West Virginia's 81-70 sinking of the Pirates in the Meadowlands started The Hall on a three game losing streak. Neither of the losses were shockers, as SHU dropped decisions to Villanova and Connecticut, but the decision put them back to 3-8 in the league and 12-12 overall. That record has them out of an NCAA at-large bid race and puts them in serious jeopardy of not making the Big East tournament. As of Friday morning, the Pirates were two games behind Providence and UConn in the race for the final two spots in New York, so this is likely a game that SHU has to have in order to get back into the fight.
Seton Hall continues to struggle with its shooting, as it converts just 31.9% from three-point range and 42.1% overall from the field. While averaging 75 points per game overall, the Pirates are tallying just 69.8 in league play, while their defensive yield is 76.8. Freshman Eugene Harvey, the likely Big East Newcomer of the Year, has matched his scoring and rebounding totals during the conference slate, and is a bright spot in the Pirates future, but does he have enough in the tank to lead his team to a road conference win? SHU is 0-5 on the road in league play this year.
While three games against foes in the top 25 were certainly important, this first of the final two home games for the Mountaineers figures, in some ways, to be even more so.
|Sat Feb 17
WVU 19-6, 7-5
SH 12-12, 3-7
|Sirius Channel: 153|
WVU - 46
SH - 128
Often a team that has lost the first half of a home and home set comes out firing in the return game, especially if a natural rivalry or other conflict exists. That isn't the case here, but the Pirates are playing for their tournament lives, in the form of both the Big East and NIT variety, and this is one of the contests that the Pirates likely must have in order to have a chance at either of those events.
To forestall that effort, West Virginia must get out to a solid start and take command of the game early – something that they have been unable to do in any of their losses. In those contests, the Mountaineers have often fallen behind early and spent much of the remaining game trying to claw their way back into the contest (sometimes with success, and sometimes without). However, with this contest on the friendly home court of the WVU Coliseum, that should be enough of an advantage to get the job done.
Of course, there's a flip side to the first item discussed here – the danger of looking ahead. Most West Virginia fans have already assigned a pair of wins to WVU in its final two games, forgetting that the Pirates routinely play the Mountaineers well, and that Cincinnati upset WVU in overtime last month in the Queen City. Although they typically play well at home, and haven't shown the inclination to look ahead so far, this still-learning Mountaineer squad will, at some point, have to battle that temptation. If they are able to keep their focus on the game at hand, the end story should turn out o.k.
WVU: Devan Bawinkel (Hand) Out
SH: Grant Billmeier (Knee) Out
With home games against Pitt and South Florida, and road games against Cincinnati and Louisville remaining on the schedule, the WVU game could be the swing contest in earning a spot in either the Big East or NIT tournaments for the Pirates. A 3-2 record in those games could be enough to sneak in.
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West Virginia can tie the all-time series with the Pirates at 11-all with a win.
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There's something to be said for continuity. Seton Hall has used nine different starting lineups this year. West Virginia has used but one. While both teams have had injuries, WVU's have come to backup guards Joe Mazzulla and Devan Bawinkel, while the Pirates saw starter Grant Billmeier go down with a knee injury.
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Darris Nichols makes 47.4% of his shots from the field – a very good number for a guard. He's also hitting 39.2% from three-point range, and makes 87.5% of his free throws. Yet, he only averages 9.9 points per game. Why? He doesn't shoot nearly as much as some of his teammates, and he often disdains his own shot in favor of running the offense.
There's certainly nothing wrong with that, but when foes are paying special attention to Frank Young or taking away Joe Alexander, Nichols has to come to the fore. He has show inklings of that in several games this year, and there's no doubt he has the talent to take over games. Just shoot it, Darris.