Here it is, folks.
The Big One.
By now you're all aware of the numbers, and how ugly they are: 2-25 in the last 27 meetings. 11 straight losses spanning nearly 11 years and two presidential administrations. You know these numbers. You can recite them in your sleep.
So we won't focus on that until a little later. Here's what you need to know about The Nemesis- UConn:
2011-12 record: 12-1
All-time series record: 18-42
Last meeting: 2/5/11 (61-59 L)
Never were the Pirates so agonizingly close to knocking off UConn as they were last year at the Rock. In fact, the only one closer in the recent stretch of futility for Seton Hall was on March, 4th, 1999 at the Big East Tournament. A late lead was lost due to the brilliance of one Kemba Walker, and an 11th straight loss was stamped into the books.
This year, there's no Walker to go to as a fail-safe leader. Luckily for UConn, the games haven't been close enough (with the lone exception of USF in their Big East opener) to really need one.
Returning from last year's National Championship team are the lightning-quick ballhawk Shabazz Napier, the lean scorer Jeremy Lamb, the muscle of Alex Oriakhi, the length of Roscoe Smith, a solid big in Tyler Olander, and a host of freshmen that are very talented and highly touted (as usual).
Among those frosh are another ridiculously quick, playmaking point guard in Ryan Boatright, a shooter in DeAndre Daniels, and a physical specimen of a big man in Andre Drummond. Regarding Drummond in particular, he was supposed to be part of next year's class, but reclassified at the last minute. Because of NCAA regulations, he's actually paying his own way through school, making him probably the best walk-on ever.
Bottom line is that UConn is still very dangerous. The Huskies are a team that, like in the past, is strictly a man-to-man defensive team. Very rarely do the Huskies play zone, which may or may not be a good thing for the Pirates' long-range shooting (more on that later). Also, very rarely are they not very good at playing that defense. The Huskies lead the conference in field goal percentage defense, and they are rarely out of the top 3 in the category in any given year. They also rank 2nd behind Syracuse in blocked shots, something for the Pirates to keep an eye on. The Pirates would do well to get into transition against the Huskies- they had 15 fast break points last time the two teams met and early offense would be one great way to prevent the big Husky front line from getting set in their defense.
Offensively, the Huskies love to utilize the playmaking skills of both Napier and Boatright. Both are quick with the ball and are great playmakers. Against a man to man defense (and against a zone as well), they use a high pick and roll to start much of their offense. What they did against the zone defense of St. John's in their last game was station Drummond in the short corner and have him gradually move closer to the basket, then someone (usually Napier) would lob it up to the big man for a dunk. Most of Drummond's points come on dunks- he had 16 PTS and 11 REB against the Red Storm.
Another thing to mention is that Hall-of-Famer Jim Calhoun won't be on the bench. He'll be instead replaced by George Blaney, the former Seton Hall head coach. Blaney is, to put it lightly, not anything like Calhoun. He's much more reserved in his coaching style. And for some reason, when he's replaced Calhoun the Huskies look like a different team. A 9-8 overall record for Blaney in Calhoun's stead also suggests this, and it hints that this could be a prime chance to finally beat the Huskies.
This is a big-time game for the Pirates, not just because of the losing streak or the fact that Seton Hall is looking to continue their best start in almost 19 years, but because immediately following it is a string of games the Pirates should win. This game could also go a long way in legitimizing the direction this team could go- a 2-1 start to the conference schedule was beyond anyone's wildest dreams at the start of the season. Now it has a good chance to become reality.
Seton Hall will win if:
- They defend the paint. UConn's modus operandi is to get shots close to the basket. Despite the fact that they rank 3rd in the conference in 3-point percentage, they don't have very many shooters. Lamb and Napier have been very good this year (hence the ranking), but shooting the three is not really UConn's game. (This is one are where the Pirates have the edge- beyond the arc. Look for many ball screens to try and get their shooters open in this regard.) If the Pirates can play the active zone they played against West Virginia, they have a great shot.
- Herb Pope responds. UConn freshman Andre Drummond was quoted as saying that he didn't even know who Herb Pope was. Knowing Pope, he probably saw this. Also knowing Pope, he will use it as fuel to up the intensity on the court. He's also had a few games with not as much production as he'd like, and if he's able to make plays against the UConn front line, he'll really get himself (and the team) going.
An aside note- if you attend the game tonight... BE LOUD whenever Drummond touches the ball. Even if he tried to clarify his response (and he did), that shouldn't matter. That goes for the rest of the game, too, but let's just say Drummond could use a little reminder of who Pope is.
UConn will win if:
- Their backcourt makes shots. The Huskies are led in scoring by Lamb, Napier and Boatright. If those three are able to exert their will over this game, it could end well for them.
- They get pumped up. One of the reasons UConn is just not the same without Jim Calhoun is the energy and drive Calhoun brings to the bench. This is most evident on the road, and despite the fact that many UConn fans will likely be in the building, it's still George Blaney on the bench. The Pirates can counter the UConn fans by starting fast, like they did against West Virginia.
This game is close to a sellout (or so I've heard), so if you were unable to get a ticket, you can hear yours truly call all of the action on 89.5 FM WSOU and wsou.net. You can also call up Hall Line to voice your opinion on the game (listen in for the number!). Hopefully we'll have something nice to talk about!