Thanks to the Pirates' victory on Tuesday night, they advanced to face the winner of UMass-Mississippi State.
And thanks to a double-OT thriller in Starkville, it was the Minutemen that advanced to face the Pirates.
Once again, the game will take place at historic Walsh Gymnasium, but this time, it'll be a whole different environment.
Here's what you need to know about UMass:
2011-12 record: 23-11 (9-7 A-10)
All-time series record: 2-2
Last meeting: 12/11/10 (104-79 SHU W)
Remember how Stony Brook liked to lock down on defense and slow the game down? Throw that out the window for this game.
UMass is as different a team from Stony Brook as you'll ever find, a team that ratchets up the tempo to create extra possessions and make you stop their potent offense. They led the A-10 in scoring, rebounding, assists, steals and threes made and ranked highly in several other categories as well, while ranking low in scoring defense and dead last in rebounding defense. They were the surprise team in the A-10 this year, finishing 5th after being picked 12th out of 14 teams in the preseason.
And their best player will remind Pirate fans of Aquille Carr.
No, really. Chaz Williams, selected to the First Team All-Atlantic 10 this season, is listed at 5'9" but probably isn't, is a blur with the ball in his hands, strong and athletic, plus an excellent shooter from three-point range. He's one of only 3 players in the country this season to average 16+ PTS, 6+ AST and 4+ rebounds, with Tim Frazier of Penn State and Nate Wolters of South Dakota State. He transferred from Hofstra after one season, and he is the (little) engine (that could) that drives the UMass offense. Trying to contain him will be a huge part of Seton Hall's gameplan.
In addition to Williams, UMass brings former Seton Hall-signee Jesse Morgan, an athletic two-guard who's shot 38% from deep so far this year. It's a dynamic backcourt duo for the Minutemen, backed up by veterans Javorn Farrell and Freddie Riley, both of whom fit Derek Kellogg's up-tempo system, with Farrell being a better shooter.
In the frontcout, the Minutemen don't have a ton of depth, but they are talented. Redshirt-senior Sean Carter is a strong player around the hoop (57% FG%) and is UMass' leading rebounder. Redshirt-sophomore Raphiael Putney is as thin as tissue paper, but has a nice face-up game and a high-arcing jump shot that extends out to the three-point line (37% this season). He's second on the team in scoring and rebounding and his length creates problems for opponents on defense. Terrell Vinson does a little bit of everything, although at 6'7" he's more of a wing than a post player. Maxie Esho brings length off the bench as well.
Outside of the top 8 players, the Minutemen don't have much else, with injuries sidelining several players this season. But as Pirate fans remember from the days of yore, you can run with a lack of depth. And that's what UMass does. Everyone except Carter and Esho is capable of making a three, and they feed off of Williams' great speed and shooting ability. This is one dangerous team and while Seton Hall tried their darndest to speed up Stony Brook, getting into a track meet with this team is not recommended, even though the Pirates can run a little themselves.
Seton Hall will win if:
- They slow down Chaz Williams. This is not easy to do whatsoever. He's a 42% three-point shooter and can get into the lane practically at-will. Seton Hall will need to be sharp in their rotations and help defense while showing Williams multiple defensive looks. In order to do the latter, they'll need to keep the Minutemen out of transition, and if they can do that, they'll have a great shot.
- They rebound. It didn't really hurt the Pirates in their last game, but this time it will. There will be tons of rebounds up for grabs, and Seton Hall MUST crash the boards well in order to win this game. At the very least, they need to be within 7 rebounds of UMass if they do end up getting out-rebounded.
- They wake up. This game worries me for one reason- the insane 11 AM start time. UMass plays a style that gets the juices flowing quickly whenever the start time is. Seton Hall has only had two early starts this season- Mercer and Pittsburgh, and both times the Pirates struggled, needing OT to beat Mercer and losing an early lead to Pitt before coming back late. The fans likely will not be completely the same as on Tuesday night either. Seton Hall cannot sleepwalk out of the gate in this game. If they do, they might fall behind too far to come back.
UMass will win if:
- They play at their pace. Transition offense/defense is the key to this game, as in, who does it better. UMass isn't like DePaul in that they can play in the halfcourt as well as in the open floor, but they're better when they run. Again, Seton Hall can speed things up from time to time, particularly off turnovers, but they cannot get into UMass' pace and expect to be as successful as the Minutemen.
- Chaz Williams baits Jordan Theodore into a 1-on-1 game. First, let me applaud Jordan for keeping this under control most of the time this season. It was one of his biggest flaws last season. But Theodore really needs to be mentally on track Saturday. Williams is the type of player that can cause opponents to try and go right back at him, and Theodore cannot do this in this game. It will doom the Pirates if he tries to 1-up Williams.
I'll be providing color commentary on the broadcast on WSOU, so tune on in. Hopefully, the player who looks so much like the Point Guard of the Future won't ruin the present for the Pirates.