If you're Coach Willard and the Pirates, this is really all you could have hoped for when you came down to Charleston- a guaranteed winning record in the tournament.
Also, the Pirates have a shot at the Charleston Classic title, and that's more than most expected out of this squad (for what it's worth, ESPN picked this very matchup in the championship game, so good for them, I guess).
The Wildcats of Northwestern were the favorites coming into Charleston, having replaced Baylor as the top name in the field. They knocked off LSU in the first round before besting Tulsa to get to this game. Here's a closer look at what could end up being one of the toughest non-conference games of the year for the Pirates:
2011-12 record: 3-0
All-time series record: 2-4
Last meeting: 12/18/05 (SHU L)
Northwestern returns most of their core from last year, when they made the NIT Quarterfinals before losing to Washington State. John Shurna is an excellent shooter from the forward position, Drew Crawford has stepped up his production in a big way as a junior, Luka Mirkovic holds down the fort in the paint, and JerShon Cobb is coming off a good freshman season, although he's struggled with shooting. Off the bench, designated shooter Alex Marcotullio and big man Davide Curletti round out the main rotation.
But the question coming into this year was how coach Bill Carmody would replace departed starting point guard Michael Thompson, a major part of the team for the last couple years.The early answer seems to be freshman Dave Sobolewski, and he's played well, averaging 8.3 PTS, 3.7 REB and 4 AST for Northwestern.
This team does two things well- shoot the three and avoid the turnover. The Wildcats have taken only 7 less threes than twos this year, with pretty much everyone in the rotation having the ability to hit the deep ball. Sounds like VCU, right? Except the Wildcats are not inexperienced, with seniors Shurna, Mirkovic and Curletti and juniors Crawford and Marcotullio.
Nevertheless, attention to the perimeter must be paid. The switching defense the Pirates love to run worked to perfection against VCU's young team, so it will be interesting to see it go to work against a veteran B1G team.
Northwestern also does not turn the ball over often at all, averaging just over 8 turnovers a game, an excellent rate. That makes their offense workable- with all the threes they shoot and the limiting of opponent's possessions through turnovers, Northwestern has pretty much always been able to score under Carmody.
What the Wildcats struggle with (and what has kept them out of the NCAA Tournament in recent years, according to the court of public opinion) has been their defense. They have finished dead last in the B1G in defense in 3 of the past 4 years, as they just cannot get the stops they need to be consistent. On top of that, they don't do a phenomenal job of keeping opponents off the line, so look for Jordan Theodore to penetrate and try to get to the rim as much as he can.
A window into the offensive potential for the Pirates in this game could be seen in the LSU game. In that game, the Tigers were the better team, shooting almost 50% from the field and out-rebounding the Wildcats by 11. But Northwestern won on the strength of 12 threes, and John Shurna going off for a then- Charleston Classic high 37 PTS, including 13-14 from the free throw line.
It will therefore be a contrast of styles in this game. One of the Wildcat's favored defenses is the 1-3-1 zone, and breaking that will be key, especially because it is one of the more difficult defenses to prepare for.
Seton Hall will win if:
- They hold the perimeter in check. The Wildcats have attempted 76 threes already this season, so the zones will need to be crisp in their rotations (a la the VCU game). It may be even more crucial to defend the perimeter in this contest because of Shurna's combination of size (6'9") and shooting ability.
- Pope gets help. Last game, Herb Pope struggled and Patrik Auda was in foul trouble. Luckily Pope never faded and the Seton Hall guards started hitting shots. This game I think Auda (who's had a rough tournament) needs to step up and stay on the court. I think his size and his shooting/passing abilities could prove valuable in this particular game.
Northwestern will win if:
- They can defend. Always an issue for this team when all is said and done, they are holding opponents to just over 41% shooting this year. It should be noted that two of those games were Texas-Pan Am and Tulsa, though.
- Shurna goes off again. Shurna, like Carl Jones, is the clear go-to player on this team. He can shoot, and he is always under control with the ball. Being a senior, he's got to lead with his play on that team for the Wildcats to make noise against major conference teams.