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Villanova Basketball 2021-22 game preview: No. 15 Seton Hall Pirates

Kicking off 2022 with a showdown at the Prudential Center.

NCAA Basketball: Rutgers at Seton Hall Wendell Cruz-USA TODAY Sports

Happy New Year’s Eve!

The No. 22-ranked Villanova Wildcats (8-4, 1-1 Big East) will open 2022 with a Saturday afternoon showdown in New Jersey, when they head on the road to play No. 15 Seton Hall (9-2, 0-1 Big East).

Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET on Saturday. The game will be on CBS.

COVID shakeups

Both teams have been affected by COVID, but Seton Hall definitely had it worse. For Villanova, its game against Temple was postponed due to positive cases in the Owls’ program.

As for Seton Hall, the Pirates canceled a non-conference game against Iona, then had their Big East conference games against St. John’s and DePaul postponed.

Seton Hall won’t be entering Saturday’s game completely rusty though, it got a chance to get back into the swing of things with a tough road game at Providence on Wednesday.

The Pirates lost a close fight in a top 25 battle with the Friars, falling 70-65, but they should be in better shape for Saturday and determined to bounce back — especially considering what the Villanova-Seton Hall game means to the Pirates and their fans, it’s always a spirited game on and off the court.

Previewing the Pirates

After enjoying a breakout season in 2020-21, Jared Rhoden is back as the leading man for the Pirates. Rhoden is currently in the top 10 in the Big East for scoring and rebounding averages, topping Seton Hall with 16.7 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.

While he wasn’t on any of the All-Big East teams last year, despite a career campaign, that likely won’t be the case for the tenacious Rhoden this season, who is thriving in his senior season with the Pirates.

Also keep an eye out for Bryce Aiken, who’s averaging the second-highest points at 11.2 per game. Aiken, who transferred in from Harvard last season, seems to finally be settling in his new surroundings, after injuries bogged down his first year at Seton Hall.

After Rhoden and Aiken, there’s Tyrese Samuel, who’s taking a big step forward in his third year with Seton Hall as a weapon off the bench and the occasional start. Samuel, a 6-foot-10 big man, has stepped it up in nearly all facets of the game. He’s more of a scoring threat and is a strong presence on the boards and defensively overall. Samuel is averaging 10.8 points and 6.9 boards per game, and continues to play big minutes in the frontcourt while defensive stalwart and blocking machine Ike Obiagu nurses an injury.

However, Seton Hall’s most impressive asset is its depth and balance. While they do have a player like Rhoden to lead the way, the Pirates have eight different players that score more than seven points per game.

Fifth-year senior guard Myles Cale continues to be a steady reliable contributor for the Pirates. Recent transfers Kadary Richmond (Syracuse), Jamir Harris (American) and Alexis Yetna (USF) have carved out their roles in the starting lineup and in the overall rotation. They seem to be transitioning well in their new surroundings. 6-foot-10 stretch big man Tray Jackson is solid inside but also adds a much-needed perimeter shooting presence when left open.

It won’t be pretty

The Villanova-Seton Hall showdowns of recent years, especially when played at the Prudential Center or at Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament, have been absolute grind-it-out games. Saturday’s game likely won’t be any different, and you don’t need to dive into the numbers and stats to know that.

Although Seton Hall stumbled against Providence, Saturday will likely be a glimpse of the “real” Pirates.

The Wildcats’ defense has been great, even despite the inconsistencies on offense. Seton Hall will gladly be able to say the same for its team.

Seton Hall is ranked 30th for defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, while Villanova is 32nd.

Villanova excels at taking care of the ball, boasting the eighth-best turnover rate in the country at 13.4% of possessions. Seton Hall isn’t too far behind, at 15.5% (25th in Division I basketball).

The Pirates might not be the best three-point shooting team (29.2% from three-point range, 310th in the country), but they sure know how to defend the perimeter. Seton Hall has held opponents to just 25.7% from beyond the arc, the seventh-best rate in college basketball.

It might not be the highest-scoring game or the prettiest, but Saturday will definitely be a fun one to kick off 2022.