Finals are (mostly) over at Seton Hall, and thus the season kicks into high gear. After a full week off since their last game, this game starts a stretch of 3 games in 6 days to round out the non-conference season, one that to this point has been better than almost anyone could have hoped.
Here's all you wanted to know about the Pirates' next opponent- the Mercer Bears from the Atlantic Sun Conference:
2011-12 record: 7-3
All-time series record: First meeting
Last meeting: n/a
The Pirates and Bears have never met, and Mercer is a team that looks very different from last year's squad that lost to eventual champion Belmont in the A-Sun semifinals. Gone are leading scorer Brad Mills and best shooter Mark Hall, along with two other starters.
This year, the Bears are a different-looking bunch, but they still possess the same general qualities, especially their defensive mindset. Mercer is allowing their opponents just 37% shooting from the floor. To top that off, although their top rebounder is 6'6" junior Jakob Gollon at 5.6 REB, they also have two other starters, 6'6" Bud Thomas and 6'10" Daniel Coursey, averaging over 4 and a half REB, which along with the fact that the Bears are out-rebounding their opponents by about 4 boards a game, suggests that Mercer is a gang-rebounding team. That could help them against a rebounder the caliber of Herb Pope.
Offensively, last year Mercer's strength was getting to the free throw line and converting, but the players who were best at doing that have since departed. 6'4" guard Langston Hall is the team's leading scorer and playmaker, averaging over 13 PTS and almost 4 AST per contest. He has been inconsistent, though, turning the ball over 3 times per game and shooting barely 40% from the field. Nevertheless, he's a player to keep an eye on for Seton Hall.
Another weapon to keep an eye on would be 6'8" senior forward Justin Cecil, who is more of a perimeter player and the team's best long-range shooter at nearly a 40% clip from the great beyond. Gollon is also averaging double-digits in points to go along with his team-leading rebounding average. Thomas does a little bit of everything for the Bears, including being one of three players who have a knack for stealing the basketball alongside Hall and Gollon, while Coursey rounds out the starting 5 as the big man in the middle.
It is said that whenever a mid-major faces a power-6 (or, really when any underdog team faces a heavy favorite, as the Pirates will likely be), that the three point line is the great equalizer. But the Bears really only have two long-range bombers in Hall and Cecil, so the Pirates (with their Big East-leading .273 defensive 3-point percentage mark) should be able to neutralize that.
Seton Hall will win if:
- They take care of the ball. Mercer starts only 1 player shorter than 6'5" in Hall, so the Pirates will have to contend with some length on D from the Bears. Couple the Bears' pesky defensive style with that length, and you get a team that likes to force steals and turnovers. Moving the ball will be key here, as well as Jordan Theodore continuing to be smart on the offensive end and not forcing anything that isn't there. Tough shots from Theodore are likely what Mercer wants to force with their defense if they can't turn the Pirates over.
- They force turnovers. The only notable team that Mercer has played is Missouri, and the Tigers forced 14 steals and 20 turnovers overall in a rout back in November. One statistic that isn't brought up a lot with Seton Hall is that their turnover margin this year is terrific, 4th in the Big East, and if that continues to hold true, this game should be a fairly easy win.
Mercer could win if:
- They force enough turnovers and convert them into points. Turnovers is what I feel this game may come down to, and in that case the Pirates have the edge with a senior point guard like Jordan Theodore. But if the Pirates look ahead a little bit to Wednesday night's big game in Ohio, the focus could wane, and that won't be a good thing. This is far from a sure thing, but enough mistakes by Seton Hall and Mercer could have a shot.
- They double-team Herb Pope all night. And therefore force others to beat them. I'm grasping for straws here, but double- or even triple-teaming Pope looks like the only way to slow him down right now. He's been the MVP of the conference so far, and Mercer doesn't have anyone who can match up with his skill set. Not many teams do, actually.