Oh man. The Pirates said it after the game- they got punched in the mouth. The Seton Hall faithful that were in attendance looked like they had been punched in the stomach, suffering through their first defeat to Rutgers since March 2008.
The 5 Unpleasant Thoughts from the Pirates' worst loss of the season:
- (Complete and total lack of) Effort
The Pirates came out of the locker room at the beginning of the game with NOTHING. The Scarlet Knights out-hustled, out-shot, out-defended, and completely out-classed Seton Hall on their home court. It was an abject embarrassment to all Pirate fans.
RU came out with 10 times the defensive energy, 50 times the drive, and (insert high number here) times the smarts. Once again, the Pirates' defense was slowly picked apart, making it the third straight sub-par defensive game. Once again, they were demolished on the boards, as Rutgers doubled them up (22-11) in the first half. The Pirates (specifically Herb Pope, who garnered 11 rebounds in the second half alone) did a better job of that in the second half, closing the rebounding deficit to 6 by the end of the game, but it was not enough.
Come to think of it, everything but the shot-making was better in the second half. But the hole the Pirates dug themselves in the first half (14 points at one juncture) was too much. Again.
- Who's to blame?
There is blame to go around for everyone for this embarrassment. First, to Coach Willard- you cannot allow your team to come out with nothing in a rivalry game. This would have led the Thoughts, but after the game, Willard owned up to his failure to motivate the team. It's further proof that he is the right man for the program, even if that statement is clouded in the minds of most SHU fans right now due to the lack of success.
More blame is shouldered on the players. As a team of upperclassmen, how do you allow yourselves to be out-classed on your home floor by a team that you should have honestly beaten? It's disturbing to me that these players who theoretically have so much pride had none to show on Saturday. In a rivalry game. At home. Ugh...
- The Struggles of Hazell
Jeremy Hazell continues to show tremendous maturity in his demeanor on the court as well as his comments to the media. But unfortunately for the Pirates, he is struggling mightily with his shot. Hazell was draped all game by Rutgers' athletic sophomore forward Dane Miller, and that made Hazell work for everything he got (which ended up being only 15 points on 6-21 shooting). But it makes the slump and the injury that's to blame for it even worse when you consider that Hazell was playing the best basketball of his life before it. If Hazell makes a few more of his shots in both the Georgetown game and this game, the Pirates probably win. But he is just not displaying the ability to get into the lane right now, and that makes his struggles from the three-point line magnified x100. The way the Pirates are going right now, they need Hazell to be perfect, and he's been anything but.
- Looking Ahead
The Pirates get Syracuse next at the Carrier Dome (chalk that one up as a loss, considering the Orange just got BEAT at home by Villanova), followed by Providence at the Rock (who just beat Louisville of all teams for their first Big East win). After that, it's at West Virginia, home to the UConn Kemba's, and at Rutgers, the team the Pirates just lost to while playing with all the fervor of a dead fish in the first half. This isn't getting any better. Providence would constitute the easiest remaining matchup, but even the Pirates' stale offense could make the Friars look like Pitt defensively right now.
Looking at the larger picture, Willard's mentor Rick Pitino foresees a four-year rebuilding process for Seton Hall, saying in an article by Adam Zagoria (who sat in front of me in the media section with MSG and ESPN radio's Jon Rothstein), that he thinks that SHU will need to go outside and look for players rather than recruit right away within the metro area. So far, Willard's signees have that in common- Patrik Auda, Aaron Geramipoor and Haralds Karlis from Europe, Aaron Cosby from Kentucky, Freddie Wilson from Connecticut. I can't say i disagree with Pitino here. Like him or not as a person, when it comes to his basketball opinion, I respect it.
- Tuned out?
It hasn't really been discussed, or even suggested, but aside from the last 3 games, the defensive effort was always there despite the offense being below average. Now the defensive effort is starting to wane. I can't help but fear that the players have stopped listening to Willard as a coach. I think Willard is trying to do all he can with this team right now and if the players are no longer listening and taking what he says seriously, it would explain the lack of defensive effort. No one seems to want to talk about it, but I'll be the first to suggest it anyway. It's just something to consider as you gear up for the rest of what is destined to be one of the more disappointing seasons in Seton Hall's recent history.