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Seton Hall Pirates (12-7, 3-5) @ #2 Villanova Wildcats (19-1, 8-0) 7:00PM Open Game Thread

Seton Hall @ Villanova, 7:00PM
The Pavilion, Villanova, PA
Television: ESPNU
Radio: 770 WABC  
Online: Pirates vs. Wildcats coverage

Live game updates via Twitter: @GonzoBall

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

On Tuesday, Seton Hall will attempt to become the first team to defeat the Villanova Wildcats at the Pavilion in the last 36 contests hosted on campus.  The Pirates are coming off a heartbreaking 76-74 OT loss to USF, while Villanova remains the only unbeaten team in the conference, en route to earning the #2 ranking in the country. Unlike the Pirates, Villanova has an extremely backloaded conference schedule.  Over the course of their eight victories, 'Nova has only defeated one team in the AP top 25, while they will face 5 of 9 ranked opponents to close the season.

The top-rated Big East offense will be on display Tuesday night as the Wildcats are averaging 85.2PPG, opposed to the Pirates' 82.8PPG, good for third best in the conference.  Both teams are tied for 2nd in rebounding with 40.7RPG and 'Nova holds the advantage in FG shooting, 47% to The Hall's 45%.    

Scottie Reynolds.  The senior is making a case for the Big East POY hardware (18.7PTS/3.3AST/50%FG/42%3PT) and I wouldn't be surprised to see him finish in the top 3 of the national POY award.  Seton Hall fans are all too familiar with Scottie as he came into South Orange last year and put forth one of the most impressive performances of his collegiate career finishing with: 40PTS (15-of-16 FT, 5-3PT) 4REB/3AST/2STL en route to a Wildcat victory. Paging Keon Lawrence.  I don't care about Keon's offensive struggles thus far this season, if he can limit Reynolds to under 15 points, it will be considered a worthy performance whether or not he has a quiet offensive night himself.  

The two teams play a very similar fast-paced offensive game, however, Villanova unquestionably has the superior talent. That doesn't mean Seton Hall won't be able to hang.  What it does mean is Seton Hall will need a top notch defensive effort like we saw against Pittsburgh if the Pirates intend to keep this one close.  I spoke more on this in my answers from today's Q&A with I Bleed Blue and White:

Will Gonzo drastically alter his game plan in an attempt to slow down Tuesday’s game? I don’t believe so. I think Seton Hall will be able to keep up with the Wildcats for much of the first half, but there will come a point where Hazell starts missing his shots, the Pirates will go through a scoring drought and the flood gates will open for Villanova. It’s important for Seton Hall to raise their defensive intensity from what was on display at South Florida in an attempt to slow Villanova during these stretches. If their defense doesn’t respond, the boys from Jersey are in for a long night at the Pavilion.

The Pirates will need to jump all over the Wildcats defensively in an attempt to create turnovers, 'Nova does give up the ball as they sport a nearly even assist-to-turnover ratio at 1.1AST/1TO.  It's imperative that the Pirates lock down defensively in their half court set as Villanova will have little trouble breaking Gonzo's full court press.  Of course, the Pirates must also take advantage on the glass as Herb Pope will battle with Brooklyn native, Antonio Pena(10.9PTS/7.6REB) for the majority of the night.  

Should the Pirates finish on top in the rebounding and turnover aspects of the game, I believe the winner of this game will rest on Scottie's shoulders.  We must keep him off the line as it proved to be the deciding victory in last year's 4 point VU victory as he was good for 15-of-16 from the stripe.  If we foul carelessly and send him to the line all night, he'll drop over 20+ and the Wildcats win.  Otherwise, the Pirates could save their season with a stunning road victory.  Granted, accomplishing the three (REB/TO/Scottie) will be extremely difficult, but this is a Pirates team that absolutely needs to step up to the challenge.  We've learned (at least) one thing from watching the Pirates this season, if they bring their A game, they will compete with anybody, the talent is there.  The problem at hand remains, we've only seen brief glimpses of said A game and they're running out of opportunities to make the honor roll.  

The Wildcats may have won 35 consecutive games at the Pavilion, however, the Pirates have been victorious five times at the campus venue.  Courtesy of SHU Athletics

AT THE PAVILION Seton Hall is 5-13 all-time at The Pavilion on the campus of Villanova University. They've lost nine straight in the building. Villanova has won 35 straight at The Pavilion.

The 'Nova frontcourt may be small and inexperienced, seemingly a disadvantage for the Wildcats.  However, 'Piratz' of explains why Villanova can successfully get away with it:

On paper that’s a weak point for Villanova. But the brilliance of their team is how they compensate with a non-traditional style. Their guards and wings gang-rebound, play tenacious defense, and move so well without the ball on offense that they dictate the pace by using their quickness to turn a size disadvantage into a match-up advantage. This season is no different. They have a quartet of incredibly talented wings that come at you in waves.

If you can only read one game preview for each game, let it be Piratz.  They're consistently an awesome read and leagues above what any major outlet can produce.  

Follow the jump for previews from CBS and Villanova Viewpoint.  We've also got news & notes from ESPN, Carino, Setonia, Hurley Sr., LF Ball and a look at expanding the tournament to 96 teams.  

Despite earning the #2 AP ranking this afternoon, Villanova coach Jay Wright is excited to get better.  CBS Sports writes:

Villanova (19-1, 8-0 Big East) has won 10 straight for its longest run since winning 11 in a row Jan. 17-Feb. 23, 2006. The Wildcats, averaging a conference-best 85.2 points, are off to the best start in school history and are 8-0 in the Big East for the first time. "We really are excited that we can get better," coach Jay Wright said.

This Villanova team getting better? Scary thought.  At least Jay is saying the Wright things.  I like Corny.  

An in-depth game preview from Villanova blog, Villanova Viewpoint

I would place Seton Hall on the bubble, at this point. One thing that the Pirates have going for them, is a relatively easy February, once the battles against Villanova and Pittsburgh are over this week. Seton Hall still has to play DePaul, St. John's, and two games against in-state rival Rutgers (i.e., the three lowest teams in the current Big East standings). If the Pirates were to beat any of their strong opponents - Villanova and/or Pitt and/or West Virginia - sweep the three weak teams, and manage some victories against middling teams such as Notre Dame or Providence, the Pirates would have a real shot on Selection Sunday. The Pirates also have a great nonconference loss to nationally ranked Temple, also.

Before the three game "road trip" I suggested that the Pirates needed to win 2-of-3, however that looks unlikely now that they've dropped the opener to USF.  If the Pirates can sneak away with a win over #2 ranked 'Nova, I would willingly trade it for two losses to USF and Pittsburgh.

Also, look for the Pavilion to temporarily suspend the game when Reynolds scores his 7th point, reaching the 2,000 mark for his Villanova career.  Hat tip to Villanova Viewpoint for the heads up.  

Make sure to check out It's Time for IBBW to Walk the Plank, Parts 1 and 2

As always, Let's go Hall!