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Behind Enemy Lines: The Seton Hall Pirates

Wildcats vs Pirates coverage

I won't lie, this is one of my least favorite games of the year, and it's only gotten worse since Bobby Gonzalez decided he wanted to steal purses. I used to love watching that maniac pace the sidelines. Fortunately Mike Rice and Mick Cronin have stepped it up in his place, but I still feel a little empty inside knowing that Gonzo is gone from our lives.

Unfortunately Jeremy Hazell still is in it.

With tonight's game against the Seton Hall Pirates feeling more and more like a must-win for the Villanova Wildcats, we thought we'd get in touch with our good friends at South Orange Juice (formerly Gonzo Ball, but, yeah, you know) for a quick discussion on Seton Hall, and their thoughts on Villanova's potential move up in football as a fellow basketball-only school.

Many thanks to JP from South Orange Juice for taking the time to field our questions! Let's get to it...

Relative to your preseason expectations, how has Seton Hall performed this season?

Expectations coming into the year were very high with all of the returning talent from a team that, for all its issues, was literally one win away from the NCAAs. So in that regard, the Pirates haven't done so well. But when you consider that Kevin Willard is a first-year coach in the toughest conference in America that lost his top scorer 3 games into the season and didn't have his best big man in prime physical shape until about 5 games into the Big East schedule, he's done about as well as can be expected. Add in the headaches he surely has had trying to clean up Gonzalez's mess, and he's done a decently good job this year. Now that everyone is back and pretty much healthy, the Pirates are once again a tough out.

How high can the program rise under the direction of new coach Kevin Willard?

What Kevin Willard brings to the table is a coach that stresses character and defense above all else. In other words, he's a total 180 from the previous regime. He does not take any crap from any of his players, and you saw it in the dismissals of resident headaches Keon Lawrence and Jamel Jackson. He has rules, and if you don't play by them, you don't play at all.

He has 5 freshman recruits coming in next year, and in all of the evaluations, you find that all of them are smart players, with good character and "basketball IQ." I believe it will definitely take a bit of time, but Willard can certainly make the Pirates a top-8 team in the Big East with that type of players. Will they compete for the top-4 spots? That will be very hard in the meat-grinder that is the Big East. But top-8 is definitely doable down the road.

Who will step up and be the new face of the program after Jeremy Hazell graduates?

Good question. I really don't know who the face of the program will be next year with all the seniors leaving. Herb Pope has said that he plans to return for his senior season, and Jordan Theodore will also be a senior next season. If I had to guess, it would be those two for next year. After that, who knows?

As a fellow basketball-only school in the Big East, are you at all worried that some basketball only schools could be kicked out in the future?

Somewhat, but the only school that should be worried about that is DePaul. When you look at the basketball-only schools (Georgetown, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall, Villanova, Notre Dame, DePaul, Marquette), the first 4 are founding members (the Big East has never kicked out a founding member), Nova and Marquette have great basketball traditions, Notre Dame is Notre Dame. That leaves only DePaul, who, if they don't improve in the next few years, I could definitely see on their way out. I don't buy the major market argument with them because they don't have the attention of that market anyway. So DePaul should be mildly worried. All the others are likely to stay, in my opinion.

If you were in the position of Villanova, would you join the Big East for football? Why/why not?

I think that I would for the simple reason that it has been done before. UConn was in a similar position when they joined the conference for football, and they have turned into a very competitive team that competes at or near the top of the conference every year. Considering all the success Villanova has had at the D1-AA level, I would very much consider it because of that blueprint, so to speak, of what UConn did.

Other than Hazell, who is the one player that 'Nova fans want to keep an eye on during Tuesday night's game?

Definitely Theodore. Much of Kevin Willard's offense is predicated on solid point guard play, and when Theodore has turned in great performances this year, the Pirates have tended to win the game. He played tremendously at Rutgers on Saturday, and when he does his thing and runs the offense well, the Pirates are a very, very tough team to beat.

How do you see this game playing out?

I think Corey Stokes' injury plays a big part in this game because it takes away the Wildcats' best three-point option. The Pirates are 11th in the nation in defense according to Ken Pomeroy's rankings, and I think they will throw a lot of zone at Villanova to make other guys shoot over the zone. The Pirates must focus on defense and not fouling when they are there. Nova is the best at shooting free throws in the Big East, so sending them to the line will not be a good thing for Seton Hall. This game should be about 50-50 with Stokes out.

PREDICTION: SHU-65  Villanova- 63

Again, thanks to JP for taking the time. Head over to South Orange Juice to chat with The Hall fans for tonight's game!