Cincinnati (19-8, 9-5) opened play with ten unanswered points, building a lead that would prove too much for Seton Hall (18-9, 7-8) defeating the Pirates 62-57 on Saturday night. The Pirates played terrible defense around the perimeter and failed to find any flow offensively; essentially a recipe for disaster. Seton Hall shot just 35% as they saw their three game winning streak snapped and their conference record dip below the .500 mark with three games to play.
The Bearcats had their way from the perimeter in the first half, hitting two 3-pointers in the first two minutes en route to SEVEN (to SHU's four) at the intermission, which resulted in the difference as UC led by 9 at the break. Prior to the game, I noted that Pope (10pts/13reb) and Gates (5pts/9reb) should neutralize each other a bit, while the team that shot the better clip from the perimeter would come away victorious. The Bearcats turned in 27-points from downtown (9-of-22), while the Pirates could muster only 12 (4-of-20).
What did Seton Hall plan for defensively? In their last opportunity to record a quality road victory, the Pirates defended like a team that was unaware of what the Bearcats' bread-and-butter was offensively. Against the Big East's top 3-point shooting team (3PM), rotations were late and assignments were blown. Both our m/2/m and 2-3 looks were absolutely torched in the first half. Against a four-guard lineup, why not a switch to some 3-2? Granted, they're surely not as comfortable in the set, but hell, at least make an adjustment. There should have been a focus on making Gates beat them inside, instead of allowing them to bomb away all night from the perimeter. Granted, the Pirates tightened up defensively in the second half, but it would matter little, the damage was already done. Cincinnati kept the Pirates off-balance throughout the evening, answering every Seton Hall run with a big bucket of their own. The Bearcats wanted and needed this game more and found a way to get it done. Hats off to them, they were the better prepared team tonight, no question.
As noted, Seton Hall struggled tremendously in shooting the ball tonight. Only one starter, Fuquan Edwin (15pts 7-of-15), shot it better than 30% from the floor. Theodore (15pts/7reb/6ast/3to, 6-of-22) couldn't find his shot until the game was out of reach, yet once again, found open teammates who continued to miss layups/bunnies and open jumpers. Theodore should have finished with at least 10 assists, despite the fact that he took entirely too many shots. I've touched on this recently, but it bears repeating. Although Theodore should not be taking anywhere close to 20-shots a game, it has to be frustrating for him to find his teammates on nifty (should be) dimes, only to have them miss layups and brick mid-range jumpers. Somebody has to score the points on this team and if his teammates aren't going to do their part by putting the ball in the basket, we can't get on Theodore for shooting too much. He's taken over a ton of games this season and there's no one I trust more to will this team to victory than Theodore. Hell, Pope and Theodore's play in the final ten minutes probably made this game closer than it should have been, as the Pirates closed within 4 on a Theo layup with 30 seconds to play.
Now, the million dollar question is, "where does this loss leaves the Pirates in regards to their NCAA Tournament chances?" The picture just got a lot clearer. At 7-8 and without a quality road victory, Seton Hall will have to win out (vs GTown, vs RU, at DePaul) if they want to lock up a bid before the Big East Tournament. Anything less and the Pirates will need to win at least a game in the Big East Tournament. Yes, history would be on Seton Hall's side if they won two of their last three and finished 9-9 as only 6 teams (of 55) have failed to make the tournament finishing Big East conference play with an even record. Unfortunately, this team would be in the minority of that history book and would need AT LEAST a game in the BET to improve their chances. It all starts with winning against Georgetown at The Rock on Tuesday night. We gotta have it.