That game occurring in the friendly confines of the Bradley Center?
An opponent that will almost certainly play exclusively man-to-man on defense?
An opponent that wants to play a wide-open, up-tempo game?
An opponent that has had problems keeping its opponents from scoring?
An opponent that doesn't shoot very well?
An opponent that, overall, lacks height?
An opponent that has had problems rebounding?
An opponent that will be without one of its key players (but only temporarily)?
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Marquette's next opponent – the Seton Hall Pirates, who will visit Milwaukee ("friendly confines of the Bradley Center") Tuesday evening ("quick-turn-around") looking to even their Big East conference record at 1 – 1 following a recent 12-point loss to Connecticut at the Prudential Center in Newark.
Overall, the Pirates' second-year coach, Bobby Gonzalez, employs the same philosophy on defense ("almost exclusively man-to-man") that he did at Manhattan. SHU is 10 – 4, but that record is a bit misleading. The Pirates have only one win against a high-major team, having defeated Virginia by 14 points on November 24 on the Cavaliers' home court. They came close at home against the Wolfpack of North Carolina State but lost by six. Amazingly, Seton Hall has played four overtime games, three of which they won.
Gonzalez has incorporated the same style of play ("wide-open, up-tempo") that made him so successful at Manhattan. SHU pressures full court and runs at every opportunity. One result has been that Seton Hall ranks second in the conference in scoring (85.0 ppg). However, the Pirates rank dead last among the 16 conference teams in scoring defense ("problems keeping its opponents from scoring") at 80.6 ppg. In fact, SHU also ranks last in defensive field goal percentage at 45.5%.
Remarkably, for a team with such an impressive scoring average, Gonzalez' squad has trouble finding the hoop ("doesn't shoot very well"). The Pirates rank fourteenth in the conference in field goal percentage (43.7%) ahead of only Cincinnati and hapless Rutgers. And their three-point percentage (32.8%) ranks even lower – fifteenth – ahead of only the Scarlet Knights.
While Coach Tom Crean of Marquette has, at times, utilized a four-guard lineup this season, Seton Hall uses what, in essence, amounts to a four-guard scheme virtually the entire game. Only one of the seven players who have earned the most playing time for the Pirates is taller than 6'5" ("lacks height").
Three players with a combined total of 18 games of experience in D-1 prior to this season split time at the 5. Forced to play the 4 is senior Brian Laing, who, at 6'5", is the same height as Wesley Matthews. The former Top 100 recruit is ideally suited to play the 3, regardless of whether he would be called a small forward or third guard (as Matthews is).
This dearth of size has led to a rather paltry rebounding margin of +0.7 ("problems rebounding") a figure that puts them third from the bottom among Big East teams. Paradoxically, the Pirates lead the conference in number of offensive rebounds pulled down per game, but they rank fourteenth in defensive rebounding.
Unfortunately for the Pirates, they will not be at full strength against MU ("will be without one of its key players"). Junior Paul Gause will be sidelined for at least a few weeks because of a broken wrist he suffered against Connecticut. The 5'11" dynamo led the conference in steals last year. Though not a good shooter (35.2% overall and 28.6% on treys), Gause still managed to average 8.6 ppg and 2.8 apg in 24.1 mpg. His loss is a huge blow to a Seton Hall team that was already suspect on the defensive end of the court.
Here's a look at Seton Hall's probable starters and their top reserves:
Eugene Harvey – the 6'0" sophomore point guard was MU's David Cubillan's starting backcourt partner at St. Benedict's in New Jersey for two years. Lightning quick, Harvey made the conference all-freshmen team a year ago and is the league's leading returning scorer. This year he is averaging 16.6 ppg – sixth in the league – and 4.5 apg in 36.4 mpg. Harvey uses his quickness and ball-handling ability to get into the lane, and he excels in transition.
However, Harvey is a poor shooter from 15 feet on out. He has made a total of five three-pointers this year in only 24 attempts for a dismal percentage of 20.8%. Yet, while logic would seem to dictate a defensive approach that sags off the high-scoring sophomore, daring him to shoot from the perimeter, it is hard to imagine MU changing its trademark aggressive on-ball pressure. Look for Coach Crean to continue matching up Jerel McNeal with the opponent's primary ball handler. The Big East's reigning Defensive Player of the Year will have his hands full trying to keep Harvey from getting into the paint where he does his most damage.
When McNeal is on the bench, fans may see the two former prep-school teammates – Cubillan and Harvey - go head-to-head, at least when Seton Hall is on offense. If anyone on MU's roster should be familiar with Harvey, it's his former teammate.
Jamar Nutter – the 6'2" senior guard's game is almost the direct opposite of Harvey's. He is primarily a perimeter shooter as nearly 60% (65 of 110) of his shots have come from behind the three-point line. Overall, Nutter is hitting 39.1% of his field goals, including a respectable 36.9% from behind the arc. Like many shooters, he is inconsistent. He's had games in which he was 3 of 3, 4 of 4, and 5 of 11 from long range, but he was also 0 of 3 against UConn and North Carolina State, and 1 of 4 against Virginia. Nutter has had two games over 20 points, including a 29-point game last week against Morgan State. However, he's also had games of 0, 1, 2, 4, and 6 points.
Overall, Nutter's averaging a respectable 9.8 ppg. Like many streak shooters, he can shoot SHU into a game or out of a game. MU has to prevent him from getting open looks and reduce the likelihood he'll get into a comfort zone.
Jeremy Hazell – the 6'5" freshman has had the most significant impact of SHU's newcomers. In 22.8 mpg he's averaging 11.9 ppg. He has a decent mid-range game, is not afraid to put the ball on the floor, and he can hit the three-pointer. Overall, he's shooting a mediocre 39.7% from the field, but a fairly respectable 35.1% from behind the arc. Like Nutter, Hazell has been inconsistent. Unlike Nutter, some of his better games have come against better competition. He had 21 points in the overtime loss to Penn State, in which he made 5 of 13 treys, and last week against UConn he hit a career high 28 points including 6 of 16 three-pointers. He's certainly not gun-shy. In fact, he's attempted at least eight three-pointers in 8 of SHU's 14 games.
Defensively, the freshman guard has had, as one might expect, some problems at times on defense. He will likely match up with Matthews or possibly with Hayward. Either way, he will face a considerable challenge.
Larry Davis – Davis is another guard averaging over 20 mpg (21.9). The 6'3" sophomore was known as a solid shooter a year ago, but he's struggling somewhat with his shot this season. He's hitting only 32.3% from the field overall, though he is making 36.4% of his three-pointers. Inside the arc he's made only 30.2% of his shots.
For his size, Davis is not a bad rebounder; in fact, he is averaging 3.4 rpg, which is the equivalent of 4.7 rpg in 30 mpg.
With Gause unavailable for the Marquette game, he will almost certainly see considerably more court time. Most likely he will try to defend McNeal as Harvey will probably match up with James, and Davis would have a three-inch height disadvantage against Matthews.
Like Nutter and Hazell, Davis has been inconsistent. Last week, for example, he had his most productive game of the year (relative to playing time) against UConn as he made 3 of 5 three-pointers on his way to scoring 13 points and grabbing 5 rebounds in 23 minutes. The next game, however, against Morris Brown, he scored only 2 points, on 1 of 6 shooting, in 16 minutes.
Brian Laing – the former Top 100 recruit is the Pirates' best all-around player. In fact, he is currently leading the Big East in scoring at 19.6 ppg after averaging 16.5 ppg last season. The 6'5" senior is a natural 3/2, but due to the Pirates' lack of size he has been forced to play entirely at the 4 the last two years. He has difficulty matching up inside against taller, stronger, more physical power forwards, but the reverse side of that coin is that he presents numerous match-up problems on the other end of the court where he uses his quickness and ball skills to break down defenders off the dribble. He can generally get to the rim, and he has developed a nice mid-range game.
Laing is also capable of draining an occasional trey (30.0% for the year), but that is not his strength. He generally takes two or three treys a game, though against N. C. State he drilled 3 of 6. Still, he is most effective in the transition game when he gets a chance to run the floor.
Besides his scoring prowess, he is a remarkably effective rebounder for his size. In fact, his average of 7.6 rpg is definitely impressive. He had 10 boards against UConn last week, no insignificant feat against Thabeet and Adrien.
MU will probably put Hayward on him most of the time, but when LH is on the bench, Coach Crean will likely use a four-guard lineup with either Matthews or McNeal on Laing as he presents a very difficult match-up for Fitzgerald.
Besides keeping Harvey from penetrating into the lane, MU's primary defensive task will be to somehow neutralize Laing without leaving SHU's outside shooters open. It will not be an easy task.
John Garcia – the 6'9" red-shirt sophomore is exactly the kind of big man that has given MU problems in the past. No one has ever accused him of being quick, but he is strong, and he uses his wide body effectively around the hoop. Last year at the Bradley Center he scored almost at will when he was in the game.
This year, the former prized recruit is averaging 7.9 ppg and 7.9 rpg in 20.1 mpg. He is shooting close to 60% from the field (59.1%), but he is a weak free throw shooter (56.4%).
Barro and Burke must keep him away from the hoop, and they have to prevent him from getting offensive rebounds and put-backs. He is averaging 3.6 offensive boards per game, and has had five games with at least 5.
Defensively, Garcia has trouble with quicker players, and he's prone to foul trouble. He has fouled out of three games and had four fouls in three others. But he is also a decent shot-blocker as he averages 1.6 bpg.
The 265 pound center, who has been plagued by knee injuries ever since the end of his junior year in high school, is not the ideal 5 in Gonzalez' system as he lacks quickness and does not run the floor well. But he's the best alternative the Pirates have at the position.
Mike Davis (6'11" freshman) and Augustine Okosun (6'11" junior college transfer) back up Garcia. Seton Hall fans had high hopes for Davis, the former prep school teammate of Lazar Hayward at Notre Dame Prep. Originally committed to Pittsburgh in the Class of '05, Davis had academic issues that kept him from qualifying in either '05 or '06. He was interested in both Rutgers and SHU last summer, but only the Pirates decided to officially offer him a scholarship as reportedly the Knights' Admissions Office had some misgivings.
Apparently, though, Davis got through his first semester of college in good standing, and Pirate fans hope they will see increased production from him during the conference season as he is presently averaging only 8.1 mpg compared to Okosun's 10.1 mpg.
What's the bottom line? Well, without trying to provide bulletin-board material for Coach Gonzalez, SHU appears to be the right opponent at the right time. They play man-to-man, they like an up-tempo game, they don't present some of the match-up issues some other teams do because of their general lack of size, and they will be playing without probably their best defensive player, who also provides a spark on offense.
However, SHU can be dangerous. Just ask Virginia and North Carolina State. They are quick, they apply pressure for 40 minutes, and they have four players capable of scoring 20+ points on any given night.
If MU can't contain Harvey and/or Laing, and if a couple of SHU's perimeter shooters get hot, MU could be in trouble. For that matter, if Marquette's interior tandem of Burke and Barro can't keep Garcia away from the glass, it could be a long night.
Whatever the final score, fans at the Bradley Center will certainly see an entertaining game. No one should be surprised if the two teams combine to score 170 points or more.