10 THOUGHTS ON THE SETON HALL GAME
Seton Hall (15-5, 5-3) ended Rutgers (13-7, 5-5) four game Big East winning streak – the longest since Rutgers joined the Big East in 1995-1966, with an 85-58 dismantling at the Meadowlands. The game was a landmark game in the Rutgers-Seton Hall series. It was the first game where both teams had something big on the line. Not just NIT berths, but NCAA berths. But the game hardly resembled a showdown. It more closely resembled an execution. Rutgers started the game flat and Seton Hall quickly ended any doubts about the outcome after seizing a 23-8 lead with 12:00 remaining. Rutgers never got within 10 points thereafter. Seton Hall led by 18 points at halftime and stretched the lead to 30 in the final minutes. Here are ten thoughts on the Seton Hall game.
1. Road Kill Cafe. Dinner was served at the Meadowlands last night. A familiar entrée was featured on the menu. Seton Hall played with a passion commensurate with the importance of the game. Rutgers? Well, maybe Head Coach Gary Waters said it best, when was quoted in the Courier News, ""Everybody else is making it out to be the biggest thing in the world, but it's just another game to me." Well, it was another game. Another road game. Which meant that Waters' team played with its usual sense of urgency. Or should I say lack thereof? Not the first time they've shown up flat for a game with Seton Hall. Nor the first time this season that they've essentially mailed in a game with the tipoff.
2. Transition Defense. The official statistics show Seton Hall outscored Rutgers 14-4 in fast break points. Fast breaks don't entirely encompass transition situations, which I consider as ending when the defense sets its half court defense. Rutgers' vulnerability in transition was compounded by poor shooting and minimal offensive rebounding, which combined to maximize transition opportunities for Seton Hall. Sr PG Andre Barrett is the best point guard in the league. He thrives in the open court where his dribbling and passing skills are so effective. Seton Hall's 55% FG shooting partially reflected the abundance of easy transition scoring opportunities that the Pirates seized.
3. Defensive Rebounding. Seton Hall manhandled Rutgers on the offensive glass, grabbing 10 of 28 rebounds available on the Seton Hall backboard. Rutgers collected only 64% of the rebounds available on their offensive glass. I consider 67% to be the threshold below which a team has lost the battle on its defensive boards. So C Kelly Whitney grabbed 3 offensive rebounds while Sr SF Marcus Toney-El and Jr SG John Allen garnered two each. The extra opportunities, which Rutgers allowed a hot-shooting Seton Hall team to realize, accelerated Rutgers' demise. Jr SF Ricky Shields didn't collect a single rebound in 30 minutes of play. Jr SG Juel Wiggan grabbed only one in 29 minutes. Sr C Sean Axani played 18 minutes but grabbed only 1 defensive rebound.
4. Herve on Sweet. Rutgers possessed a clear edge over Seton Hall only at PF, where Sr Herve Lamizana was matched against Jr role player Andre Sweet. Lamizana was coming off back-to-back double-double performances against Notre Dame and Miami. Lamizana led Rutgers is scoring (14 points) and rebounding (7) but was dominant in neither. Herve made only 5 of 12 FGAs, 0 of 5 3PAs, and 4 of 6 FTAs. Lamizana was ineffective scoring in the low post because Seton Hall repeatedly double-teamed Herve. Lamizana passed out of the double teams for 4 assists, but often failed to kick out to open teammates. Some have said Herve played well. But in a game in which he needed to dominate, he failed to so. And Rutgers lost its only edge. In fact, Sweet outscored Lamizana 15-14 on much more efficient shooting (4 of 8 FGAs, 3 of 4 3PAs, and 4of 4 FTAs).
5. So PF Adrian Hill. Sr PF Sean Axani injured his shoulder late in the Miami game. His health for the Seton Hall game was estimated at 80%. Nonetheless, Waters started the injured Axani. Hill played 28 minutes off the bench but only contributed 5 rebounds. Hill (and Axani) combined to limit Whitney to 7 FGAs and 10 points. But neither could handle Whitney on the glass. Whitney outrebounded Hill by an 11-5 margin in roughly the same amount of playing time.
6. The Rutgers Fans. Seton Hall is averaging about 8,000 attendance at its home games. The announced attendance at the Rutgers game was 15,000. Estimates have placed the Rutgers contingent at 4,000 to 5,000. The Rutgers fans were present in sufficient size to be heard. Though shunted to the upper deck of the arena, the Rutgers fans engaged the home crowd in a spirited cheering battle. Until the opening tipoff. By 12:00 of the first half, the Pirates effectively silenced the Rutgers contingent. Rutgers' fans traveled well but the uninspired play of the Scarlet Knights gave them nothing to cheer.
7. Offensive Rebounding. Seton Hall outshot Rutgers 55%-33% and took 11 fewer FGAs than did Rutgers. Far fewer offensive rebounding opportunities were available to Seton Hall than to Rutgers. Yet, the Pirates collected 10 offensive rebounds to only 9 for the Scarlet Knights. Rutgers collected only 9 of 47 (19%) rebounds available on its offensive glass. I consider 25% to be the threshold below which a team has lost the battle on its offensive boards.
8. Ricky Shields. Shields arrived on the Banks as the most heralded member of Kevin Bannon's last recruiting class. The class that Bannon never got a chance to coach. Shields appeared to be a player in the mold of former Scarlet Knight Dahntay Jones. Strong. Athletic. Nice touch from the outside. Ability to take the ball to the rim. Yet, in three years, Shields has more closely former Scarlet Knight Jeff Greer. Greer was noted for his ability to disappear for long stretches of games, only to catch fire over a brief period. Shields has developed the same reputation. Worse still, he has become a one-dimensional threat – 3-point shooter. His ball-handling is terrible – contributing substantially to his TOs in Big East play. Shields' sweet mid-range game has disappeared – replaced by Colemanesque 3-point bombs or futile drives to the rim that result in TOs, rejections, or forced shots. Shields scored 14 points on 5 of 12 FGAs, 3 of 7 3PAs, and 1 of 1 FTA. His defense has not improved and his rebounding is often sloppy as he often fails to make even the slightest effort to block out his man. How does a player fail to grab a rebound in 30 minutes? It was probably just luck.
9. Calvin Wooten. In a game that was over almost as soon as it began, So SG Calvin Wooten played only 7 minutes. In a game in which Rutgers misfired repeatedly from the perimeter, the player with best shooting percentage on the team spent most of game on the bench. Juel Wiggan struggled defensively against Barrett and missed all nine of his FGAs. Wooten attempted only a single shot. Wooten played 7 minutes against Miami as Waters, desperate to find a player who could score, turned to Wooten as his last resort. Previously, Wooten had played 22 minutes in the six prior Big East games, including two DNPs. There are those who would say Wooten's knee injury has limited his time. But Seton Hall's Whitney also missed the first semester with a similar "knee injury". I'm not buying the knee injury excuse any more now than I was when Wooten made a remarkable return in December eight months removed from an alleged ACL injury. Something is wrong and it has nothing to do with Wooten's knee. Wooten appears destined to suffer the same fate as so many other members of the Gary Waters family – Eugene Dabney, Harry Good, Cortez Davis, Mike Sherrod, and Jason McCoy.
10. Post Season Implications. Entering the Seton Hall game, I speculated that Rutgers will likely need two more road wins to earn an NCAA tournament bid. Seton Hall posed the best opportunity for Rutgers, in front of a semi-partisan crowd. The Carrier Dome (Syracuse) has proven too harsh an environment in which Rutgers can thrive. And Boston College is too strong up front for a Scarlet Knight team lacking size. The loss at Seton Hall likely has ended Rutgers' realistic post-season dreams. Dreams that have been on life support since a similar road kill effort at UTEP in late December.
After the game, Waters was quoted, "It was embarrassing. But I guarantee you that when we play again (in the season finale), it might well be a different outcome and a different-looking game." Well, it might be a different looking game. And a different outcome. However, the game likely won't have the same meaning, as Rutgers NCAA hopes likely will have been dashed by the regular season finale. Meanwhile, Syracuse is next. On the road. Whoopty-damn-do.
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