The Pirates have completed six, how should I put this, eventful non-conference games thus far. Six games remain, all without the All-Big East caliber shooting guard Jeremy Hazell, due to a broken wrist. Many Pirate fans were searching for answers after the two offensively challenged games following Hazell's injury against Clemson and Xavier. Some of those answers were provided this past Monday against St. Peter's via a 69-49 victory, some of them were not.
At this juncture, I think it is appropriate to reflect on what could have been in the first six games, and what can be in the next 6 non-conference games.
- Seton Hall was looking for some confidence after a tough defeat against Temple and before they departed for the Paradise Jam. Unfortunately for the Cornell Big Red, they would be the confidence booster that Seton Hall needed. I thought this blow out was summed up nicely when walk on Darnell Gatling drew a foul in mop up time and went to the line. Several Seton Hall players were going nuts on the bench for their teammate -- truly a great thing to see.
- Its indisputable that fan optimism was at its highest at the end of the Alabama game. The team played a very exciting game, beating a seemingly NCAA worthy Alabama squad. Unfortunately, this high wouldn't last for very long.
- Shortly after the impressive win against Alabama, word was leaking that Jeremy Hazell had sustained an injury. This injury turned out to be a broken scaphoid bone, accompanied with a 4-6 week recovery period. The Wooden Award candidate had been stolen from a team playing seemingly at its best. Pirate fans everywhere were gutted.
- A miracle Tu Holloway fade away jumper, a botched call in the final two minutes and a frustration filled technical foul later and Pirate Nation was looking at 2-3. Surely no one thought this team would be sub .500 after the first five games. No one is disputing the poor offensive performances put on in the wake of Jeremy Hazell's injury, but these three events were heart breaking. Anyone who calls themselves a Pirate Fan was in the dumps following the conclusion of the Paradise Jam.
What to look forward to, offensively:
Seton Hall has a tough road ahead, there is no arguing that. Its up to the offensive ability of this team to decide exactly how tough the road will be. Three games have been played with Hazell out of the lineup, only one of which with extensive game planning without the sharpshooter, so projection is limited.
Based on the St. Peter's game, this team isn't totally incompetent as shown in the Xavier and Clemson games. Yes, the Peacocks aren't the best of teams, but they are known for their great defense, and Seton Hall only put up 53 points against them last season, WITH Hazell. I personally think that the offense will need to be put on the shoulders of forward Jeff Robinson and point guard Jordan Theodore, with forward Herb Pope as a significant contributor. Keon Lawrence will have to build on his solid performance against St. Peter's as well. Here are the opinions of some other writers:
Seton Hall adjusts offense on the fly without Jeremy Hazell - Mike Vorkunov
What's left of the non-conference opposition?
The Pirates have games with two cupcakes (NJIT, Longwood), two middle tier teams (UMass, Arkansas) and two above average games (Dayton, Richmond). A reasonable expectation is something like 4-2, maybe 5-1. Arkansas will be a big game, neutral floor, ESPN2, and the SEC/BE Challenge on the line. UMass is still a wild card, but the game will likely be tough since it is on the road. The next two games are the cupcakes, likely confidence builders before the two toughest games (Dayton & Richmond) prior to the beginning of the Big East schedule.
As I previously said, St. Peter's isn't the best opponent, but they are known for their defense. Seton Hall definitely improved during the week of practices leading up to the St. Peter's game, but how will that translate against a few more talented teams? Will the offense gain momentum and continue to improve? Will Theodore and Lawrence play the type of point guard this team needs them too? Will Pope continue to get into top form?
Follow the jump for more on Seton Hall's remaining non-conference opponents.
Arkansas: The Razorbacks are off to a 4-1 start. They beat a sub-par Oklahoma team by 10 and lost to a decentUAB team -- so the jury is still out.
Player to Watch: Rotnei Clarke. The junior guard is shooting 50% from the field and 43% from beyond the arc. These fantastic averages have led to a 16.6 PPG average thus far.
Massachusetts: Remember the UMass team that Seton Hall embarrassed last season at the Prudential Center? Well that team is 7-0 so far, 6 of these wins being against D1 opponents. Who exactly did the Minutemen beat you say? The likes of Rider, Holy Cross, Quinnipiac and Sacred Heart. Rider is probably the most talented team they played.
Player to Watch: Senior guard Anthony Gurley. Gurley is averaging 21.3 PPG while shooting 58.8% from the field and from 3PT land. The senior dropped 31 points on Rider in UMass' opener. Gurley scored 15 points against Seton Hall last season.
Longwood: Not much to see here. The Lancers are 3-6, 2 of these wins are against non-D1 opponents.
Player to Watch: Junior center Antwan Carter. Averaging a double double (15 and 10) will earn you this title.
NJIT: The Highlanders are 1-4 (0-4 against D1), but they gave Rutgers a tough fight at the RAC. Should be about the same situation as Longwood.
Player to Watch: Junior guard Isaiah Wilkerson. NJIT doesn't have a stand out scorer, but Wilkerson is their leading scorer. He led the Highlanders in scoring against Seton Hall last season with 14.
Dayton: Dayton came out of the gates 5-0, including an impressive win over Ole Miss. Since then, they suffered an embarrassing loss to Cincinnati, 68-34 and a home loss to Eastern Tennessee State, 73-68. Dayton has five games before they play Seton Hall, so plenty can change, but they might not be the team many thought they were.
Player to Watch: Dayton still has a balanced offensive team, but the athletic Chris Wright is one to game plan against. The senior forward is averaging 12 PPG and 9 RPG.
Richmond: The Richmond Spiders are probably the most talented team left on the Pirate's non-conferenceschedule. Besides a surprising loss against Iona in the Gael's home opener, Richmond looks good. They beat the previously Top 10 ranked Purdue Boiler Markers but also lost to the very talented Old Dominion Monarchs.
Player to Watch: Kevin Anderson. The senior guard is deadly from beyond the arc (48%) when he decides to shoot it. The guard is averaging 16.8 PPG and 3.6 APG.
What KenPom thinks: At this point, the Pirates have a better than 50% chance to win each game. More details here.