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Seton Hall Basketball: JP's 5 Thoughts- ND 55, SHU 42

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Because I was down in Tampa, Florida during the majority of this game, I could not watch it live. All I saw was about 8 minutes of the second half. All I knew about was the box score. I figured this was going to be a brutal write-up- how in the world could a game that set the mark for lowest points scored in the Kevin Willard era have anything positive in it whatsoever? I was set to type in all-CAPS a lot.

But when I watched it, I wasn't as mad anymore. The tape wasn't pretty, but it wasn't as ugly as I anticipated.

Here are the Thoughts:

- Big D

Let's start with a positive- the defense, especially in the first half, was TREMENDOUS. This couldn't have been at the forefront of many Pirate fans' minds given that the offense couldn't get anything to drop through the net. But looking at the tape I was super-impressed by the defense. They were rotating fantastically in their zone, swarming the ball when it got into the paint, and playing with great effort to try and knock the Irish out of a semblance of offensive rhythm. The post defense was very good, the perimeter defense nearly matched it.

Unfortunately for Seton Hall (and you may not want to hear this), the Irish defense was also better than I thought it would be. Yes, the Pirates couldn't buy a bucket, but the sheer extreme in which that happened overshadowed what was a very good defensive performance by the Irish's standards. They didn't make life easy for Herb Pope or anyone down on the block, negating to some effect the inside-outside movement the Pirates wanted to get.

If you like defense, like me, you LOVED that first half. If you like offense, you probably averted your eyes after the opening 4 minutes (score: 0-0).

Also unfortunately for the Pirates, though, the first half was played at the Irish's pace. Notre Dame couldn't get any threes to drop so they could create separation, and neither could Seton Hall. Which brings me to....

- Turtle Basketball

That's the pace Notre Dame likes to play at. They take care of the ball, and did so again last night, while waiting for the defense to get impatient, whereby they make good passes and get a good shot off. Well, the Pirate defense was tremendous for the first half and the beginning of the second half. Then the Irish hit a couple threes, which created separation while Seton Hall continued to struggle to put the ball in the basket.

The burn offense was more of a slow crock-pot type gameplan. And the Pirates got slow-cooked like a Sunday roast.

- Pope's Woes

They continued in a big way on Wednesday night. The numbers were not pretty- 2-16 on FG, 5 PTS, 5 fouls, and only 7 REB. He's not been himself ever since Big East play began, and really ever since Dayton, when teams started doubling him. This time, he wasn't necessarily doubled that much, but he was WAY off on his first three attempts and his subsequent shots just would not go down. Just one of those nights for Pope, who was clearly annoyed by the time he finally scored a bucket.

- Donut Offense

This has two meanings. One, the scoring and shot-making was clearly lacking, but the looks were almost all good ones, even Pope's myriad of misses. Nothing was really forced by Seton Hall, and Jordan Theodore was under control this time (in fact, a little too under control- we'll touch on that next).

Second, there was almost no effort to get the ball inside to Pope in the second half. The offense came out of the locker room still unable to purchase some points, and that wore on this team, as the offense devolved into pick-and-roll sets almost exclusively. That's not Seton Hall Basketball.

- State of the Pirates

Since the State of the Union was this past week, I think now is as good a time as ever to do a "State of the Pirates."

The main reason that Seton Hall got off on a roll was the leadership of Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope. And that's been the reason for the three-game slide. Pope dominated the shorter front lines of early season opponents and put up some monster lines, while Theodore was a leader and floor general who was glad to defer to his teammates. Pope's production went down hill as the conference season got started, but the Pirates stayed afloat because Theodore upped his game. The last three games, neither guy has played well, with Pope continuing to backslide offensively and Theodore either trying too hard (USF, Villanova) or not enough (Notre Dame).

The Pirates cannot afford off-games from both players. Aaron Cosby has been phenomenal as a shooter, as has Fuquan Edwin with his multi-faceted game. The reserves compete, and that's what you need from your bench. Patrik Auda's skill set makes him very valuable when on the court, but he can't stay there long enough to be a factor. The defense (as expected) keeps them in every game thanks to the complex nature of said defense.

This team is at a crossroads heading into Saturday's primetime matchup with Louisville. Both teams are 4-4 in Big East play. The Cardinals (16-5) play like the Pirates (15-5) and vice-versa due to the fact that Kevin Willard was a disciple of Rick Pitino. The Pirates are sliding, while Louisville has gotten back on track following a rough start to their conference slate. In order to triumph against a team so similar in style, the Pirates need to have Pope and Theodore lead like they did before. Also, they need to keep Pope involved down low. Running the offense through his touches in the post worked wonderfully earlier this season, and the lack of paint touches was stark on Wednesday night. It's not easy against enhanced competition, but no one ever said it would be easy.

Bottom line- this team started 15-2 on the year, making visions of a return to the postseason dance through the heads of every fan who bleeds Pirate blue and white. They need this game if they're going to have a realistic strong shot of doing that. It is a must-win in almost every sense of the word in that regard. With a 3-game road trip after this coming up on the schedule, with all three sites possessing tough environments, words cannot express how big this game is in the big picture of the season. I'm calling this one for WSOU, and I've got those big-game broadcast jitters even as I'm writing this piece.

A full preview of the game will be up tomorrow morning here on South Orange Juice