Roadblock

One week ago tonight, Notre Dame was a team on the brink with a shaky 4-5 record in conference play. After a blowout rematch win over Cincinnati and a Super Bowl Sunday defeat of South Florida, the Irish are back on the NCAA Tournament bubble at 6-5: currently 7th-place in the Big East but within 1 ½ games of 4th. IrishEyes offers a preview of tonight's contest at high-scoring Seton Hall.

Tonight's matchup vs. Seton Hall in Newark gives the Irish a chance to emerge from their self-inflicted Rutgers' rubble with confidence and more important – a three-game winning streak and 7-5 conference mark heading into Sunday night's home game vs. cellar-dweller St. John's.

Thursday's game will be Seton Hall's first at home since a 64-61 win over then No. 11 Pittsburgh. Since that time, The Hall has dropped three straight, losing in overtime at South Florida, at Villanova, and then suffering an 83-58 shellacking in a rematch at Pittsburgh.

The Pirates have won three consecutive Big East home games (Cincinnati, Louisville, and Pittsburgh) with their two league losses at the Prudential Center coming in an overtime defeat to West Virginia and a seven-point loss to current No. 3 Syracuse, a game in which the Pirates led by six points with 12 minutes remaining.

Below is a closer look at tonight's matchup between the Pirates and the Irish. Tip-off is set for 7 pm (ET) on ESPNU.

At a Glance

Notre Dame: 17-7 (6-5)
  • Losses: Northwestern (Chicago Classic), Loyola Marymount, at Connecticut, at Cincinnati, Syracuse, at Villanova and at Rutgers
  • Ranking Notre Dame's best wins: West Virginia, South Florida, Cincinnati and UCLA (all at home)
  • Loss for the Selection Committee's Consideration: Northwestern; home vs. LMU (7-7); at Cincinnati and at Rutgers

Seton Hall : 12-9 (3-7)
  • Losses: Temple, West Virginia, Syracuse, at Virginia Tech, at Connecticut, at Georgetown, at South Florida, at Villanova, and at Pittsburgh
  • Ranking the Pirates' best wins: Pittsburgh, Louisville, at Cornell, Cincinnati
  • Loss for the Selection Committee's Consideration: Seton Hall has not suffered a "bad" loss this season. A 76-74 OT defeat vs. South Florida in Tampa would hurt the Pirates should they make a late, unexpected run toward an NCAA bid.

Meet the Pirates

  • 6'5" scorer Jeremy Hazell puts the "shooting" in shooting guard, chucking at least 10 three-point field goal attempts on 12 occasions this season. Though he's connected on less than 34 percent of his 207 shots from beyond the arc, Hazell is a rare college scorer, capable of huge nights regardless of the opponent (33 at Cornell, 40 vs. West Virginia, 38 vs. Syracuse, 33 vs. Cincinnati, 28 vs. South Florida, 33 vs. Villanova). If he starts out hot vs. the smallish guard tandem of Ben Hansbrough and Tory Jackson, look out.

    Hazell ranks third among Big East scorers conference games (behind Dominique Jones and Luke Harangody) and first in three-point field goals per game (Tim Abromaitis is currently No. 2 on the list), but has just 13 assists vs. 14 turnovers in 10 conference outings. (Hazell pulled off a rare feat in the Pirates overtime loss to West Virginia: 41 points, 33 shot attempts, 1 personal foul, 0 assists, 0 turnovers).

    The junior from Harlem came off the bench in the Hall's previous outing (the blowout loss at Pittsburgh) and played poorly, hitting 1 of 7 field goal attempts in 32 minutes, scoring just two points. He likewise served as Seton Hall's sixth-man in the Pirates nine-point loss to the Irish at the Joyce Center last season, finishing with 12 points while missing nine of 12 field goal attempts.

    After a two-point no-show in his last game nearly a week ago, Hazell is likely to break out and capable of 30-plus tonight vs. the Irish. He's also a candidate for a disinterested, no-show appearance regardless of his team's overall performance. Jekyll or Hyde? Hazell will have a hand in the outcome of tonight's contest.

  • Transfer center Herb Pope ranks first among Big East rebounders at 10.9 per contest though he's been held in check as of late with seven or fewer boards in his last five contests (Pope exploded for 17 rebounds in a January loss at South Florida and likewise grabbed 17 boards, including 7 from the offensive glass vs. Syracuse in late December). The former New Mexico State starter has 13 double-digit rebound games this season and, more important, leads the Big East in offensive rebounds per contest, gathering 22 of his teammates' misses over the Hall's last six outings.

    At 6'8" 235, Pope is one of the "athletes" of which Irish head coach Mike Brey often speaks – a Big East opponent the Irish must contain on the glass in order to pull out a victory as road underdogs. The junior ranks second on the team at 11.8 ppg though he's been held under double figures in each of the Pirates' last three contests.

  • Sophomore Jordan Theodore and senior Eugene Harvey will run the point for the Pirates. Theodore is fourth in the conference in assist-to-turnover ratio and fifth in steals (just behind his teammate, Hazell). The 6'0" guard is a low-volume shooter (a necessity playing next to Hazell) whose job is to facilitate the offense, head-up the Hall's defensive pressure, and serve as a pest in the passing lanes for 25 minutes per contest. Theodore posted 11 points (and 4 boards) in 27 minutes vs. the Irish last season.

    Harvey started for the bulk of his first three seasons in South Orange, averaging 16 ppg. as a true freshman. Though he's not a major threat from beyond the arc (just one 3-point field goal in eight conference attempts), Harvey has been efficient at 51 percent from the field this season, scoring just over eight points per game while pacing the Hall with 4.6 assists per contest. Harvey has been harried as of late, producing 15 assists vs. 12 turnovers in his last five games, though like Theodore, Harvey's role is to create opportunities for his teammates and to wreak havoc defensively (the senior from Brooklyn notched six steals in a home win over Pittsburgh in late January).

    Both point guards average a tick over 24 minutes of floor time per contest with Theodore logging more playing time over the last five contests.

  • Junior forward Jeff Robinson is a wide-bodied transfer from Memphis (Robinson averaged nine minutes per game for the NCAA runner-up Tigers in 2008). He ranks third on the team in scoring (9.4 ppg) and second in rebound average (5.7 over the last 13 contests after sitting out the first semester due to NCAA transfer rules).

    Robinson has 30 offensive rebounds in his last 11 games and has the potential to hurt the Irish in the lane as a scorer.

  • Sixth-man Robert Mitchell and guard Keon Lawrence both average around 22 minutes per game. Mitchell hurt the Irish with 15 points in a starting role last season. The lanky swingman (6'6" 180) from Brooklyn is third on the team in scoring and rebounds per game while ranking as the Hall's best free throw shooter at nearly 85 percent. Mitchell has struggled from beyond the arc, missing 28 of 38 three-point attempts this season.

    Lawrence, a junior transfer from Missouri, adds quickness and a third-guard presence to what can be an undersized Pirates' lineup.

    Super-sized center John Garcia (6'9" 270) will likely log some time to bang Harangody around and keep the Irish scorer off the low block.

  • Whom to Foul?: Pope (43% on 91 attempts); Garcia (44% on 27 attempts); Theodore is the choice among the guard group (69% on 58 attempts). Seton Hall has five regulars shooting between 70 and 79 percent from the charity stripe (Mitchell, Harvey, Lawrence, Hazell, Robinson).

Previous Matchup

Notre Dame survived a sub par shooting effort from Luke Harangody (8-23 from the field en route to 30 points and 16 rebounds – 7 offensive) to defeat the Pirates 88-79 in early January last season. Tory Jackson and Kyle McAlarney both scored 18 for the Irish (Jackson added 8 assists and 7 boards) and Notre Dame held the high-scoring Hazell to just 12 points on 12 shots off the bench.

The Irish won their last trip to Newark, burying a poor Pirates team, 95-69 in January 2008. Entering the contest with a No. 21 national ranking, Notre Dame had seven players register seven or more points, led by Harangody's 22. The visitors led by 20 at the break and shot just under 55 percent for the contest.

Stats and Streaks

  • Notre Dame has won just 3 of its last 14 conference road games dating back to the beginning of last year's Big East season. The Irish have out-rebounded the opponent in each of those three victories (and were out-rebounded in each of the 11 losses as detailed in the column below).

    The Old Fashioned Way

  • An Irish victory at the Prudential Center would allow the senior trio of Luke Harangody, Tory Jackson, and Jonathan Peoples to match the highest conference win total in program history. The threesome is currently 39-24 in just over 3.5 regular seasons of Big East basketball.
  • The Irish have won the last six games in the series and Mike Brey holds a 9-3 record vs. the Pirates. Notre Dame has not lost to Seton Hall in New Jersey since 2003.
  • The Irish rank first nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.8), third in assists per game (18.4), 29th in field goal percentage (47.5), 23rd in scoring offense (79.4 per game) and 14th in three-point field goal percentage (40.1).
  • The 12-11 Pirates are 10-3 at home this season. Seton Hall is currently a 4.5-point favorite in tonight's contest.

Personnel-ly Speaking

  • After four consecutive games as a single-digits scorer, Ben Hansbrough has responded with his best basketball of the season, hitting for 12.1 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists and just 2 turnovers per contest in the team's last five outings (3-2 record). Hansbrough has hit 12 of 25 three-point shots in that span.
  • Tim Abromaitis has connected on 48.6 percent of his three-point shots this season, good for No. 2 in the nation behind Minnesota sharpshooter Blake Hofbar (50 percent on 14 fewer attempts). Abromaitis has connected on 24 of 39 shots from long-range vs. Big East foes at home while knocking down just 9 of 30 three-pointers in five conference road games. The redshirt-junior hit 35 of his 69 shots from beyond the arc in non-conference play (31 of 57 at the Purcell Pavilion).
  • Luke Harangody continues to bounce between the No. 2 and No. 3 spot on the nation's scoring list. Currently No. 3 with 24.5 ppg, Harangody also ranks No. 20 among the country's top rebounders at 10.5 per contest. Pirates guard Jeremy Hazell is currently tied for 9th among the nation's top scorers at 22 ppg.
  • Harangody needs 10 points to move past former Seton Hall guard Terry Dehere for 3rd place on the Big East's career scoring list.
  • Tory Jackson (2nd) and Ben Hansbrough (3rd) have maintained their positions on the nation's assist-to-turnover rankings at 3.43 and 3.36 respectively. Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor took over the top spot with a 3.73 ratio through the Badgers first 23 games.
  • Jackson entered Sunday's game vs. South Florida hitting just 2 of his last 24 shot attempts in conference home games. The senior broke out of that slump with his best game of the season, netting a season-high 18 points (7-13 from the field) while scoring 12 of Notre Dame's final 21 points. He was the only Irish player to connect on a field goal in the game's final nine minutes.

    Jackson has shot comparatively well in five conference road tilts this season, connecting on 18 of 41 attempts including a 13 of 22 effort in Notre Dame's current 3-game road losing skid.

  • Junior forward Tyrone Nash has improved at the free throw line. Nash hit just 5 of 18 free throw attempts in Big East action last season but has knocked down 25 of 38 through 11 games this year. The Irish power forward must rediscover his road rebounding prowess: after collecting 15 boards in his first two conference road games this season, Nash has grabbed just 7 (total) in his team's last three matchups outside of South Bend.

    His scoring has taken a similar dip: The low-block lefty totaled 22 points in road games at UConn and South Florida (on 19 attempts) but has just 18 points in his last three away from home (on just 10 shots from the floor).

Prediction

There are five key hurdles for the Irish to overcome if they're to board a plane back to South Bend with conference road win No. 2 to their credit:

  • Win or match Seton Hall on the glass, as outlined in the column "The Old Fashioned Way" linked above.
  • Beware the passing lanes: The Pirates have four players that challenge lazy perimeter passes...perimeter passing is a key element of Notre Dame's half-court attack. If Hansbrough can find room to operate in the middle of The Hall's defense, open shots for Abromaitis, et al will follow.
  • Limit Pope as a baseline scorer: 10-12 boards from the athletic junior is expected. More than 10-12 points will pose a problem and open things up for Hazell outside.
  • Jeremy Hazell: If he's going to score 30-plus, it's essential that those numbers are attained because the gunner hoisted 25-plus shots. Don't send him to the line and don't let him get comfortable inside the arc.
  • Blue-Collar 'Gody: Mike Brey's reference to Harangody's 37-point/14-rebound effort vs. Cincinnati last week was telling. The Irish need their star to do the bulk of his damage on the low-block rather than on the perimeter. His presence down low ensures more trips to the free throw line, better offensive spacing, and relates to his teammate's production on the offensive glass and in the paint.

Losers of three straight on the road, Seton Hall is a different team at home. But what concerns me most is how vastly different these Irish remain on the road.

The players talked about change in attitude, approach, and focus since the deflating loss at Rutgers, but I'll believe it when I see it.

Seton Hall 81 Notre Dame 78


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