Coming off what shall hereby be referred to as "The Debacle" in Baton Rouge, the Pirates didn't exactly blow anyone away against an improved-but-still-NJIT Highlanders team on Tuesday at home.
Considering that, and considering that this is really the last chance to "impress" anybody in non-conference play (Wake's RPI is low, but it is a road game against a Power-6 opponent), this is pretty darn close to a must-win for the Pirates.
Here's what they're up against:
Wake Forest (4-4)
2011-12 record: 13-18 (4-12 ACC, tied for last with three other teams)
The Pirates played Wake Forest last season at Prudential Center, winning by 14 points. In that contest, the Hall destroyed the Deacons in the paint, getting more than half their points (36) there, with a monster game (26 PTS & 14 REB on 8-9 shooting) from Herb Pope leading the way. Neither team shot the three well that night, but Wake was forced into a 2-16 showing, which included 1-8 by their best shooter, Chase Fischer.
This season, the Deacons are a young team. And when I say young, I mean it. Here's their rotation makeup (players seeing over 10 minutes per game): one Senior (Harris), one Junior (McKie), one Sophomore (Fischer), and SIX freshmen. That's a lot of youth to have on a squad at once.
But the three upperclassmen (we're throwing Fischer in there because, well, there's no other way to put it) are all legitimate players that the Hall will need to account for. Harris made a leap between sophomore and junior seasons to post a really nice campaign last year- 16.7 PTS, 3.1 REB, 2.5 AST and a little over a STL with .477/.422/.844 percentages while taking the second-most shots and most free throws on the team. He's a do-it-all guard as his numbers suggest, with a real knack for getting to the line so much at only 6'3". He's struggling with his long-range shooting so far this season, but is still a dangerous player.
Meanwhile, McKie had a solid sophomore season, as he also posted nice numbers- 16 PTS, 7 REB with some AST, STL and BLK thrown in and a percentage line of .478/.379/.737. He and Harris formed a nice 1-2, inside-outside scoring punch. McKie is struggling with his shot so far, making less than 40% from the field and under 30% from the arc, but his rebounding is up to 8.8 per contest, the only player averaging more than 5.5 REB.
Fischer came in last season as a shooter, but he made only 32% from deep last year. This season has been a completely different story, as he's making a Kyle Smyth-like 52% on 27 attempts, leading the team in both areas. Seton Hall's opponents have not shot the ball well at all thanks to the Pirates' defense, but Fischer is definitely one of if not the best shooter they have seen all year.
Alright, now on to the freshmen. The best player in the class has been Codi Miller-McEntyre, Wake's starting PG from day one. He's a skilled player who can pass and score, but who has struggled a little with turnovers and consistency, not unlike Tom Maayan. He's currently third on the team in scoring behind McKie and Harris, and has shot the ball pretty well so far this season.
The main Wake post players are all freshmen- Tyler Cavanaugh, Devin Thomas and Aaron Rountree. Cavanaugh is really, really struggling with his shot, making just 33% from the field despite standing 6'9". More than half of his 3.4 REB are on the offensive glass, however, and he is shooting a very good percentage from the line (79%).
Thomas is a live body who's second on the team in rebounding at 5.4 per game. He's also struggling with his shot from everywhere, including a 50% clip from the free throw line. He's started every game so far this season.
Rountree is seeing the least minutes of the trio. He's leaner than the other two guys, and doesn't take many shots on offense. But he is leading the Deacons in blocks at just about 2 per game.
The backup wings are also freshmen- Arnaud William Adala Moto (sheesh, 4 names?) and Madison Jones. Moto backs up the forwards at 6'6", 225, while Jones backs up the guards. Jones is seeing more minutes, and is shooting well from the field, but is not a good free throw shooter.
Seton Hall will win if:
- They feed the beast down low. One of the main areas that Wake was concerned about this offseason was replacing their big men Desrosiers, who transferred, and Walker, who graduated. If Herb Pope was able to completely dominate last season's front line, Teague should be able to do the same. Wake does have two guys taller than 6'9", but they don't see much action. It's really been the case every game, but if the Pirates get him the ball and establish him early, Wake will have to adjust to Big Gene, and that will make everyone's lives easier.
- Brian Oliver gets going. Oliver has been cold shooting the ball this season, which is strange because he's a legit high-major shooting/scoring talent. The good sign for Pirate fans is his free throw shooting- he's perfect on 10 attempts so far this season. When you see great free throw shooting but poor percentages from beyond the arc, it's a tell-tale sign that the problem isn't the shot itself. Coach Willard touched on this in the NJIT postgame- he said Oliver was thinking too much and that he hasn't been ready to shoot the ball when he catches it.
Seton Hall needs Oliver's scoring, and there's no better time than a true road game that the Pirates really have to have to start knocking some shots down.
Wake Forest will win if:
- They can defend. The Deacons can score, with McKie, Harris and Fischer. But their defense has been shaky so far. They have had their moments of lapse, surrendering 94 to Iona at the Paradise Jam and 79 to Nebraska on their home floor. The Pirates will defend- this has always been the case. If the Deacons can't get stops, they won't win this game.
- Their dynamic duo carries the load. Harris and McKie aren't exactly Pope and Theodore, but to Wake Forest, their impact is just as big. They also happen to double as the two best free throw shooters on the team. If the game gets close, you know who the offense is running through.
AND HERE'S THE KEY FOR BOTH TEAMS:
- THEY AVOID TURNOVERS. This will be the stat of the game to watch. Both teams have turned the ball over too much. In fact, the Deacons have 119 turnovers in 8 games, while the Pirates have 120. The main difference is that Wake has only 85 assists against those turnovers, while Seton Hall has 117 assists. I have a sneaky feeling that the team with less turnovers in their ledger at the end of the night, especially if the margin is +5 or more, will be the team that wins this game.
This is a critical game for the Pirates. They didn't look too good against NJIT in trying to recover from "The Debacle," and they get another chance to recover on the road against a lower Power-6 team. Seton Hall must have this game, if only to ease the collective minds of the fanbase and get some confidence back in themselves.
Hazard Zet Forward.