Villanova has won its last eight meetings with Seton Hall, and hasn't lost three in a row since spring-semester 2008. Neither of those stats will matter if the 'Cats can't execute in Newark.
The last two games ended in heartbreaking losses, and the 'Cats last trip to New Jersey ended in what can only be called an epic failure. Up ten points with about a minute and a half left, fans were already exiting the building when the 'Cats coughed up an 8-0 run in the span of 20 seconds and then watched as the Scarlet Knights became deadly-accurate from beyond the arc, ultimately losing the game when a foul was called on Rutgers' buzzer-beating three.
Hopefully, Jay Wright's team learned from that experience.
With Corey Stokes* out against Pittsburgh, the 'Cats shot only 36% from the field. He is likely still going to sit out against Seton Hall. Stokes told some fellow students that he would be back for the Syracuse game, but the severity of the injury could have him out longer. The St. Benedict's product will miss out on his last chance to play just 3 minutes away from his old high school (as an amateur).
The Pirates will also be shorthanded when they take the court; prior to the weekend, they dismissed senior guards Keon Lawrence and Jamel Jackson for "a violation of team rules and an ongoing pattern of conduct unbecoming of a representative of Seton Hall athletics." Lawrence had a record of trouble, being caught driving drunk on the wrong side of the Garden State Parkway prior to the 2009-2010 season. Neither player was a major offensive contributor, though Lawrence had appeared in all 24 games this season and averaged 2.9 assists.
The most important player for Seton Hall, however, is Jeremy Hazell, who averages 18 points per game, along with 3.3 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 2.3 steals. Hazell was previously known as a volume-shooter, but this season, field goal attempts is not a category that he leads the team in. He broke into the 2,000-point club on Saturday night at the RAC by scoring 19 points against the Scarlet Knights, and is only the 4th player in Seton Hall history to do so.
So, while Hazell appears to have bounced back from both a broken wrist and then a gunshot wound suffered on Christmas night, he isn't without some help. The Pirates have four players averaging double-digit points. Senior forward Jeff Robinson averages 12.5 ppg and is second on the team at 6.8 rpg. Junior guard Jordan Theodore is third in scoring with 11.2 ppg and leads the team in assists with 4.3 per game. Meanwhile, big man Herb Pope has averaged 10.5 ppg and a tremendous 8.8 rebounds to lead the team.
Mouph Yarou did a good job on Gary McGhee on Saturday, holding his man to just 6 points and 5 rebounds (2 offensive), while recording a double-double. He will need to perform at least as well against Pope. Keeping Pope off of the scoresheet and off of the boards will eliminate a great strength for the Pirates' offense.
Another key match-up will be who matches up with Hazell. Maalik Wayns will likely get the start at the 2-guard, and he is perhaps quick enough to keep up with Hazell, but will be at a size disadvantage against the 6'5" guard. Coach Wright may well go to Dominic Cheek or even James Bell to try and match up with Seton Hall's leading man.
The Wildcats will need to stop Pope and Hazell to keep the game manageable. Keeping Pope off of the offensive glass will create an unforgiving situation for the Hall shooters -- no second chances. Shutting down Hazell would be as good as flipping the off-switch on the SHU offense -- no other player on this team is as dynamic a scorer.
The 'Cats, as always, need to try and draw fouls -- both to put the opposition in trouble and because as the best free-throw shooting team in the Big East, it is the easiest way to score. At the same time, committing a lot of fouls will kill this team if it continues. With Stokes sidelined, the 'Cats can't afford to have scorers like Corey Fisher forced to the bench in foul trouble.
This game will tip-off from the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ at 8pm EST. Television coverage will be available in the Philadelphia area on WPHL 17, while coverage in the New York market will be on SNY.
* I personally believe that Corey Stokes won't return to action until the St. Johns game on February 26th, based on discussions with our sports injuries expert.
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