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Villanova vs. Seton Hall preview: 3 things to watch

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'Nova welcomes the 12-2 Pirates to the Pavilion Wednesday night for their third conference matchup of the season.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The No. 11 Wildcats (12-2, 2-0 Big East) will take on conference foe Seton Hall (12-2, 2-0 Big East) on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. at the Pavilion. The Pirates have been a consistent thorn in 'Nova's side in recent years away from the Philadelphia suburbs—the 'Cats are 1-3 in last four non-home games against them—but Villanova has not lost to Seton Hall at home since 1994, a 13-game winning streak.

Here are three things to look out for during Wednesday night's Big East showdown:

That's my tempo

Is Villanova rushing or dragging? According to KenPom.com, it's almost definitely the latter. The 'Cats are 297th in the nation in adjusted tempo, one of only three top 15 teams (Virginia and SMU play at an even slower pace) to rank that low. 'Nova's tempo has been steadily falling over the last few seasons; it has placed lower and lower with each successive season since 2012. For reference, I've included this handy chart:

YEAR TEMPO NAT'L RANK
2012 68.3 70
2013 67.7 91
2014 67.4 115
2015 64.5 187
2016 67.2 297

Why is this important? 10 of the last 12 Final four teams have ranked 209th or worse in adjusted tempo, and though the two outliers ('15 Duke and '13 Louisville) ended up being national champions, the evidence is still there: if you want to succeed in the tournament, you have to be able to play slow and grind it out. Seton Hall plays at roughly the national average tempo, but its average defensive possession time (17.6 seconds) ranks 268th. This should play into Villanova's deliberate pace and provide a March-like test for the 'Cats, especially given the Pirates' 95.0 adjusted defensive efficiency, which is good for 35th in the country.

Man on fire

Villanova junior guard Josh Hart was held scoreless (and shotless) in the first half of the Wildcats' New Year's Eve matchup against then-No. 6 Xavier. In the game and a half since then,  Hart has been an absolute monster, scoring 40 points on 16-20 shooting after pouring in 15 second half points against the Musketeers before torching Creighton for 25 points two days later. The Silver Spring, M.D. native is having his best year yet; he leads the Wildcats in scoring (15.5 PPG), ORtg (126.8), eFG% (63.2), and is second on the team in rebounds per game (6.6). Hart has had only three games where he hasn't shot better than 50 percent from the field, and he has poured in double digit points in each contest this season. Seton Hall will do their best to stop Villanova's offensive focal point, but there's little reason to believe anyone can slow down Hart with the way he is playing at the moment.

Can the Pirates hold on to the ball?

The turnover battle figures to be a major point of contention between these two teams. Seton Hall is one of the best teams in the country at forcing turnovers (their 21.9 defensive turnover percentage ranks 30th in the nation), and the Villanova (24th in offensive turnover percentage) is one of the best teams at protecting the ball. It will be worth watching to see whether the Pirates are able to coax a few costly errors out of a Wildcats' team that isn't really into giving the ball away. On the other end of the floor, however, Seton Hall could have a huge problem on their hands. 'Nova ranks 24th in defensive turnover percentage as well, but the Pirates turn the ball over at a 19.9 percent rate, which is 255th in the nation. If Seton Hall gets too careless with the ball and they are unable to coerce Villanova into enough mistakes, the Pirates could be in for a long night.

It's been over two decades since Seton Hall last beat the Wildcats at the Pavilion, and on paper Villanova seems to have a clear edge despite the teams' identical records. 'Nova's shooting has come around and their offensive attack seems to be becoming more diverse by the game. Seton Hall has been slightly above average at defending the long distance shot this season, and they have been a generally good defensive team, but the Wildcats are by far their toughest test on both ends of the court. The 'Cats are well equipped to handle everything the Pirates throw at them defensively, especially due to Seton Hall's heavy reliance on sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead, who is taking nearly a third of the Pirates shots, but is only producing a 98.6 ORtg thanks to his poor shooting (34.8 percent). Expect the Villanova's vaunted defense to swallow up Whitehead and force the Pirates into turnovers that short-circuit Seton Hall's offense while fueling its own attack. If 'the Wildcats can take care of the ball, they will have no trouble taking care of one of their most persistent opponents.