Preview: Seton Hall

A closer look at tonight's matchup between the No. 9 Irish and the Seton Hall Pirates

With two games remaining vs. national powers, Notre Dame looks to avoid its final pitfall tonight when they host inconsistent but intermittently dangerous Seton Hall at the Purcell Pavilion.

The Pirates, who annihilated Syracuse at the Carrier Dome earlier this season, rank second-to-last in the league in points per game (63.8) but have limited foes as well, sitting at 8th in the Big East in scoring defense (66.6 per contest). The Hall has struggled to just over 40 percent shooting in conference action, last in the Big East. Exacerbating the issue is a distant-last ranking on shots from long range (a hideous 24.8 percent) while shooting the fourth-highest total of three-point shots among league teams.

Notre Dame has won 83 of its last 88 home games, including a 7-0 Big East mark this season in South Bend.

Seton Hall at No. 9 Notre Dame

Notre Dame (22-5/11-4) – The Irish concluded a three-game road set with a 94-93 win at Providence. Mike Brey's group had its seven-game winning streak snapped last Saturday at West Virginia following a road victory in Tampa over South Florida to start the trip. The loss to the Mountaineers was the team's fourth road conference loss (Syracuse, Marquette, St. John's, WVA). An additional defeat in Louisville at the hands of Kentucky serves as the only non-conference blemish.

Seton Hall (11-16/5-10) – The Pirates have lost four of five and seven of their last 10, though included in that set is a shocking 22-point blowout of then-No. 10 Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. Seton Hall has not played since a February 19 loss at Marquette.

Tip-off: 7:00 (EST) ESPNU

Previous Meetings: Notre Dame handled The Hall, 68-56 in the Big East quarterfinal round last March. Luke Harangody scored 20 with 10 boards in 24 minutes off the bench and the Irish used a 26-10 run at the end of the first half to seize control of the contest.

The Pirates shot-down visiting Notre Dame, 90-87, in Newark last February. Jeremy Hazell was a one-man show for the hosts, hitting for 35 points on a 12-16 shooting effort including eight three-point buckets in 11 attempts. The game also marked the end of Harangody's regular season after the senior hyper-extended his knee going after a rebound.

Series history: The Irish lead the all-time series, 16-8, including wins in seven of the last eight matchups and a 9-1 all-time edge on the Joyce Center floor. The Pirates haven't defeated Notre Dame in South Bend since February 2001, Mike Brey's first season at the helm.

Quality Wins:
Notre Dame (Georgia, Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Georgetown, Connecticut, St. John's, Cincinnati, Marquette, at Pittsburgh, Louisville)
Seton Hall: (Alabama in November, at No. 10 Syracuse on January 25, 90-68)

Point Spread: Notre Dame -9.5

Meet the Pirates

First-year head coach Kevin Willard has endured transfer, discipline, and off-court issues in his initial season in Newark. That was to be expected with the bulk of a formerly troublesome roster returning in the wake of former head coach Bobby Gonzalez's firing last spring.

For the third consecutive season, it's long-range sniper Jeremy Hazell leading the offensive charge. The senior is below his point production of the previous two seasons (22.7 and 20.4) due largely to a gunshot wound suffered outside his home in November.

Hazell missed the bulk of the non-conference season and the opening quartet of league games but has rebounded to score at least 20 in four of his last seven outings, including a 28-point outburst at Syracuse in Seton Hall's route of the Orange in late January.

If in rhythm as he was in last year's Prudential Center win over the Irish (35 points on 16 shots), Notre Dame has no lone defender that can slow down the streaky scoring machine. Period.

Center Herb Pope ranks third in conference games in rebounding (8.4 per game) after leading the Big East last season. The 6'8" 235-pound Pope presents a challenge for Carleton Scott and Tyrone Nash on the defensive glass though his overall level of play has waned over the last two weeks with no double-digit rebounding games and a lone 12-point outing to show for his effortw. Pope ripped down 20 rebounds in the aforementioned upset at Syracuse but is often plagued with early foul trouble, a fact that doesn't bode well for his prospects in South Bend.

Point guard Jordan Theodore has come off the bench in each of the last three outings but he'll play a solid 32-34 minutes this evening. Theodore is a solid on-ball defender but he struggled vs. the Irish in last year's tournament matchup, hitting just 1 of 9 from the floor (41 percent this season). The junior's three-point accuracy has waned since last season as well (36.5 vs. 32.4 percent).

Forward Jeff Robinson has added the threat of the three-ball to his game as a senior. The 6'6 230-pounder is a solid weak side defender and has converted 31 of his 96 shots from beyond the arc, en route to 12.1 points (with 6.7 boards) per contest. Robinson has picked up Pope's recent slack on the glass, collecting 30 rebounds in his last four outings. The senior has hit for double figures in 9 of 14 league games and rarely sits for more than 4-5 minutes per contest.

Rounding out the rotation at present are freshman Fuquan Edwin and senior Eniel Polynice. At 6'5" 220, Polynice has averaged better than 25 minutes per game over the last three contests as a third guard/backup point. Edwin starred in non-conference action with Hazell sidelined, but the first-year swingman has since taken a subordinate role in the offense, failing to reach double figures in 11 of his last 12 contests. Edwin connected for double digits in nine consecutive contests during one mid-season stretch.

Senior Keon Lawrence and Jamel Jackson were dismissed from the team last week. Lawrence enjoyed success vs. the Irish in the Pirates upset last season, registering five assists in 24 minutes.

Close never counts: A blowout win at Syracuse; seven tough losses at the hands of Xavier, Dayton, Temple, Syracuse, Georgetown, Connecticut, and Villanova along the way. The season could have unfolded differently for the Pirates in Kevin Willard's first season, but a necessary roster purge continues after the firing of the unpopular Gonzalez.

The Hall has been as impressive in their narrow defeats as they were in the aberration at the Carrier Dome (Syracuse mailed it in from the opening jump). Hazell gives them a chance in any game with his unlimited range and lack of offensive conscious. Pope and Robinson can damage foes on the glass and Theodore is a veteran floor leader who's played on the Joyce Center floor previously.

A home loss to The Hall would greatly damage Notre Dame's hopes for a second-place finish, a double bye in the upcoming conference tournament, and end its chances for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

The Irish have yet to suffer a bad loss this season, with five defeats vs. NCAA-bound foes the only blemishes. It won't happen tonight, either, as the Irish continue their home court parade to the free throw line in another 80-plus-point effort.

Prediction: Notre Dame 80 Seton Hall 65

Season Predictions (Big East and major conference foes): 16-5; 12-8-1 against the spread.

Note: Irish Eyes will publish its Notre Dame player capsules in a separate column. Top Stories