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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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