All season long, we've heard reports and quotes from various individuals associated with the Pirates that the 11-1 start is nice, the real season starts December 28th.
The Future is Now.
The #1 team in the country is on the other side of the scorer's table, with their Hall-of-Fame coach and 30,000 fans cheering them on. Nice way to stride into conference play, huh? Yours truly will be calling all of the action on 89.5 FM WSOU in the New York metro area and wsou.net for those outside that area.
Here's the report on the Orange:
2011-12 record: 13-0
All-time series: 16-45
Last meeting: 1/25/11 (90-68 W)
The Carrier Dome has been horrific for Seton Hall in the past, as their record in the 31-year old facility is a mere 5-22 (compared to 2-0 in the old Manley Fieldhouse). The Orange in general have been really tough on the Pirates, with a dominant series edge, including a 23-game winning streak over the Pirates in the 1980s.
But there have actually been some close results in the series, even during those hard times in the 80s. And not only that, but the Pirates sans-Hazell last year hung right with the Orange at home, and with Hazell blew the doors off the vaunted 2-3 zone in Syracuse.
The Orange lost only Rick Jackson from last year's team while adding some more length and seeing their current players get better. Jackson was terrific, leading the Big East in rebounding and blocked shots en route to being the Defensive Player of the Year in the Big East, and helping the Orange swat 19% of opponents' two point shots, easily the best in the nation according to College Basketball Prospectus. Syracuse opponents also took almost 40% of their total shots from three as well, leading to a low foul rate. Syracuse wasn't great at rebounding as a team and that trend has continued this year, but that was pretty much the only flaw in terms of defense on last year's team.
In adding more length the 6'9" Rakeem Christmas joined the Orange sporting a 7'3" wingspan. Christmas is a nominal starter ALONGSIDE an improved Fab Melo (who's 7'0" himself). Factor in the long-armed 6'7" starter Kris Joseph, plus 7-footer Baye Keita and long wings CJ Fair and James Southerland off the bench, and the Cuse frontcourt has more length than just about any other team in the nation.
But that wasn't enough. The Orange also added Michael Carter-Williams, a 6'5", long-armed guard who's playing the point this season, to go along with returning players Brandon Triche, Scoop Jardine and a much-improved Dion Waiters in the backcourt. All-told, this Syracuse team is deeper than the snow drifts that frequent upstate New York.
One thing Syracuse has done well to this point is spread out their minutes and use that depth. Only 1 Orange player is averaging more than 24 minutes per game (Joseph, with 29 per) and every regular has played in every single game (with the lone exception of Carter-Williams who has played in 12 of 13). That makes this task even more daunting for the depth-challenged Pirates.
One big reason the Orange are #1 is also their penchant for forcing turnovers (11.2 steals per game, first nationally) and their decrease in their turnover rate. Oh, and their best player just may be the 6'4" Waiters, a physical player and athlete who was already a good defender and now has added a jump shot to his repertoire.
But hey, no one said this would be easy.
Now on to a little history lesson: Seton Hall has NEVER beaten a team ranked #1, #2, or #3 in the nation in the AP Poll. They have beaten two #4 teams in their history in Men's Basketball. The most recent of the two was in 2004, when the Pirates knocked off #4 Pitt at the Meadowlands.
The other? Over #4 Syracuse at the Carrier Dome on February 7th, 2000. It was a game that had to be rescheduled from its original date because of the Boland Hall fire on campus, and that day, current Pirates associate head coach Shaheen Holloway posted 12 PTS, 11 REB, and 9 AST, one short of what would have been the first triple-double in program history, while Darius Lane hit the game-winning shot, a three from the left side, in the final seconds to lift the Pirates to victory.
The Orange were undefeated then, too, at 19-0 and 9-0 in Big East play.
Pirates will win if:
- They avoid foul trouble. Against a team like Syracuse who can actually field two starting lineups, it is imperative that the Pirates stay out of foul trouble, and this especially applies to Herb Pope, Jordan Theodore, and Fuquan Edwin. Seton Hall needs them to stay on the floor and to be available when Coach Willard needs them.
- They execute on offense. Syracuse comes at you in waves, both on offense and defense. Defensively, they force turnovers and get out in transition. Transition is a large part of Syracuse's game plan. The Pirates held the Orange to just 5 points in transition in their first meeting last year, and though the Orange got 17 the second time around, the Pirates put the game out of reach with their shooting. Executing on offense means not only making shots, but not turning the ball over. If they keep Syracuse out of transition, that's about a third of the battle.
Syracuse will win if:
- They make "momentum plays." By that, I mean, dunks, blocked shots, extended runs, and anything that gets the crowd going. There are going to be 30,000 fans or so packed into the Dome on Wednesday night, and anything that could get them loud will be a plus for Syracuse and a minus for Seton Hall
- They make the Pirates make "tough twos." In any game like this, the underdog's greatest assets are the free throw line and the three-point arc. That's where Seton Hall can pick up extra points in this game. If they force the Pirates inside the arc to their length, they'll have a big advantage.