Coming off a survival game against Mercer, the Pirates are off to their best start since 2009-10 (1992-93 for the season before that) as they now face their toughest test yet- a true road game at Dayton.
Here's all you need to know about the Flyers:
2011-12 record: 8-3
All-time series: 3-7
Last meeting: 12/22/10 (69-65 L)
The Pirates enter this matchup at historic UD Arena armed with their first vote in the ESPN/USAToday Coaches' Poll that they picked up this week, but as anyone who's ever been to the arena will tell you, you need much, much more than that to knock off the Flyers at home.
Leading the way for Dayton this year is a transfer point guard from Southern Illinois, Gene Teague's old stomping ground, whose name is Kevin Dillard (ironic, huh?). Dillard is averaging over 5 AST while also leading the Flyers in scoring, more than filling the void left by the departure of last year's starter Juwan Staten. The matchup between him and Jordan Theodore should be a good one, as both guards can also defend.
Surrounding Dillard is a veteran squad that knows how to win. Senior forward Chris Johnson is a super athlete who's scored over 1,000 points in his career so far, and senior guards Paul Williams (a terrific defender and three-point shooter) and Josh Parker (a microwave-type 6th man who has struggled shooting the ball this year) flank him. The Flyers also return junior forwards Josh Benson and Matt Kavanaugh to bang down low. Benson is finishing at a high rate, and Kavanaugh (who scored a career-high 15 PTS last season against the Pirates, a mark that still stands) is an excellent offensive rebounder. Dayton also has Luke Fabrizius, another shooter, coming off the bench. Both he and Johnson are game-time decisions due to a hyper-extended knee (Johnson) and a rib injury (Fabrizius).
The Flyers as a team love to shoot it from deep, with three players (Parker, Johnson, and Williams) over the 50 attempt mark from beyond the arc. That's more than any Pirate has attempted this season, so if you thought Seton Hall liked to shoot, just wait till you see the Flyers.
It goes without saying that the Pirates will need to be at their best defensively, and certainly much better than the Mercer game, to have a shot at the victory. They also need to start fast to avoid having the Flyers' terrific home crowd getting into the game. All indications show that this should be a close game Wednesday night, and honestly, it should be a growing experience for this young team either way. If they win, they'll have boatloads of confidence. If they come up short, it will be a teaching moment for Coach Willard.
Seton Hall will win if:
- The Frosh step up. The Pirates' Big 3 (Herb Pope, Jordan Theodore, Fuquan Edwin) should be fine in an environment like this. What's less certain are the freshmen that are likely to see time: Brandon Mobley, Haralds Karlis, Aaron Cosby and the two-headed backup point guard combo of Sean Grennan/Freddie Wilson. Down in Charleston, the Pirates had thousands of supporters that they just won't have in Dayton. The freshmen stepping up will be crucial to keeping the UD defense honest on the Big 3. This is a true litmus test for not only the team in general, but the freshmen as well.
- They defend the perimeter. What Dayton wants to do is shoot the three, and the Pirate defense surrendered way too many open looks to the Bears on Sunday, so rotations will need to be crisp, on-time, and well-positioned. As a sidebar to this point, they also need to keep Kavanaugh off the boards. He really hurt the Pirates last year by being in better position than the SHU post players, getting many of those 15 points on putbacks.
Dayton will win if:
- They ride their home crowd. Dayton was voted AHEAD of both Durham and Lawrence as the best basketball town in America, and that's because they are absolutely crazy about the Flyers out there. This is a legit big-time environment, one that has hosted many NCAA Tournament games and had numerous historic games in its history. It's one of the toughest road environments to play in, and the Pirates could very easily get swallowed by it if they're not careful.
- Dillard trumps Willard. Kevin Dillard is the key to the Flyers' offense running smoothly. If he can be the leader he's been most of the time this year, the Flyers have a good shot to make their streak of 9 out of 10 Power-6 teams beaten even better. If the Pirates can bottle him up or force him into turnovers, they have a shot at what would be a major respect-earning W on the road.
PS: This game will not be televised, and the video stream on Dayton's website costs 15 dollars, so if you're wallet-conscious (or even if you're not for that matter), you can listen to yours truly call all the action on 89.5 FM WSOU or wsou.net. Nothing like a little shameless self-promotion!