Due to injuries and transfers, Seton Hall dresses just ten players for games, but kinetic head coach Bobby Gonzalez has juggled his remaining players well enough to stay in the hunt for a spot in the Big East tournament.
The loss of center Grant Billmeier has pushed the Pirates to a three-guard look, but that hasn't hurt them offensively. Seton Hall leads the league with a 76.4 points per game scoring average, and generates points both in transition and the halfcourt.
Freshman guard Eugene Harvey (6-0, 165 lbs.) is a candidate for the conference all-rookie team. He averages 15.7 points per game, but also dishes out 4.5 assists per contest. His decision making on when to pass and when to shoot has been excellent, and makes him a difficult player to contain on the offensive end. Backcourt mate Paul Gause (So., 5-11, 190 lbs.) averages 9.1 points and 3.7 rebounds per game, and while not the percentage shooter that Harvey is, can hurt teams from long range. He also leads all Pirate pillagers with 67 steals. Third guard Larry Davis (Fr., 6-3, 185 lbs.) has similar numbers to those of Gause (8.5 points and 3.7 rebounds per game), but is more efficient in getting points from his shots, as he hits 47.4% from beyond the arc.
Forward Brian Laing (Jr., 6-5, 215 lbs.) paces the front line and the team with 16.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. Like Harvey, he is also an accomplished passer, having dished out 2.2 assists per game from his front line position. A well-rounded player, he can also score from the perimeter, but does most of his damage on midrange shots and drives to the basket. Running mate Stan Gaines (Sr., 6-7, 240 lbs.) contributes 6.4 points and 4.4 rebounds per outing,
Off the bench, Jamar Nutter, who has started 17 games this year, averages 12.4 points per game, providing another scoring boost for the explosive Pirates. Nutter (Jr., 6-2, 205 lbs.) could replace one of the other guards in the starting lineup should Gonzalez want more scoring punch to counteract WVU's marksmen. Forward John Garcia (Fr., 6-9, 265 lbs.) will likely get most of the minutes in relief of Laing and Gaines. In just five games this year (he sat out the year's first 17 games while recovering from knee surgery), the big interior presence made 12 of his 14 shots to average 5.4 points per game.
Although the systems certainly are not identical, the Pirates got at least a taste of what they will face against West Virginia when they faced (and crushed) Princeton on Monday.
|Sat Feb 3|
WVU 17-4, 6-3
SH 12-9, 3-5
|Sirius Channel: 143|
WVU - 45
SH - 107
SHU will certainly amp up its full court defense to its highest levels against the visiting Mountaineers, who faced only token pressure from Rutgers in their win on Wednesday. That will put more of a burden on guards Darris Nichols and Alex Ruoff, who will have to work hard to get the ball across the midcourt line and get West Virginia into its offense. With Joe Mazzulla still questionable and Devan Bawinkel and Ted Talkington still limited in both readiness and minutes, the game could come down to a battle of attrition at the guard spots. Hopefully, both Nichols and Ruoff were able to get some rest on their treks back and forth to New Jersey, because both will likely see at least 37-38 minutes of action against the Pirates.
An outgrowth of handling that pressure will be protecting the ball. Seton Hall doesn't just press for show, as its average of 10.6 steals per game attests. The Pirates have forced 398 turnovers on the season (19.0 per game), and get a number of points in transition off those miscues. West Virginia, or course, usually cares for the rock well, but did get off to a bad start in the turnover department against the Scarlet Knights, giving it away five times in the opening minutes. After correcting that problem, WVU made the most of its possessions, and finished the game with just seven turnovers. However, another bad start, and an early double-digit deficit, might be too much to overcome against a squad that looks more well-rounded than Rutgers.
Defensively, West Virginia must figure out a way to keep Harvey out of the lane. Despite his smallish stature, Harvey penetrates and gets to the basket frequently. Only 28 of his 260 shots this year have come from beyond the arc, and the speedy point guard has gotten to the free throw line a team-best 102 times. The Mountaineers must cut down on his driving lanes and keep from fouling him when he does get inside, as his 81.4 free throw percentage allows him to take advantage of those trips to the line.
WVU: Joe Mazzulla (Thigh) Questionable
SH: Grant Billmeier (Knee) Out
Fouls, and resulting free throw shooting, are certainly things to keep an eye on in the game. The Pirates, with their pressing defense, have committed 439 fouls and suffered 19 disqualifications this year. Meanwhile, WVU has improved its free throw shooting to 69.5%, and could be in a position to take advantage of multiple trips to the line if it attacks Seton Hall's press aggressively.
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Big East maven and television colorman Bill Raftery is a former Seton Hall head coach, having guided the Pirates to a 154-141 record from 1970-1981. Known for such phrases as "the kiss" (for a shot off the backboard), Raftery received the 2006 Curt Gowdy Media Award from the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in September 2006.
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Is anyone else starting to get disappointed when a Frank Young three-pointer doesn't go in? The feeling that permeated the building last year when Kevin Pittsnogle launched from long range has been transferred to Young, at least for us. The senior is now hitting 43.1% of his three-point tries -- .1% better than his field goal percentage overall.
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Two former thorns in the Mountaineers' sides are on the bench for the Pirates. Sharpshooter Geoff Billet, who routinely tossed in long-range bombs for Rutgers in the late 90s, is an assistant coach for Gonzalez. Seton Hall alumnus Shaheen Holloway, who is the school's all-time assist leader is the team's administrative assistant.
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West Virginia has to be one of the last teams in the country that doesn't have a player with 100 rebounds. We all know the reasons for those low totals, but it's an interesting stat nonetheless. Rob Summers (96) is the closest to the mark, but Joe Alexander (93) could make a late rush to pass him, especially if West Virginia continues to deploy its smaller lineup for long stretches of the game.