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Tuesday, February 26, 2008


February 26, 2008

A pretty interesting game down in South Florida pits the Bulls of USF against the Seton Hall Pirates. The Bulls have been playing better of late, but only have one win to show for it in their last three games. The Pirates finally broke a 5-game losing streak with a two-point home win over DePaul on Saturday night.

Here are the local media game stories and previews on the game:

Hall Getting Back its Pillar (Star-Ledger)
Seton Hall-South Florida Scouting Report (Courier News)

In their last three games, South Florida beat Syracuse by double digits at home, had the lead until the last second against UConn in an overtime loss and had three shots at the basket in the final seconds to win at Cincinnati, only to come up short.

For a team that had lost their previous 10 games, with none closer than 8 points, that is progress. The Bulls were so close to ending their road futility record in Big East games at Cincinnati last week, but they couldn't make the big shot at the end. With Kentrell Gransberry struggling offensively (7 pts), Jesus Verdejo (19 pts) and Dominique Jones (16) picked up the slack, but turnovers and lack of scoring options outside their main three did them in.

We were beginning to worry about Seton Hall and where they were headed. While their five-game losing streak was not a total surprise based on their schedule, the way they lost to Notre Dame and Marquette on their own floor and how they were thumped by West Virginia was. The five-game losing streak immediately followed a five-game winning streak where the buzz on the Pirates picked up.

SHU got back into the win column Saturday night with a 73-71 win over DePaul at the Prudential Center. Seniors Brian Laing and Jamar Nutter combined for 37 points and all the key baskets (it seemed) down the stretch to hold off the Blue Demons and earn the win. With a favorable schedule down the stretch, the Pirates will try to make a run at .500, or better, in the conference.

These two teams met back in January with Seton Hall emerging victorious with a 74-64 win at the Prudential Center. Jeremy Hazell scored 22 points and John Garcia posted a double-double for SHU with 10 pts and 13 rebounds. Kentrell Gransberry had 21 pts and 10 rebounds for the Bulls, but he was just 5-12 from the foul line in the contest. Gransberry is likely to find success again inside tonight against the Pirates, but with bodies like Garcia, Mike Davis and Augustine Okosun, SHU can definitely use 15 fouls against him to not allow anything easy for him.

The key to the Bulls is finding help for Gransberry. Dominique Jones has averaged 20 PPG and Jesus Verdejo 18 PPG in their last three outings, providing support for Gransberry in the middle. This also allows Chris Howard to run the show and not have to worry about manufacturing his own scoring opportunities. If this three are able to stay on the floor and in the offense, the Bulls stand an excellent chance.

For the Pirates, they will look to pressure USF into mistakes with their guards and turn those opportunities into quick points. Brian Laing has a great match-up inside as the Bulls lack muscle at the forward position to slow him down. If Nutter and Hazell are hitting their shots from deep, that will open up the lanes for Laing to attack the basket. The senior is leading the way for the Pirates. Point guard Eugene Harvey is coming off a terrific floor game where he had 9 assists and just one turnover in the win over DePaul, if he is in that frame of mind, the Pirates offense runs much smoother.

This really is a tough game to get a feel for. The Bulls have been made a 3.5-pt favorite. I think Gransberry will cause SHU too many problems and the added threat of Verdejo on the offensive end will be just enough to get USF over the hump in this one.

NBE Blogger Prediction: South Florida 74 Seton Hall 71


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Tuesday, February 12, 2008


February 12, 2008

Only one game separates Marquette and Seton Hall in the Big East standings as they two teams prepare for a rematch of a very close contest from earlier in the season. Seton Hall led for much of th egame at the Bradley Center back in January and took Marquette to the wire in a heated and intense contest that had the coaching exchanging barbs during the game and a hard foul by Jamar Nutter on Dominic James.

As they prepare for the rematch, here are the local media previews and stories on the game:

Marquette Basketball Preview (Appleton Crescent)
Seton Hall Keeps its Focus on Big East Tourney (Star Ledger)
A Quick Looks at Seton Hall (Providence Journal)
Hayward Makes Big Gains in Sophomore Season (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
Seton Hall-Marquette Scouting Report (Courier News)

A couple teams trying to end losing skids meet at the Pridential Center in Newark (NJ) tonight. Seton Hall has lost three in a row and Marquette has dropped a pair. The Pirates pushed Tom Crean's club to the limit in an earlier meeting this season, before losing 61-56 when Dan Fitzgerald iced the contest with a three-pointer as the shot clock expired in the games' final moments. Marquette overcame a 32.8% shooting performance as a series of zones used by Bobby Gonzalez and his Pirates slowed the Marquette attack and forced them to become a jump-shooting team. The Pirates will look to do the same tonight and hope that Jeremy Hazell heats up in his home building and improves on his 1-5 showing in the first meeting.

These teams are pretty similar in terms of personnell. Each team uses three guards and a wing at the power forward slot. They both also cover the post position by committee and would not hesitate to go smaller if they need to.

Marquette has the edge in experience and big-game success, while the Pirates are still trying to create their identity in the Big East. Dominic James, Jerel McNeal and Wesley Mathews can play both ends of the floor as well as anyone, but look for Eugene Harvey, Jamar Nutter and Hazell to be pumped up for the match-up. Brian Laing is Seton Hall's go-to guy on offense and will be matched with the rapidly improving Lazar Hayward at the forward spot. This is an excellent match-up as both players like to face up and shoot the ball or take it to the basket. In the post, neither really has a player to consistently rely on, but Ousmane Barro has been showing signs of stepping his game up. John Garcia is definitely a load inside, but a gimpy knee and his conditioning will hold him back.

Marquette is a sligh 2.5-pt favorite and both teams should play with plenty of intensity and emotion. If one team doesn't bring that energy level, they will not be able to win tonight. Assuming both teams are ready to play, I think Marquette is the better team overall. Barring Jeremy Hazell going completely off down the stretch of a close game, I think Marquette does enough on the defensive end to come up with another tough win in this match-up.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Marquette 72 Seton Hall 66


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Friday, February 08, 2008


February 9, 2008

Villanova entered Big East play ranked in the top 25 and after a road win at Syracuse they were 3-2 and seemed to be a team on the rise. However, five straight losses since, four in the conference and one snapping their record Big 5 win streak, has the Villanove season crumbling out of control.

Seton Hall raised the level of excitement of New Jersey basketball fans with a 5-game win streak that had the Pirates sitting at 5-3 in the Big East and quietly figuring out how many more wins they needed to get on the NCAA Tournament bubble. However, Wednesday night was a reality check that might have added a more sobering blow to their chances.

Hosting Notre Dame at home, Seton Hall hoped to make an impression on the rest of the country. Instead, the Pirates were completely run out of their own building, 95-69, and saw Paul Gause go down with a torn ACL which will cause him to miss the rest of the season. Gause missed several of the games during their 5-game win streak with a broken hand, but his importance to the SHU line-up as a secondary ballhandler and defensive wizard will be missed in the longrun. Eugene Harvey is asked to play a TON of minutes in Bobby Gonzalez's pedal to the medal style, something without Gause for the season might have to be re-adjusted.

However, the Pirates have little choice but to keep trying to go full-steam ahead. They are a team without a power forward, using 6'5 Brian Laing in the position. Laing is one of the most productive players in the Big East, but he is sometimes asked to play the role of the biggest Pirate on the floor. John Garcia is their (usual) starting center, but his knee problems are not in the past. Mike Davis has not developed to Gonzo's satisfaction, leaving Augustin Okosun as the big man that is the most consistent, yet, the most raw.

For now, the Pirates are likely to become a 'chuck n duck' attack behind snipers Jamar Nutter and Jeremy Hazell. Nutter is a notoriously streaky shooter, but this style should keep him involved and the lack of options will likely keep him from disappearing. Hazell can shoot lights out from anywhere, especially at home, and he loves to play that role, but he can go 2-12 from the arc of 8-12, just not sure exactly which it will be.

Harvey and Laing will continue to produce, and on the games Nutter and Hazell and hitting their quick pop three's, the Pirates will throw a scare into anyone. How long can they keep up the attack? I am not sure...but, their schedule is favorable down the stretch.

As for Villanova, they are going through some serious growing pains. There is not a senior on the roster and losing three senior starters from last season definitely has had an impact. Jay Wright received a lot of attention with his four-guard line-up that went to the Elite 8 a few years ago and his offensive system seems to still be centered around individual guard penetration with kick-outs to the shooters. Problem is, their best penetrator is also their best shooter in Scottie Reynolds and the rest of the team is not very good ad shooting the three-point shot. Freshman Malcolm Grant can be instant offense, or he is nowhere to be found. Classmate Corey Stokes is a deadly shooter, but is having trouble finding a way to get his shot off in the Big East (slow release, not very good at creating his own shot) and Corey Fisher has shown the ability to score, but like Reynolds, the ability to involve others can be improved upon.

Add those factors to the fact that Villanova still lacks any go-to offensive players in the paint and you have a team set-up to struggle until they figure things out. They have several impressive forwards, but the Villanova offensive scheme does not involve them much. Dante Cunningham and Antonio Pena are expert garbage men inside and Shane Clark, who is battling nagging injuries, can spot up for a shot, but the opportunities are limited. I do like the contributions Casseum Drummond can potentially give them, especially in a game like this one, he could be a difference.

With all that said, Seton Hall is likely to bring a style that is comfortable for the Wildcats to play. Villanova has hit rock bottom, following their loss to St. Joe's on Monday night, sometimes that is the most dangerous a team can be. With Seton Hall, Villanova is unlikely to have to worry about long defensive possessions or running a lot of half court sets...if the game plays out in the style both teams tend to play, it should be a high scoring affair and I think Villanova has just enough of a offensive advantage to hold off SHU.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Villanova 83 Seton Hall 75


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Friday, February 01, 2008


February 2, 2008

After losing their first three conference games, Seton Hall has ran off five straight wins and the snowball that Bobby Gonzalez is building is gaining in size and it begins to roll downhill.

Georgetown is also on a roll, winning their last four games, some in dramatic fashion, others, like Wednesday night's destruction of St. John's, with ease. The Hoyas have been the favorite in the conference from the beginning and take everyone's best shot. Only Pittsburgh was able to connect their shot and take down the Hoyas. Now, Seton Hall takes aim and will bring the effort as well.

The Pirates do have a quick backcourt that will look to pressure the Hoyas early and often. With Paul Gause back in the line-up, the Pirates can unleash Bobby Gonzalez's preferred style of attack with full court pressure from end to end. With Chris Wright out with a foot injury, the Georgetown backcourt is a little short on depth and this sort of game, if SHU can control the tempo, does not favor the Hoyas.

However, gaining control of that tempo is not easily down. The Hoyas are a model of offensive effeciency with Roy Hubbert in the paint and four other players on the floor capable of scoring in a variety of ways. Georgetown has an injury concern of their own as sophomore DaJuan Summers missed the game with St. John's with a foot injury. Against the Redstorm it did not matter and with Austin Freeman and Patrick Ewing available to step-up, the Hoyas should be ok if Summers is going to miss additional time. It is a blow, but Georgetown has an impressive stable of players.

Seton Hall will have to create offense off of their defense. They will need to score themselves and stop Georgetown to get into their tempo. That has been the difficult thing to do for Georgetown opponents. SHU is undersized with Brian Laing playing the position of power forward at 6'5 and in extreme mesaures, like OT agianst Rutgers, he finds himself as the tallest Pirate on the court on occassions. Freshman Jeremy Hazell has become the long-distance mad bomber and if he starts lighting it up, the Pirates feed off that energy.

Although I see leaps and bounds of improvement from the Pirates, this might be too tall of an order on the road at this stage. At the very least, this will be a tremendous learning opportunity and if the Pirates go in with that goal, they could steal a win, but more importantly, take a valuable experience into future games down the road.

NBE Blogger Prediction: Georgetown 75 Seton Hall 66


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