On the Banks of the Raritan: Besides Hazell, who else should we look out for on the Seton Hall team?
Gonzo Ball: Earlier in the season, the instant answer would have been Herb Pope. The sophomore is averaging a double-double with 11.2PTS/11REB per game, good for first in the conference in rebounding. That said, Pope has struggled a bit recently. Since January 28th, he's failed to score in double digits and hasn't made more than 4 buckets in any single game. After starting conference play with three consecutive double-doubles, he hasn't notched one since January 6th. The player that has stepped up the most during Pope's slump has been the junior transfer from Memphis, Jeff Robinson. JRob has averaged 15.5PTS/5.3REB while shooting 66% from the floor over the last four games. He can finish strong inside, but also sports a nice mid-range jumper, can run the floor, and plays much bigger than his 6'6 height.
OTBR: What are your thoughts on Hazell's itchy trigger finger? Does he do more harm than good?
GB: That's the gift and the curse with Jeremy Hazell. He's going to have games where he shoots more than he should, where he repeatedly hoists up deep, difficult, contested 3PT attempts and potentially shoots the Pirates out of a game or two. That said, despite shooting and missing, nothing could deter his confidence. Take the WVU contest on 12/26 for example. Hazell was 10-for-25 and 2-of-14 from long distance as Seton Hall trailed the Mountaineers by 10 with a minute remaining. His confidence must have been completed destroyed, right? Not at all. In a span of 9 seconds, Hazell hit two 3PT shots from about 30 feet out, forcing OT.
The size of his heart is immense and his teammates have the utmost confidence in him. He's easily the best scoring threat on a Seton Hall team that often takes a play or two off on the defensive end. If the Pirates end up in a shootout, the only way they can win is from a monster game from Jeremy. There isn't another player on the roster that can take the game over. We saw Pope dominate McGhee and Pittsburgh for 19PTS/9REB one night, however, there isn't a Pirate capable of dropping 30+ on any given night other than Hazell.
OTBR: What can you say about Seton Hall's recruiting class? Has Gonzalez been able to get some of the best local talent?
To be frank, no. Fuquan Edwin and Eugene McCrory make up the 2010-'11 recruiting class at the moment. Edwin, from Paterson Catholic High School is a 3 star rivals/scout recruit and the #48 SF in the class of 2010 according to Scout. McCrory, from KIMA High School in Washington D.C., gave his verbal to SHU last week and is also a 3 star rivals recruit. There are questions surrounding McCrory's academics and whether or not he'll be able to post the required SAT/ACT scores. That news is particularly worrisome to Seton Hall fans, who saw another recruit bail due to academic deficiencies. Jesse Morgan, who actually signed a letter of intent to play at Seton Hall next season, enrolled early at UMass after his SAT score failed to qualify for the BIG EAST conference.
It's imperative that Gonzalez locks up another big man for next season, as it remains the Pirates most glaring hole. The classic problem remains for schools such as SHU/RU/STJ when trying to recruit in the metro area. It's increasingly difficult to bring the best local talent into a losing program, when kids are receiving offers from: Villanova, Connecticut, Pittsburgh, Syracuse, Georgetown, etc. Until the local schools start winning again, it's going to be tough to bring in the, "five star recruits" and without the recruits, it's going to be tough to start winning again.
OTBR: Are you happy with the Rock? Does it give Seton Hall a clear homecourt advantage?
Gonzo Ball: Happy with the Rock? The food still sucks and the lines for the bathroom are still too long. In all seriousness, it's leagues above the Continental Airlines Arena and SHU does its part by curtaining off the upper deck in an attempt to create a more authentic collegiate atmosphere. Seton Hall has looked like a different team at home than it does on the road, but how much of that can be credited to the fans, I can't be sure. It's not an overly loud venue and opponents certainly aren't scared of the decibel level in Newark. Until the fans respond by getting out to more games and stop sitting on their hands, it won't provide a, "clear" home court advantage. With Rutgers coming to town, I'm sure fans will be a bit more boisterous than usual, but there should also be a solid red contingent in the stands as well.
OTBR: Will an appearance in the NIT be a huge letdown or an important step in the right direction for the program?
GB: A huge letdown. It's Gonzo's fourth year and we heard plenty of talk over the off-season regarding his expectations for the NCAA tournament. The hype machine was pumping full blast, with the trio of impact transfers: Herb Pope, Jeff Robinson and Keon Lawrence ready to join a veteran team of Harvey, Garcia, Hazell, Mitchell and Jordan Theodore, who was impressive at times during his freshman season. If they don't make the big dance, we'll hear more talk about how the team has improved ever year under the Gonzo administration and he'd be right. Problem is, the improvement has been minimal and the fans are quite frankly tired of all the losing.
OTBR: What's the best thing about the RU/SHU rivalry?
The best thing is the competition between the two teams, considering how the two clubs have struggled in conference play over recent years. The players know each other and have no problem getting up for the games. Despite how many wins or losses either team has, you know Seton Hall / Rutgers is going to be a war. The Pirates have won the last three of four contests, however the average margin of victory has been 6 points. Let's throw the records out the window, I fully expect another hard fought battle tomorrow night. Let the better team emerge victorious at the end of the night. Either that, or let Gonzo and FHJ come to blows. It would be wildly entertaining and they've got a score to settle.
A big thanks to Shawn over at On the Banks of the Raritan!