SCOUTING THE PIRATES
The Hall began the season with a seven-game win streak before being topped by Temple last week. The sweet-shooting Pirates have scored 80-plus points in seven of their nine games and bested the 90-point mark four times. Outside-inside combo Jeremy Hazell and Herb Pope are combining for 34 points and almost 16 rebounds per game. Hazell (6-5, 188 lbs.), the shooting guard, is hitting 42 percent from the floor and 75 percent from the foul line. The junior averages 20 points and has a better than two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio. More a scorer than a distributor, the All-Big East third-team pick was second d in the league and 10th in the nation by averaging 27 points per contest last year. Pope, a Pittsburgh native, originally inked with New Mexico State and former Aggies' coach Reggie Theus, then transferred to Seton Hall when Theus left Las Cruces. The 6-8, 236-pounder is a pure banger who won't often step outside. He is making more than 50 percent from the field – but is susceptible to being hacked as needed because of his 44 percent accuracy from the line. WVU's depth could play a role here, as fouls are used as needed against the forward. Third-leading scorer Robert Mitchell (6-6, 180 lbs.) mans the swing spot. The junior averages more than 11 points and six rebounds, and started 29 games last year after transferring from Duquesne. Mitchell is excellent from the line, but can't hit from long range. Good on the glass at both ends, Mitchell will get his share of putbacks if not bodied.
Point guard Eugene Harvey (6-0, 184 lbs.) scores 10 points per game, but isn't considered a top three option for the Pirates. A decent passer, Harvey is in the mold of most New York-based point guards in that he can handle and drive the lane some. The senior and two-time team captain led the Big East in freshman scoring, then started all 64 games since before missing a start earlier this season. His experience is as good as there is at this level. He isn't an outside threat, but shoots 53 percent from the floor, mainly on drives and finishes. His 58 assists easily lead the team and he has a two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio. West Virginia head coach did not list Truck Bryant as a starter in the game, so how WVU chooses to defend Seton Hall early will be of interest. If Devin Ebanks is put at the point in a zone match, SHU could have an interior edge if it can get the ball to center John Garcia (6-9, 270 lbs.). The senior hits for five points and seven rebounds a game. He isn't a great defender, but he does have 14 blocks and can change some shots in the lane. Ebanks and Kevin Jones should be able to have offensive success here.
Reserve guards Jamel Jackson (6-3, 202 lbs.) and Jordan Theodore (6-4, 174 lbs.) play 17 and 22 minutes, respectively, and combine for 20 points. Both are exceptional outside shooters with the ability to hit from anywhere on the floor. Theodore has a more developed overall game, and averages more than three assists. Freshman Ferrakon Hall (6-8, 220 lbs.) is the only true interior player to see significant minutes. Hall can play the small and power forward slots, and his length and athleticism will match that of any Mountaineer. The Memphis native is yet another Pirate averaging better than 50 percent from the field, and, like others, makes about the same percentage from the stripe. SHU goes about eight to nine deep, and though there is more of a dropoff than WVU's rotation, the Mountaineers need to find a balance between not allowing the easy shot and simply hacking away on the inside.
West Virginia should have advantages in rebounding and in interior defense, but it will be challenged from the outside on both ends. The Mountaineers need to defend every shot and continue to dominate teams on the boards. SHU certainly struggles at the line at some positions and must get the ball to certain players in late-game situations. WVU has not been much better from the foul line, and thus a close game late is a wild card situation. Look for both teams to run as needed, and for turnovers to be key. If the Mountaineers hand the Hall 18, as they did Ole Miss, it will be difficult to win on the road. Protect the ball, defend, hit the glass and maintain composure in just its second true road test. This is likely the second most-challenging game of the holiday foursome, and Seton Hall is more than capable of pulling the upset in the league opener.
|Sat. Dec. 26
3:30 p.m. EST
WVU 9-0, 0-0
SHU 9-1, 0-0
|Sirius Channel: 91|
WVU - 4
SHU - 70
WVU: Joe Mazzulla (Shoulder) – Probable; Truck Bryant (Ankle) – Probable.
The Big East has scheduled West Virginia to open league play on the road six times in the last seven years. WVU is 6-8 all-time in Big East openers.
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The Mountaineers are one of just three teams with winning league records in each of the past four seasons. The others are Pitt and Marquette. West Virginia has finished higher than its preseason prediction in each of the past seven seasons.
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West Virginia is just 1-4 all-time on Boxing Day. It have not played on this date since 1970. The five cities in which the games were held: Philadelphia, New York (twice), Los Angeles and Honolulu. The teams: St. Joseph's, Santa Clara, Columbia, Illinois and Boston College.
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The Big East has two of the remaining six unbeaten teams in Division I college basketball.
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And finally, a great trivia tidbit from poster Beechurst: The WVU men's basketball team has started out 8-0 or better in only three seasons since 1959-60. During each of those three seasons, the Mountaineer football team faced Bobby Bowden and the Florida State Seminoles in the Gator Bowl. Fantastic stuff.