After a long week without Seton Hall basketball in our lives, the action returns on Wednesday night when the Pirates play host to the team that ceased their first half of the season high last year in USF.
The Bulls are a little different this season, but still the same team overall.
Here's what you need to know:
USF (10-7, 1-4 Big East)
2011-12 record: 22-14 (12-6 Big East, 6th place)
Like you, I too had to take a day to recover from the Pirates' agonizing OT loss to the Bulls in Tampa last season, when the Pirates had climbed all the way to #24 in the country before Jordan Theodore's missed free throw sent the team spiraling downward mid-season.
That was also the point where USF started playing defense the likes of which we hadn't quite seen before. They rode that D all the way to their third NCAA Tournament bid in the program's history, and even won a couple games there.
This season, there is no more Augustus Gilchrist, Ron Anderson or Hugh Robertson, as those three starters are all departed. What's left is a squad that is still good defensively, just not as big on the back line consistently.
But the story of USF begins with Anthony Collins. He was the team MVP last season, a pass-first, last, and nearly always point guard who's also a relentless defender. The Bulls' "offense" ran through him completely last season, and it does so again this season. His low center of gravity makes him very difficult to defend, and very difficult to play offense against. If the Pirates want to win, they can't let Collins do whatever he wants on the court. Once again, the onus is on the Hall's point guards in this regard.
Aside from Collins, the Bulls return the super-athletic Victor Rudd and Jawanza Poland. Rudd is a high-volume, but low-percentage shooter from pretty much everywhere, and he's shooting just 38% from the field this year despite leading the Bulls in scoring. But Rudd's value is on defense, where his 6'9", 229-poind frame makes him a quality defender down low.
Poland can leap out of the gym, and this season he hasn't been horrible from the perimeter, either (36%). His athleticism is getting him about 5 boards per game as well, so he's someone to keep an eye on as a game-changer off the bench.
Toarlyn Fitzpatrick is STILL there, too, and while his perimeter shooting numbers are down (he led the Bulls in three-point shooting last year at 6'8", I kid you not), he's still a very capable player, averaging more than 5 REB and over 1 BLK per game. He has been a little foul-prone, but on a back line with Rudd, they form a nice duo.
Behind that quartet, the Bulls don't have a lot of scoring. Martino Brock is a transfer from South Alabama who averaged over 14 PTS there, but who isn't scoring a lot for USF, and isn't shooting it overly well either. As per USF's style, he is athletic and a decent defender. Kore White and JaVonte Hawkins are good athletes who shore up the wing positions, while Zach LeDay provides some depth down low.
Seton Hall will win if:
- They are able to score. USF's offense is still below average, with Rudd leading the team at just 11.2 PTS. If the Pirates can operate their offense and get some shots to drop, I'm not all that confident that the Bulls can keep up against the Pirates' D. The one thing that could throw a wrench into that equation is Rudd, whose combination of size and athleticism could be tough to guard.
- Gene Teague takes care of the ball. Teague has been the primary source of early turnovers this season that have killed the Pirates in the last two games. As usual, no one on the opposing roster has the heft that Teague possesses this time around (the Bulls do have 7'3" behemoth Jordan Omogbehin, but he doesn't play much), but they do have the athleticism to double him swiftly when he catches the ball down low. Teague must make accurate out-passes against the Bulls for Seton Hall to be successful in this game.
- Cosby gets back on track. Aaron Cosby, after really playing well in the first couple Big East games, has really struggled in the last two with his shot. He's really an important part of the first key, and one of the few players Seton Hall has that can take someone off the dribble.
USF will win if:
- Collins carves up the Hall's guards. Anthony Collins isn't dangerous in scoring the ball, but his playmaking ability and quickness make the Bulls' offense and defense go. If he has a big game, chances are good that USF could steal this one.
- Their length bothers the Pirates. USF has athletes, and while they don't run in transition, they use their length to get stops and play fierce defense. The Pirates don't have many athletic specimens on this year's team, save Fuquan Edwin. You'll know really quick if the Pirates are struggling with the Bulls' athletes.
In closing, expect a low-scoring, aesthetically-offensive basketball game. Because this is at home (and not the trap-palooza that is the Sun Dome), Seton Hall really needs to win this game. If they lose, the reaction will not be pretty.