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Preview: #3 Villanova Wildcats vs. Seton Hall Pirates

‘Nova heads to New Jersey to take on a desperate Pirates squad

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-First Round-North Carolina State vs Seton Hall Kelly Ross-USA TODAY Sports Images

The #3 Villanova Wildcats’ season hit another small speed-bump this week with the postponement of the ‘Cats game against the Connecticut Huskies on Thursday night. Unfortunately for the Seton Hall Pirates, their game against the #17 Creighton Blue Jays went ahead as scheduled on Wednesday and ended in heartbreaking fashion for Kevin Williard’s team.

Looking for their marquee win of this strange and unpredictable season, the Pirates blew a 16-point lead and were outscored 33-13 in the second half. Creighton’s Mitch Ballock scored 29 points, including 7-12 from three, in leading the Blue Jays’ furious comeback. Marcus Zegarowski finished with 18 points of his own.

The loss was brutal for a Seton Hall squad desperate to get a win against a top opponent. The Pirates had already suffered a close loss at the hands of Villanova earlier this month and were absolutely boat raced by Creighton in Omaha. As such, Saturday’s game against the ‘Cat sis being billed as somewhat of a must-win for the Pirates as they are unlikely to face a ranked opponent the rest of the way.

Having just played the Pirates less than two weeks ago, Villanova is familiar with what awaits them this weekend. The Pirates, despite the recent choke job, are a team that Villanova never takes lightly given Seton Hall’s penchant for showing up against the ‘Cats.

NCAA Basketball: Wagner at Seton Hall Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

The strength of Hall’s current team is the offense led by Sandro Mamukelashvili. Mamu is averaging 17.9 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game. He dropped 23 points on the ‘Cats in the first meeting on 50% from deep - including two shots taken from Bartley Hall.

Mamukelashvili is buttressed by Jared Rhoden and Myles Cale. Rhoden was on a tear in the first game against Villanova - scoring 17 points on 7-9 from the field in the first half before going ice cold in the second. However, the 6’6 junior is averaging 15.6 points and nearly 7 rebounds a game. As for Myles Cale, in the Pirates’ first game against Villanova, he scored a quiet 11 points on an efficient 67% from the field.

NCAA Basketball: Butler at Seton Hall Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Defensively, the Pirates are still a work in progress. The Pirates score a lot of points...but they give up a lot of points. Seton Hall’s defense currently ranks 95th in KenPom and the team struggles to create turnovers. The Pirates have been relatively successful at protecting the rim but such success has come at the expense of their perimeter defense - something the ‘Cats can hopefully exploit.

The Pirates are going to come into this game highly emotional as they try to get the taste of Blue Jays out of their mouth. As we’ve seen in the past, an emotional team can play recklessly or it can play flawlessly - desperate teams are very unpredictable. With a shooter like Mamukelashvili on the floor, the Pirates have the ability to heat up quickly. The Wildcats will need to manage their own adrenaline and focus on sticking to Jay Wright’s game plan. On paper, this game is shaping up to be a good one.

The Wildcats and Pirates tip off Saturday afternoon at 3:30pm EST on Fox.