I know, it's late, and I hate to make you relive the Pirates' third loss of the year, and the second half drought that occurred to seal Seton Hall's fate. But I have to do it. Lack of ESPN3 access over the weekend meant that I couldn't watch until last night, and before a big road game against Villanova, I have to get my thoughts off my chest.
Here they are:
- A Step Back
This was certainly a step back for Seton Hall. After the dominance the Pirates showed against DePaul following their recent win streak that saw them become ranked, losing to USF for the second time ever, and second straight time in Tampa, represents a step back (although not a huge one in the minds of voters, who dropped the Pirates in the AP Poll by just 4 spots). The Pirates coming into the game were without a single bad loss on the year, having previous L's to #1 Syracuse and a very good Northwestern team. The numbers may not say so, but there is no certainty whatsoever that USF will remain in the top half of the conference because of the extreme state of flux the conference standings are in.
Generally, to be a solid NCAA Tournament team, you need to beat the teams you should beat, and get enough "Big Wins" to offset any "Bad Losses" you may have, plus one more. The Pirates are now 15-3, with great stats in the RPI and SOS. That means that the opportunities for a W to offset this loss are very few- @ Marquette and @UConn represent the only remaining road games that would fit the bill at the moment, with Georgetown the only home game that fits the bill (with Louisville losing on Monday, we don't know if that would qualify, and @ Cincinnati could be, but isn't at the moment).
That also includes beating the teams you should beat, and therefore, the Pirates' showdown with Villanova on Wednesday represents a must-win situation if the Pirates want to remain in the "solidly IN" NCAA conversation. Right now, the expectations have been raised for this team, and therefore Pirate fans have to look at the schedule in terms of the 15-2 start rather than the fact that the Pirates have overachieved by many standards. First up is rebounding on the road against the Wildcats. A full preview of that matchup will be here on the Juice tomorrow, and in addition to that, there will be a Q&A piece that I conducted with Aaron Bracy of PhilaHoops.com.
- A Closer Look
The sting of this loss was pretty deep because of how it happened, but a closer look reveals that this was a pretty good game between two of the Big East's best defensive teams. The first half was pretty entertaining, with each team finding ways to score against the other team's defense. All told, the score was tied 27-27 at halftime, and that score was indicative of the play of both the Pirates and the Bulls. Both teams had mini-runs and stretches where they played noticeably better than the other team, but these didn't last long.
The second half started out as more of the same until the Pirates took control with a 15-5 run. Unfortunately, the pace held true, and USF closed the game out on a similar run as the Pirates' offense stalled into oblivion. The Pirates' offense was very Theodore-heavy in this game, and down the stretch it was nearly Theodore-exclusive. Plus, the Pirates could not stop Ron Anderson Jr. on the offensive glass.
If I had no rooting interest in this game, I'd say it was pretty well-played. But since this is a Seton Hall blog, I'll end that talk here. It was a game that despite the final score, SHU should have came up with.
- Bullish Defense
You have to give the Bulls' defense a lot of credit for why the Pirates struggled so much offensively. Two separate defensive matchups stick out to me in watching this game.
The first was Hugh Robertson on Fuquan Edwin. After scoring 52 PTS in the previous two games, Stan Heath stuck Robertson, his best perimeter defender and a legit wing size-wise, on Fu and he took Edwin out of the game and out of rhythm on offense. When Edwin did get opportunities, he couldn't convert. Credit Heath for this adjustment.
The second was late in the game- down the stretch, the Bulls went zone, but not just any zone. Heath also gets credit for this one, because he stuck the 6'8" Victor Rudd Jr. up top. Since Jordan Theodore was doing pretty much all the ballhandling for the Pirates, Theodore (6'0") was neutralized in terms of scoring by the longer Rudd. Give Stan Heath and the USF staff for those adjustments to the Bulls' already strong defense. Those tweaks probably won the game.
- Heralds for Karlis
I mentioned above the extended run the Pirates went on midway through the second half, and that was pretty much exclusively due to the shooting of Haralds Karlis. He scored a career-high 12 PTS, making 4 threes, each bigger than the last. Since Karlis had been struggling shooting the basketball all year long, you could say it was a bit unexpected, but nevertheless, it was a huge lift when the team needed some confidence. Hopefully it gives Karlis some more confidence on his shot.
- Momentum Shift
I talk about this all the time- sports, especially college sports, and specifically college basketball, are defined by "momentum plays." These include big dunks, big defensive stops, big steals, big blocks, and anything that gets home crowds up and hollering. This game was no different. Here are the momentum plays that turned this game around:
After the Pirates went on their run, Herb Pope kicked out to Karlis at the top of the key. The way Karlis was shooting, one would think he would shoot it. But he tried to swing it, a pass which Robertson intercepted and took the other way. Karlis tried to get back, but was late, leading to a dunk by Robertson over Karlis. That set the wheels in motion.
The second play was another transition play by USF. Theodore drove into the paint and couldn't finish. USF got the rebound and the outlet pass went to Rudd. Rudd was behind the defense, and he scored with a double-clutch reverse slam-dunk, something you don't normally see in the college game. That continued the momentum swing.
Third was a three pointer from Jawanza Poland that tied the game late. Poland came off a screen and hit the basket without any hesitation. That completed the comeback for the Bulls. There was also the obvious play, when Toarlyn Fitzpatrick finished in transition and-1 to give the Bulls a late lead.
These plays change games, and the Pirates fell victim to them too often in this one.
Next up is a big game against Villanova, a team that has struggled more than almost any other this year. Hopefully the Pirates can right their ship back to their winning ways.