Seton Hall comes into this contest against Providence at 1-2 in the Big East, but with a first trio of DePaul, at Notre Dame, and Louisville and a still-short bench, one would expect a 1-2 conference record.
And so today begins a slate of easier (on paper, of course) games for the Pirates which they would be smart to take advantage of.
Here's what you need to know about PC:
Providence (8-7, 0-3 Big East)
2011-12 record: 15-17 (4-14 Big East, 15th place)
The knock on Keno Davis' teams of the past were that they played next-to-no defense at all while pushing the pace. Well, last season Ed Cooley took away the fast part, slowing the Friars' tempo down. Unfortunately for Cooley, a defensive coach, he inherited a roster who hadn't defended in years.
As a result, Providence's D was a work in progress. This season, it's doing better, but like the Pirates, injuries and departures (plus the blow of All-American freshman guard Ricky Ledo being ruled ineligible for game action) have depleted the Friars' depth. In fact, they are the only team in the conference whose lack of depth rivals the Pirates'.
First, let's talk injuries. We mentioned Ledo, but Kris Dunn was the other All-American that Cooley signed in his first big class. Dunn was a scoring machine in high school, but he suffered a shoulder injury in the offseason and just returned 6 games ago. He's still a very good player, but he's not what the Friars expect him to be just yet.
Also just returning from an injury is do-it-all guard Vincent Council. Council was the guy a year ago, but was out a while with one of the trickiest injuries in the book- a hamstring injury. He's averaging 6 AST in the 5 games he has played this season, but is really struggling otherwise, his scoring average roughly cut in half so far from a year ago. He's increased that to about 12 PTS in conference games.
The guy this season has been Bryce Cotton, a dead-eye three-point shooter who's also leading the Big East in scoring. He's done that by becoming an even more efficient player than he was last year, making 46% from the field overall and 42% from deep. He also doesn't turn the ball over much to boot, and is shooting even better percentages in PC's 3 conference games so far. In short, he's having a fantastic season, and the Pirates will need to keep tabs on him because he's been such a big part of Providence's offense.
Alongside Dunn, Council and Cotton, another freshman, Josh Fortune has filled in the gaps in the backcourt. He's struggled this year with his shot, but has made 5-12 threes in conference play. If the Friars weren't so shorthanded, he might be seeing less minutes, but right now he's firmly in the rotation.
In the paint, the main rotation consists of Henton, Batts and Johnson. LaDontae Henton had a very underrated freshman campaign last year, averaging 14 PTS, 9 REB, and about a STL and BLK per game with darn good percentages of .454/.393/.706. This season he's scoring a little more, rebounding a little less, and not shooting the ball as well from range. Unlike Cotton, he's struggled mightily in conference play, averaging just 7.7 PTS. But he's a versatile talent who poses a tough matchup down low.
Batts couldn't stay on the court last season because of foul trouble, and when he was on the court he shot under 40% from the field. For a guy who's 6'8", that's dreadful. But Batts has played well this season, and that includes conference play. He's shooting close 50% from the field now, and scoring about the same in Big East play as he is for the entire season (about 15 PTS). He's a long, athletic post who can block the occasional shot. Think a less-versatile Brandon Mobley.
Arizona transfer Sidiki Johnson became eligible at the end of the fall semester, and he's performed so far as a defense/rebounding specialist.
This is a big game for both teams. Providence has skidded hard since mid-December, dropping 5 in a row, including some unfortunate losses at Boston College and Brown, plus a home defeat against DePaul. The Friars are desperate, while the Pirates don't want a bad loss on their slate, plus they also want to bounce back from their loss to Louisville.
Seton Hall will win if:
- They contain Cotton. A large part of defending Providence is focusing on Cotton, who's exploded onto the scene. The Pirates did a great job on him last season, where he shot a combined 3-19 in two games against Seton Hall's matchup zone, including 3-16 from deep. I'm not anticipating such low numbers from him today, especially since he's no longer a role player, but if he shoots a sub-par percentage, that will be a good sign for the final result.
- They make threes. Last season, the Pirates thrived from the three-point line against the Friars, making 18-31 from distance in two balanced games (9-22 in one, 9-19 in another). The Friars have the lowest opponents' three-point percentage in the Big East this season, while the Pirates are among the most potent teams from deep. Something's gotta give there, and if that stat breaks the Pirates' way, good things will follow.
- Teague continues to beast. Averaging 14 PTS and 11 REB in conference play so far, Gene Teague has had two straight tough matchups in Jack Cooley and Gorgui Dieng. This time, he gets a little bit of an easier matchup with Batts, Henton and Johnson. None of them possess Teague's heft, and while Batts and Johnson could stand a chance thanks to their height (6'9" and 6'10"), if Teague can produce inside, everything, as usual, will be easier.
Providence will win if:
- They blitz Seton Hall early. It's a noontime start, and we all know how the Pirates have a habit of starting slow in such games. Providence is coming off an encouraging effort against Syracuse in which they had some success against their zone. PC will be desperate to avoid an 0-4 start in league play and a 6-game losing streak, so this seems like a game that the Friars could jump on the Pirates early.
- Henton gets back on track. Cotton has been PC's best player this year, but Henton is their most talented and the biggest matchup problem if he can get going.
The bottom line is this- both teams are not deep at the moment, and both teams will want to win this game badly. So it comes down to matchups even more so than if Seton Hall were facing a deep team with many different players they could conceivably go to. I think the Pirates being at home and their advantage inside with Teague will turn the tide in their favor, but don't underestimate Providence.