Preview: West Virginia - Seton Hall

West Virginia tips Big East action with a 4 p.m. match-up against Seton Hall on Saturday.

SCOUTING THE PIRATES

When the Hall makes shots, they can play with all but the top Division I tier. When they don't, the team has the potential to play arguably the most ugly basketball in the Big East. West Virginia scraps, strains and relies on its defense and rebounding – tangibles that allow it to overcome many a bad shooting night and are often enjoyable to watch. Seton Hall bombs away from the outside, usually missing, then attempts to find any way of outplaying a foe in other areas. It had more turnovers than assists (nine to 15) in the win over USC, but forced the Trojans into more turnovers (19) than it had. It was badly outrebounded by Virginia Tech, but the better shooting percentage, a victory in the turnover column and a second half free throw collapse by the Hokies allowed SHU to rally from 14 points down to win.

In its recent three-of-four game skid (losses to IUPUI, James Madison and Syracuse with a win over Farleigh Dickenson), Seton Hall missed 109 of 181 shots in the defeats, including misfiring on 25 of 27 three-point tries versus Syracuse. Part of that was because the Pirates were forced to rely more on the outside game because of the knee injury to John Garcia just before the IUPUI game. Garcia, a 6-9, 265-pound forward/center, averaged 9.6 points and 8.2 rebounds in nine starts. One of three team captains, the senior played in all 32 games last year, starting 19 and averaging seven points and a team-best seven rebounds. He is a game-time decision to play against West Virginia.

If Garcia can't play, SHU's shooting game won't get any easier against WVU, which is quickly establishing itself as among the better perimeter defenses in the league. Head coach Bobby Gonzalez is riding 6-5, 185-pound guard Jeremy Hazell (22.5 ppg) and 6-6, 180-pound forward Robert Mitchell (16.2 ppg, 8.5 rpg). The problem is that they combine to shoot 32.7 percent from behind the arc – respectable, but not a high enough percentage to overcome the rebounding deficit considering both together have taken 159 shots, missing 107. The Pirates are hitting at a 30 percent rate from three-point range and 44 percent from the field. Again, workable numbers with better rebounding and if the three doesn't account for more than 32 percent of shots, as it does with SHU. West Virginia is shooting at the same 44 percent clip from the floor, making two more percent from long range and outrebounding opponents by 10, and has still had a pair of losses and two other tight wins.

The Pirates have talent, certainly, but have yet to fit it together for prolonged stretches. Most of the roster shoots well from the free throw line, and point guard Paul Gause, 5-11, 188 pounds, has almost double the amount of assists as turnovers. The senior averages eight points and four rebounds per game and has 38 steals this season, which leads the Big East in average thefts per game. Shooting guard Eugene Harvey, 6-0, 165 pounds, is good for almost 13 points and four boards per game, but has struggled from the outside. Five man Mike Davis, listed as a forward at 6-11, 25 pounds, plays 14 minutes on average and, in 13 appearances and five starts this year, is still trying to find his game.

Jordan Theodore (6-0, 175-pound freshman) and Brandon Walters (6-9, 225-pound sophomore) are now the main weapons at guard and forward, respectively, off the bench. Theodore plays about 23 minutes and averages 5.6 points and two rebounds. The serviceable New Jersey native isn't a great shooter, but can spell teammates at a pair of slots. Walters is a purely inside player who has had to be increasingly relied upon after the knee injury to Garcia.

OUTLOOK

This game's style could wing on Garcia's health. If he plays, the Hall can dump inside to a skilled player with the ability to finish. If he doesn't, the Pirates will likely have to resort to firing away from deep. West Virginia is certainly a better size match-up for SHU than was Syracuse, but it's difficult to get to the rim against the Mountaineers, who have contested almost everything well over its last six contests. Merely having the threat of a drive-and-dump usually helps create double teams or defensive help off another player, translating into better outside looks on a kick. Without Garcia, WVU can smother the outside without as much of a worry about getting beat on the interior.

BlueGoldNews.com
Game Info
Sat. Jan. 3
4 p.m. EST

Prudential Center
Records
WVU 10-2
Seton Hall 9-4
Series
West Virginia 12-11
TV
Big East Network
MSN Radio
RPI
WVU - 16
SHU - 103

With him, it's another game where WVU must play harder than its foes on the inside to win. With their ability to block out and Seton Hall's penchant for getting beat on the boards, the Mountaineers should be able to control this portion of the game. It has more ability than the Pirates, can shoot better and, typical of a Bob Huggins-coached squad, is expected to give more effort and challenge each shot, rebound, pass, etc. This is a foe that does nothing extraordinary and a prime chance for a league road win. It's certainly the best opportunity for a road victory in the next six road games (Marquette, Georgetown, Louisville, Syracuse, Pitt – all top 25 teams in at least one poll) before a closing stretch of Rutgers, Cincinnati and South Florida. Not getting this one could mean not getting one until NCAA bubble time in late February.

The only other concern is the potential hangover from the win at Ohio State. The then-undefeated Buckeyes wilted under West Virginia's pressure and, frankly, folded faster than most associated with the game could fathom. There are signs out of Columbus that this team isn't quite as good as its ranking or record, and surely Huggins has instructed his team that the win, while a great boost, will mean far less if the Mountaineers don't follow it up well.

INJURY REPORT

WVU: Joe Mazzulla, out (shoulder). Jonnie West, out (broken foot). Truck Bryant probable (thumb).

Seton Hall: John Garcia, questionable (knee).

FAST BREAKS

Seton Hall head coach Bobby Gonzalez was suspended for the Pirates first Big East game – at Syracuse – for arguing with officials during SHU's regular-season league finale' last year. Gonzalez challenged official to review Rutgers' game-wining shot, then ripped the crew during post-game interviews. Commissioner Mike Tranghese suspended the coach for the first Big East game this year. It was his suspension of a coach in 29 years as commissioner. He will step down on June 30.

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Gonzalez is 0-3 against West Virginia and 0-1 against Huggins. WVU has won the last three series games to take a 12-11 lead overall; it has lost four of the last five road games in the series, however.

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Before losing three of its last four, SHU was off to its best start in a decade at 8-2. The Hall is 15-14 all-time in Big East openers. West Virginia is 5-8 in Big East openers. This is the fifth time in six years WVU has opened Big East play on the road.

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Somewhat useless stat of the game: SHU is 6-0 when it scores the game's first field goal. Of slightly more importance: the Pirates are 9-2 when they commit fewer turnovers than their foes and 5-0 when they shoot more free throws.

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This is West Virginia's first time playing Seton Hall at the 18,500-seat Prudential Center in Newark. The recent games have been held at Continental Airlines Arena in East Rutherford, N.J. WVU has won three of its last four games at the Prudential Center. It defeated New Mexico State and lost to Tennessee in the Legends Classic there last season.

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West Virginia is 31-0 under Huggins when outshooting foes and 33-2 when leading by more than 10 points. It is forcing almost 20 turnovers per game this year while holding foes to 55 points. Its 28-point win over then-No. 15 Ohio State was the largest non-conference home defeat in OSU program history.


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