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#9 Pittsburgh Panthers (15-3, 5-1) @ Seton Hall Pirates (11-6, 2-4) 2:00PM Pre-Game Notes

Pittsburgh @ Seton Hall, 2:00PM
Prudential Center, Newark, NJ
Television: MSG+, ESPN360. Note: MSG is airing Mavs/Knicks, only MSG+ will have SHU/PITT
Radio: 770 WABC  
Online: Panthers vs. Pirates coverage

 

Projected Starting Five: G-Theodore, G-Lawrence, G-Hazell, F-Pope, F/C-Robinson

On Sunday, the Pirates will look to put together their first multi-game winning streak since December 12th, when they beat VMI at the Rock, good for their 8th consecutive victory at the time.  Fresh off an 80-77 thriller at home against the Louisville Cardinals, Seton Hall, hasn't won back-to-back contests in nearly a month and a half.  More importantly, we're 1/3 through Big East play and the Pirates have yet to knock off an upper-echelon team in the conference.  They haven't been without their chances, playing some of the best team's in the country very tough this Big East season despite failing to record any marquee victories. 

Sunday afternoon will present another such opportunity as the #9 ranked Pitt Panthers come to the Rock, looking to rebound after their loss Wednesday to the Georgetown Hoyas.  The Pirate guards have their hands full attempting to defend the Panthers backcourt combo of Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker, averaging 35MPG/17PTS and 32MPG/13PTS, respectively.  Gibbs, who has emerged into the Panthers leading scorer, played locally at Seton Hall prep and Sunday will mark his first collegiate start in his home state.  Gibbs in an immense talent, however, it'll be imperative that the Pirates can stop Wanamaker.  At 13PTS/6.6REB/4.1AST/1.2STL, Wanamaker is the most complete player on the Panthers roster; a rotating defense of Jordan Theodore and Keon Lawrence will attempt to slow him down.  I'd imagine Gonzo will first roll out Keon, who is taller, more athletic and physical than JT, giving him the advantage in keeping the pesky 6'4 Wanamaker at bay.

Just as the Pirates will need to slow Wanamaker, I'm sure Jamie Dixon and the Panthers have a game plan dedicated to Herb Pope.  The Panthers have had trouble this season slowing their oppositions bigs: 

If the Pirates can limit the damage incurred by the Pittsburgh guards while keeping Herb Pope out of foul trouble, they'll have a shot at upsetting the Panthers in Newark this afternoon.  Of course, another extremely efficient performance out of Jeremy Hazell would go a long way as well. 

The Panthers hold the all-time edge in the Seton Hall/Pitt series, as SHU Athletics provides their preview:

SETON HALL - PITTSBURGH SERIES Seton Hall and Pittsburgh will meet for the 49th time in history on Sunday. This is the first of two games between the Pirates and Panthers this season. Seton Hall will visit Pittsburgh on Feb. 6. The Panthers own a 29-19 all-time series lead and have won three straight. Last season, the Pirates faced a #1-ranked Pittsburgh team and lost 89-78 at Prudential Center. Seton Hall's last victory over the Panthers came on March 3, 2006.

Today's top story lines, courtesy of Pitt Athletics:

•Pitt has currently won five straight road games including four consecutive this year. Pitt has won 10 of its last 13 road contests.

•In games played after losing a contest, National Coach of the Year candidate Jamie Dixon's all-time record is 32-9.

•Pitt is 6-1 since veterans Jermaine Dixon (right foot injury) and Gilbert Brown (academic suspension) both returned to the floor. Pitt played its first 10 games with a starting five that combined for one career start prior to the season opener.

•Three Panthers make local "homecoming" appearances on Sunday including Ashton Gibbs (Scotch Plains/Seton Hall Prep), Travon Woodall (St. Anthony) and Brandin Knight (East Orange/Seton Hall Prep).

CBS Sports previews the contest Sunday afternoon:

The ninth-ranked Panthers get a chance to bounce back from that defeat Sunday when they visit a Seton Hall team coming off one of its biggest victories of the season. Pittsburgh (15-3, 5-1) is one of the Big East's surprise teams after losing four starters from last season's club that fell one game short of the Final Four. The Panthers are 3-0 in conference road games, with wins over then-No. 5 Syracuse on Jan. 2 and then-No. 15 Connecticut on Jan. 13. Pittsburgh's perfect start in conference play ended with a 74-66 home loss to No. 12 Georgetown on Wednesday. The Panthers shot a season-low 22.2 percent (4 of 18) on 3-pointers.

'Piratz' of PirateCrew.com with his take on today's action:

An area where Pitt's susceptible is actually The Hall’s strength: Turnovers. Pittsburgh has a -1.67 turnover margin in conference play compared to Seton Hall’s league-leading +5.67. The Panthers average about 12 turnovers per game and only force 10. The Pirates get about 15 per game, which is a very good number, but not off the charts high. Where we’ve been able to make the big difference is in protecting the ball on our side. SHU averages around 9 TO per game, best in the league, more impressive when considering the number of possessions in our games. Pitt is not the type of ball-hawking defenders that we saw against Louisville or Georgetown. They register just 5.2 steals per game, 14th of 16 teams.

Predictions?

Seth Davis is taking the Panthers:

Unfortunately, the Pirates are facing a far superior defensive team in Pitt, not to mention a team coming off a tough loss to Georgetown. Pitt leads the Big East in scoring defense (59.9 ppg) and three-point defense (29.1 percent), and they are not going to try to press Seton Hall full court like Louisville did, which only made it easier for Hazell to get open looks.

While, some guy (Al McMordie), from some betting website, will take the Pirates:

Finally, Pitt's vaunted defense is starting to show some cracks; its last three foes have each shot 46% or better from the field. Take Seton Hall.

C'mon, you knew I had to find someone taking the Pirates today.

Pittsburgh's Tribune-Reivew's John Grupp, with an article on Seton Hall's Herb Pope:

"I'm very happy for him," Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said. "We've known him for a long time, recruited him a long time. I wasn't sure if he was going to play again (after the shooting). I'm thankful that he is and I'm glad for him." Pope, who originally committed to Pitt as a sophomore, has become an inside force for a Seton Hall team that finished last in the Big East in rebounding margin last season.

Adam Zagoria, on the Pope/Pittsburgh angle:

Pope initially committed to Pittsburgh and then changed his mind and opted for New Mexico State because he said he felt more comfortable with then-head coach Reggie Theus‘ style of play. "New Mexico State played the up and down tempo," he said. "With him being a guy from Louisville, Reggie Theus, it was basically like a Louisville offense." After opting to leave New Mexico State, Pope said he considered Pitt the second time around, but chose Seton Hall because he didn’t want to be too close to home.

Herb Pope is definitely the most publicized player in recent Seton Hall history as there have been countless stories written about him this season from both local and national media alike.  He's a tremendous talent that I hope will keep improving his craft by returning to don the Pirate Blue next year, however, that's a debate for another day.  Pope has been nothing short of the ultimate team player since his arriving at The Hall.  You can tell how badly he wants to win  through his willingness to battle for every rebound, his body language on the court and his frustration when he fouls out of games.  He's simply a sensational story that you can't help getting behind.  We hope he has a great game against Pitt tonight; a game that he's had circled on his calender for quite some time.  

As always, Let's go Hall.