Hello Pirates! It's time for yet another game preview. Except this isn't any ordinary preview. This one is SUPER-SIZED, with a 5-question Q&A with Philahoops.com writer Aaron Bracy. You can find that segment after the jump.
Until then, feast on a scouting report!
2011-12 record: 8-10 (1-5 Big East)
All-time series record: 37-63
Last meeting: 2/15/11 (60-57 SHU L)
This year has been a year of firsts for the Pirates- first time they'd started 15-2 since 1992-93, first win over West Virginia in nearly 6 years, first win over UConn in nearly 11 years.
They now will look to get their first win over Villanova in nearly 8 years, having lost 9 straight games to Jay Wright's club in that time span, started by a really tough loss at MSG in the 2004 Big East Tournament. They also haven't beaten Villanova at The Pavilion in nearly 18 years (!). The Pirates will look to end those various streaks tonight.
And if there was ever a year to end that losing skid, now the longest active skid to any team for Seton Hall, this would be it. The Wildcats have struggled mightily this season, with a very young team- they have no scholarship seniors. After losing Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes and Antonio Pena, the Wildcats figured to take a step back anyway.
What they could not have figured is their shooting struggles. Villanova's shooting just 42% as a team, ranking 15th in the Big East, and they couple it with 31% three-point shooting, also among the worst in the conference. They are the best free throw shooting team in the conference, though.
Defensively, the Wildcats are ahead of only DePaul in scoring defense, and are in the bottom half of the conference in 3-point percentage defense, so they've struggled from that perspective as well, although they lead the conference in rebounding.
What the Wildcats do have is depth, especially in the backcourt. Maalik Wayns leads the way for 'Nova, and he's a slashing point guard who looks to make plays off the dribble. He's also outstandingly quick, so he's one to keep an eye on. The matchup between Wayns and Jordan Theodore will be a great one.
Joining Wayns in the backcourt are Dominic Cheek, a scorer from St. Anthony's that has struggled shooting this season, Darrun Hilliard, a tough guard who's been a nice surprise for the Wildcats, and James Bell, a well-built player that has been very quiet this season. Achraf Yacoubou and Ty Johnson round out the rotation.
In the frontcourt, the star is Mouphtaou Yarou, a skilled post player with nice touch and a nose for the ball on rebounds. He can also block shots down low. Joining him are two freshmen in JayVaughn Pinkston and Markus Kennedy. Pinkston didn't play last year, and it shows- he's a skilled player, but he's been inconsistent after a year away from game action. Kennedy is a space-eater in the lane with his wide frame and deceptive touch near the hoop.
The Wildcats are always tough at The Pavilion, and this game will be no different. But this time, the Hall should win this game. They are coming off a stinging loss a la the one against Syracuse, but that bounceback happened at home. Seton Hall needs to avoid a letdown to the 'Cats this time.
Seton Hall will win if:
- They make threes. Villanova has struggled in defending the perimeter this year, as you will read in my Q&A with Aaron Barcy below, and that includes defending the three point shot. Seton Hall just so happens to be the best three point shooting team in the entire conference. If they can make the threes on the road, this one should turn out in their favor.
- They keep possessions alive. With offensive rebounds, I mean. Both teams are among the top three (SHU is 1st, VU 3rd) in defensive rebounding percentage, a stat that measures what percentage of the time a team successfully rebounds its opponents' misses. If Seton Hall can keep possessions alive on the glass, I like their chances against Nova.
Villanova will win if:
- They continue to play well. The overall record and Big East record aren't pretty, but the Wildcats have been playing better lately than the beginning of the season. Wayns dropped a career-best 39 PTS in a loss to Cincinnati by just 4 on the road, and they'll be playing at home in front of what should be a nice crowd for their long-time rivals (this is the 101st meeting between the two schools). Momentum, as I've said before, is a tricky thing, and if the Wildcats can get it and keep it, they'll have an excellent shot to knock off the Pirates
- They take care of the ball. Villanova's perimeter play has been inconsistent, and they have not done well in terms of the Big East in the turnover department. Seton Hall's defense is a huge challenge to prepare for, and with Fuquan Edwin lurking around every corner (or almost every corner), and an affinity for capitalizing off opponent's mistakes, ball control will be very key for Villanova.
Check out my Q&A with Aaron Bracy of Philahoops.com after the jump!
So Philahoops.com, a site devoted to all things Philadelphia Big 5, invited yours truly to a Q&A session in advance of tonight's game. Since it was reciprocal, Aaron Bracy and I exchanged questions for each other to answer. You can find my answers to his questions about the Pirates here.
A lifelong Philadelphia college basketball fan and Saint Joseph’s University graduate, Aaron Bracy is the editor of Philahoops. He is a freelance sportswriter based in the Philadelphia suburbs. Prior to his current career in teaching, Bracy worked for the Trenton Times, Courier-Post and The Trentonian as a sportswriter and editor.
On to the questions!
JG: The Wildcats stand at 8-10 on the year, and 1-5 in Big East play, which is obviously a disappointing beginning. Was this kind of start foreseen in any way? Were there clues beforehand to indicate possible flaws?
AB: This year was expected to be a rebuilding season as coach Jay Wright worked five freshmen into a lineup devoid of seniors. But I doubt even Wright expected the struggles to be as great as they have been.
The Cats actually looked pretty good, albeit against pretty weak competition (though La Salle would have been a stiffer test with a healthy Ramon Galloway) in starting 4-0. But they were kind of shell-shocked by their first two defeats in Anaheim, Calif., against St. Louis and especially versus Santa Clara when they coughed up a lead late due to a bizarre set of circumstances when Wright called for his team to foul when he didn’t have a foul to give although the ref said he had one. Basically, they haven’t been the same since.
JG: What has been the focus of the Wildcats' struggles this year? Is is a combination of different factors, or is there one big stat, etc... that one could point to?
AB: The two biggest problems, in my opinion, besides the inexperience are twofold: 1) The Cats don’t shoot it well from the outside, and 2) they don’t defend the perimeter. That’s a pretty lousy combination.
Villanova shoots 38 percent from the arc and opponents hit 40.2 percent from 3-point range. Of players averaging at least 21 minutes, Darrun Hilliard tops the Cats from the outside at 31 percent (18-for-58). That’s not going to cut it. The problem is much deeper than stats. The low percentage allows defenses to play off Villanova’s guards, which takes away precious lanes for the dangerous Maalik Wayns. Wayns is at his best when he is driving and dishing, or driving and scoring. The seams that were there last season are narrower this year.
Besides not shooting it from the arc, the Cats don’t defend it well. Several backcourt players, notably Marcus Denmon of Missouri and Ramone Moore of Temple, have had their way against the Villanova backcourt. Jordan Theodore is probably licking his chops.
JG: Villanova has a talented inside-outside combo in Mouph Yarou and Maalik Wayns. Wayns had a career night against Cincinnati recently, a good defensive team in its own right. What do those guys bring to the court, offensively and defensively, that could give Seton Hall problems?
AB: Wayns is a dynamic player, certainly one of the best in the Big East. His game has suffered somewhat this season as he tries to adapt to what is best for the team. He has spent much of the season trying to be a facilitator, but it hasn’t been working for reasons that have less to do with Wayns and more to do with his teammates.
After being shut down against Syracuse, the point guard appeared to take a different mind-set into last Saturday’s game at Cincinnati when he was practically unstoppable while scoring a career-high 39 points. He isn’t a great outside shooter, but he is good enough to require a hand in his face. His real strength is his explosiveness and amazing ability to finish in a variety of ways.
Yarou is a big body who showed improvement early in the season, but has been hampered by an ankle injury suffered Dec. 16. Since, he hasn’t looked like nearly the same player who recorded double-doubles in five of the first 10 contests, but just one of the last eight. When he is on, Yarou is just a beast around the basket. He is very tough to box out and has a surprisingly soft touch for such a big man. Despite a few decent games, he hasn’t been on since before the ankle injury.
JG: In the past, Villanova has been known as a school of great guards. Evaluate the Villanova backcourt this season. Do they stack up well with other Big East backcourts?
AB: Right now, no. You can put Wayns against anyone in the Big East and he’ll hold his own. But, as a combination, Villanova has to be considered among the bottom tier of league teams this season. Dominic Cheek has picked up his game lately, averaging 17 points in his last three games, but he has been streaky at best from distance this season, shooting 31-for-105 (29 percent) from the arc. Freshman Darrun Hilliard has slowed considerably after a promising start. Ty Johnson and Achraf Yacoubou, two rookies, are still finding their niche. James Bell, who had 21 points at Seton Hall last season, has been mostly quiet.
JG: Prediction for the game? What are the keys for Villanova's potential success, in your opinion?
AB: I’ve been saying all season that Villanova has to hit shots and all season it hasn’t been happening. So I won’t say that’s a key, even though it is.
The key will be Wayns. If he comes out like he did against the Bearcats, Villanova will win going away. They are very tough at the Pavilion anyway, having won 51 of 53 games, and Wayns has the ability to put the Cats on his back. If he gets any help from the likes of Cheek and Yarou, who just need to play to their averages, Villanova will send Hall to its second straight defeat.
I like the Pirates’ turnaround, but I think the Cats will pull this one out. It won’t be pretty, though. I’ll say 67-61.
As you can see, he's optimistic about tonight. We thank Aaron very much for his contributions to The Juice today. You can follow him on Twitter at @Aaron_Bracy.