Through the first two games, we've seen some encouraging things from the new-look Seton Hall Pirates. The play of Tom Maayan, Gene Teague and Fuquan Edwin in particular has been uplifting for a team that had a few question marks heading into the season.
Now, things get serious, and with Washington, the Pirates will have to step up their level of play once again. Winners of either the Pac-12 regular season or tournament in each of the last four seasons, Lorenzo Romar's club has been the most consistent program in the conference. This year, they come into the new season with question marks of their own, highlighted in their loss to Albany at home on Tuesday night.
2011-12 record (overall/in-conference): 24-11 / 14-4 (first place)
Key losses: Terrence Ross, Tony Wroten Jr.
Washington and Seton Hall were in the same boat last season. Both had strong cases to make the NCAA Tournament and both ultimately fell short. For Washington, the reason was an abominable 7-5 record in non-conference play, plus an early exit from the Pac-12 Tournament. They were the best team in the conference with a 14-4 record last year, but in a down year for the Pac-12, that amounted to an NIT berth. In fact, they were a 1-seed along with the Pirates in the postseason last year.
This year, their top two scorers from a year ago- Ross and Wroten- are gone after exiting in the NBA Draft. What remains is a solid nucleus of players looking for a go-to guy. Both Ross and Wroten put up over 440 shots last year (no other Husky shot more than 350 times), so the supporting cast is now the star of the show.
Wilcox and Suggs (who redshirted last season) are both very good shooters, with Wilcox the leading returning scorer despite being hobbled a bit with a hip injury. He made 40% of his threes last season and is the odds-on favorite to assume the go-to guy role for this team. Suggs is also a good defender in addition to his shooting prowess, but he suffered a concussion against Albany early in the game and did not return.
Gaddy was once the #2 point guard in the nation out of high school, but he has not quite lived up to the hype. He tore his ACL in the beginning of 2011 and was hampered by that last season. The injury limited his penetrating ability (which wasn't tremendous anyway) and his defense as well. This season, however, he is a senior point guard and with Wroten gone, the unquestioned leader of the pack, so he could be primed for a strong campaign.
Just like the former Rutgers player with the same last name, Aziz N'Diaye is a shot-blocker and rebounder deluxe. He's the anchor of the defense for Washington, and the Huskies really struggled when he was off the floor. He's limited offensively, though, and we won't even speak about the free throw line.
Desmond Simmons is a reserve forward with a reputation as a decent stretch-four man, and Breunig is an athletic backup as well for the forward positions. Shawn Kemp, Jr. is out 6-8 weeks with a patella tendon injury.
Two redshirt freshmen bear mentioning as well- Andrew Andrews and Jernard Jarreau. Both sat out last season. Andrews is a point guard who can play either the one or the two, while Jarreau is a post defender-type player.
Washington is a good team, but they are woefully short-handed. Due to the recent injuries of Suggs and Kemp, the rotation is basically 6 guys. Not only that, but the Huskies really struggled against a zone defense vs Albany. That plays right into the Pirates' hands, as their switching matchup zone is the hallmark of Willard's system.
Seton Hall will win if:
- Teague continues to play well. In N'Diaye, the Pirates and specifically Teague will face their first real D-1 shot-blocker. Teague is a force, but he is 6'9" while N'Diaye is a 7-footer. If Teague can continue to get his points in the paint and rebounds against N'Diaye, that bodes well for the Pirates.
- They knock down threes. The reason is obvious. The Pirates' formula for success is threes and defense. The defense is pretty much always there, and just in case Teague can't operate as usual, it would help if the Pirates' shooters could make his life a little easier. In addition, the Huskies would have gone zone against the Great Danes (to hide the mobility-challenged N'Diaye on pick & rolls and to mask their lack of depth), but some hot outside shooting prevented them from doing so, and eventually that led to the game-winning driving layup.
- The Point Guards hold their own. Freddie Wilson will be back from his two-game suspension, and Aaron Cosby will be in better game shape. Tom Maayan has been great in the first two games, but this time they'll be going up against a seasoned floor leader in Abdul Gaddy. Can the three-headed point guard system out-play a rejuvenated Gaddy? It may hold the key to victory. The onus could be on Wilson, the best slasher of the three, to run the pick & roll effectively, an area N'Diaye and the Huskies struggled with against Albany.
Washington will win if:
- N'Diaye stays on the court. He's the crux of Washington's defensive success, and the only true shot-blocker the Huskies feature. The Pirates would do well to get him into foul trouble. It would clear the way for Teague to really be able to do some damage.
- They create turnovers. Against Norfolk State, the Pirates had some issues early with the Spartans' press. You can bet that Seton Hall will see some of that on Saturday, at least just to test the waters. Turnovers in the half-court could also help them against a deep Pirates team.
- They out-hustle Seton Hall. Losing to a decidedly inferior opponent at home always stings more than a close loss to an equal or better team. Look for Washington, even with a short bench, to come out swinging to try and generate the good feelings again about themselves. The Pirates will have to match that intensity.