico), and USF.
I would place Seton Hall on the bubble, at this point. One thing that the Pirates have going for them, is a relatively easy February, once the battles against Villanova and Pittsburgh are over this week. Seton Hall still has to play DePaul, St. John's, and two games against in-state rival Rutgers (i.e., the three lowest teams in the current Big East standings).
If the Pirates were to beat any of their strong opponents - Villanova and/or Pitt and/or West Virginia - sweep the three weak teams, and manage some victories against middling teams such as Notre Dame or Providence, the Pirates would have a real shot on Selection Sunday. The Pirates also have a great nonconference loss to nationally ranked Temple, also.
One irony - given Reynolds' 40-point explosion last season - is that he will almost certainly hit the 2,000-point plateau, tomorrow, on Groundhog Night. He currently sits at 1,993 points, and barring injury or his picking up of three quick fouls in the first half, he'll get to the milestone in front of the Pavilion faithful. (And I certainly hope that he does, as Villanova must travel to Georgetown for the next battle.
Seton Hall has to do what has always been difficult - beating Villanova at the Pavilion. This actually will be the Wildcats' first Pavilion appearance, in over three weeks - the last contest there was a narrow triumph over Marquette back on January 6. (The last two home games were at the Wachovia Center, against Georgetown and Notre Dame). The Wildcats carry a 35-game winning streak into the game, as they haven't fallen at the Pavilion in over three calendar years: the last loss was to DePaul in January 2007.
The Wildcats, who haven't lost at all since dropping an upset to Temple on December 14, will be trying to bolster their case for a #1 ranking - odds are that they're already #2...
I'll have a full recap after the game...