Villanova handled Butler in their second-consecutive New Years Eve match-up with a 67-55 victory over the cold-shooting Bulldogs at the Pavilion. Now 1-0 in Big East play, the Wildcats are heading on a road-trip for their next-two games in the New York area, with Seton Hall up next. The Pirates lost twice to Villanova in the regular season last year, but at Madison Square Garden, they played the 'Cats close and knocked them out at the end of regulation.
This season has Seton Hall sitting at 11-2 overall with a win during Wednesday's New Year's kick-off event over St. John's. The Wildcats may be looking to avenge last season's Big East-ending loss, but the Hall is also a different team this season, with their two losses coming on long road-trips to Wichita and Georgia, and a renewed sense of confidence that has been building since the end of the 2013-14 season.
Who needs Isaiah Whitehead?
Isaiah Whitehead was one of the top recruits in the nation when he joined the Pirates for this season. He is supposed to be their star player and certainly has the most basketball talent on the roster, but a stress fracture in his right foot has him sidelined.
Not that it mattered against St. John's, who were ranked 15th in the latest AP College Basketball poll, with the Hall winning 78-67 in the marathon's early game. Whitehead was averaging 26 minutes, 11.9 points, 4.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.3 steals per game for the Pirates. He will likely also miss tomorrow's game.
Hall still needs Sterling Gibbs
Part of the reason why SHU didn't seem to need Whitehead on Wednesday was that veteran guard Sterling Gibbs was able to put the team on his back. Gibbs led all scorers with 25 points and added 8 assists and 2 rebounds to the cause as well. He bad 18 points, 5 assists and 2 steals in the Hall's other game since the Whitehead injury, a 72-43 victory over Maine. Gibbs is the top 3-point shooter on the team as well, connecting on over 53% of his shots from beyond the arc.
Guard Jaren Sina and Forward Angel Delgado have also stepped up to help on the scoreboard in the last two games, averaging 13.5 and 11.5 points respectively. Khadeen Carrington offered double-digit scoring off the bench as well, and Forward Brandon Mobley was a factor against the Johnnies with 13 points. At the end of the day, however, Seton Hall's success seems to be driven by Sterling Gibbs' ability to drive their offense. Disrupting his ability to do that is important to taking control of a game against SHU.
SHU's improved defense
This is likely one of Seton Hall's better defensive teams in a few years. Opponents haven't been able to take advantage of them from the perimeter -- an area where Villanova's offense has been about average -- and they are above-average in most categories. The 'Cats will have to be ready for a challenge from a team that could benefit immensely from a victory in this game.
SHU plays mostly man defense and was able to hold the Johnnies to just 36.4% in the second half. The Wildcats are a better offensive team than that, however, but while they may be able to shoot a higher percentage, SHU will still be looking to hold them back and create turnovers. Seton Hall outscored the Red Storm 12-7 on fast-break points, and will look to pick the Wildcats' pockets as well to avoid testing their offense in the half-court.
They have had a great home crowd this season as well, which helps things along, and the game tomorrow was announced as sold out by the school well in advance of game day.