Pirates face defending national champion Connecticut Huskies at home
The Seton Hall men’s basketball team, coming off an impressive win against West Virginia on Friday, will have its hands full once again on Tuesday night with the visiting No. 8 Connecticut Huskies.
Connecticut enters the game having won the last 11 matchups against Seton Hall, including last year’s 61-59 victory at The Rock during which Seton Hall held a 10-point lead with eight minutes to play in the game. The Pirates eventually squandered that lead in heartbreaking fashion, missing their last nine field goal attempts of the game and giving coach Jim Calhoun’s eventual national championship team their 18th win of the season.
As for Calhoun, he will be watching this game from the comfort of his home this time around as he will be serving the second game of his three-game suspension which was handed down to him in February after failing to comply with several NCAA recruiting policies.
Associate head coach George Blaney will play the role of interim head coach for the time being. Blaney spent three seasons as Seton Hall’s head coach from 1994 to 1997, posting a 39-47 record before being replaced by Tommy Amaker.
In addition to Calhoun’s three-game suspension, the program was docked three scholarships for the next three years, a significant decision considering Connecticut freshman Michael Bradley willingly relinquished his scholarship so that incoming freshman Andre Drummond could have it before the season began. Eventually, Bradley was given his scholarship back and Drummond was allowed to join the team as a walk-on.
The 6-foot-11 Drummond has been a major part of the Huskies’ success this season, holding down the paint on the defensive end with an average of 2.6 blocks per game, placing him third in the Big East. He also adds 10 points and 6.8 rebounds.
In the Huskies last game against St. John’s on Saturday, Drummond finished with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
Drummond caused a stir on Monday afternoon with some of his comments regarding Seton Hall forward Herb Pope, after Drummond told a reporter he had no idea who Pope was.
“I don’t even know who that is,” Drummond said to a reporter after being asked how he felt about playing against Pope. “I’m not trying to be disrespectful. I’m not even sure who that is. They said that to me in practice today, and I was like ‘Who is Herb Pope?'”
Pope has been a large factor in the Pirates’ 12-2 start, averaging 18.6 points per game to go along with his 10.9 rebounds per game. His successful return to the court this season following heart surgery has led to his name popping up on award watch lists around the country, including being mentioned as a potential candidate for the coveted John Wooden Award as the nation’s best college basketball player.
With the loss of Kemba Walker to the NBA, Connecticut has had to dump the load of their scoring on several players’ shoulders and have done it with effectiveness. The Huskies have four players who average double-digit scoring and eight players who tally at least three rebounds a game.
The team’s leading scorer is sophomore guard Jeremy Lamb, who scores 18.9 points per game and shoots 51.8 percent from the field including a solid 41.6 percent from beyond the arc. As a team, the Huskies sit atop the Big East in field goal percentage with a mark of 49.6 percent.
Though Lamb is the team’s top scorer, Connecticut’s offensive is spearheaded by sophomore Shabazz Napier. The 6-foot point guard does a little of everything for the Huskies, scoring 10.5 points per game and completing 6.8 assists per game, placing him fourth in the conference. Napier also pulls down 4.3 rebounds per contest.
The Pirates face an interesting test against Connecticut , a team that is fourth in the nation in blocks per game with 7.6, just behind Syracuse, and allows teams to shoot just 36.3 percent from the field.
Although Herb Pope has been able to literally and figuratively revive his game this season, he has struggled in his last four games, averaging just 9.8 points and 8.8 rebounds. Pope fared poorly against Syracuse’s 7-foot center Fab Melo in the Pirates’ Big East opener, finishing with just 4 points and 9 boards, looking unsettled against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone.
Senior point guard Jordan Theodore, who has also been in the spotlight this season for the Hall, enters the game averaging 15.8 points and seven assists per game. His assist numbers place him second behind Pittsburgh’s Travon Woodall in the Big East.
In his last five games, Theodore is averaging 17.6 points, six assists, and 3.6 rebounds per game and shooting 46 percent from the field, including 49 percent from 3-point range, making his ability to spread the ball on Tuesday evening just as important as Napier’s.
According to Theodore, not turning the ball over is key to winning any game in the Big East.
“We had 20 turnovers at half time against Syracuse,” he said. “You can’t do that. I shot the ball well, but we lost by 30. We turned the ball over way too much.”
Connecticut’s only blemish this season has been their knack for turning the ball over. The Huskies average 13.8 turnovers a game, roughly two more than they force, placing them in the bottom four of the Big East.
One hurdle for Seton Hall has been a lack of depth, with head coach Kevin Willard’s squad boasting just six players who average more than 11 minutes a contest and nine players who are either freshmen or sophomores. According to the coach, depth is not even on his radar as an issue.
“Look around the country,” Willard said. “A majority of the teams play just six or seven guys on a regular basis. I don’t see it as an issue.”
Despite the short rotation, Willard’s team has exceeded the expectations of many this season, with quality wins over VCU, St. Joseph’s, Dayton, and West Virginia to its credit already. In fact, the team has been so impressive that the Pirates made their debut in the Associated Press Top 25 poll on Monday, with two votes, and also received three votes in the ESPN/USA Today for the second time this season.
The Pirates added to their depth last month when they welcomed 6-foot-9 freshman forward Brandon Mobley into the mix after he was forced to sit out the first nine games of his college career with a torn labrum in his right shoulder, an injury he sustained in the summer. In his first five games as a Pirate, Mobley is averaging 3.4 points and 2.2 rebounds per game in 10.4 minutes of action per contest.
Tip-off for Tuesday night’s game is set for 7 p.m. at the Prudential Center.