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Friday, December 12, 2008


December 11, 2008

When the college basketball season was getting ready to tip-off, many were questioning how Seton Hall would compete with a limited roster.

With just eight eligible players, NCAA Basketball Odds were stacked against the Pirates. However, taking on coach Bobby Gonzalez's style of 'me against the world', Seton Hall has been a surprising team out of the gates this season and their start is being noticed nationally.

"I know they're short on players, but that was a pretty good USC team they beat down in Puerto Rico, and beating Virginia Tech is no automatic task either," Seth Davis of CBS Sports and told the NBE Basketball Report recently.

In fact, it was their trip to Puerto Rico that opened many eyes. Playingwith just seven available players in a match-up against nationally ranked USC, the Pirates battled back from a 15-point halftime deficit and clawed their way back for a stirring win over the Trojans. The victory was achieved without Robert Mitchell, SHU's second leading scorer and rebounder, who was suspended for breaking an NCAA rule last season when he was sitting out as a transfer from Duquesne.

With Jeremy Hazell leading the way at 23.5 points a game, Seton Hall is off to a 7-1 start.

"Jeremy Hazell is a little streaky for my tastes, but man, when he's on, he's on," remarked Davis.

Coach Gonzalez may take a lot of heat in the press for some of his sideline antics and post-game press conference demeanor, in fact, he will be serving a one-game suspension in the Big East opener at Syracuse for such behavior, but there is little doubt he is getting all he can from his players, which is a compliment to any coach. The players have responded to what he has asked for them very well this season.

"Bobby Gonzalez does a great job of motivating his players and convincing them to play hard," says Mike DeCourcey of the Sporting News. "He's got tough kids."

Jay Bilas has also taken note of the early season success of the Pirates.

"The players have been through it and are more in tune with what it takes to win, and they are more in tune with what their coach wants from them," Bilas told NBE. "Seton Hall has done a good job."

Still, there are just eight players currently eligible. There is some hope that Keon Lawrence, a transfer from Missouri, could be joining the rank of eligible players in the next week or so. The junior, a Newark (NJ) native, has applied for a waiver that would allow him to play this season instead of sitting out per the NCAA transfer rules. Lawrence is trying to show that family issues forced him to transfer from Missouri and called for him to be closer to home. Sources say Missouri rejects to that claim, but that is for the NCAA to decide.

Also, freshman big man Melvyn Oliver has been, finally, allowed to practice with the Pirates while the ongoing investigation by the NCAA into his eligibility status continues. When the rough and tumble Big East begins, the Pirates will need all the bodies they can get, something our national experts were also quick to point out.

"There’s little question that Bobby Gonzalez can coach," analyst Jeff Goodman told NBE. "He just doesn’t have enough bodies to sustain it throughout the Big East slate."

With an 18-game conference schedule ahead in what some call the 'best conference ever', it will be a tough task night in and night out once the dog days of the season hits, especially if the NCAA denies Lawrence and Oliver.

"I don't know whether it can last given the Pirates' lack of depth and the Big East's strength, but you know they're going to try," added DeCourcy.

Even if the whole of the schedule is tough, look for the Pirates to be a tough out, says Davis, going forward.

"It will be very hard for them to get through the meat grinder of the Big East so short-handed, but their first seven will enable them to compete with anyone."

So, the Pirates have given fans something to be excited about. Will it last? You know Bobby Gonzalez is going to try to get his kids to believe it can and not give an inch. The more people doubt them, the more it will fuel their inner fire, from the coach right down the bench, to prove everyone wrong.

"I think Seton Hall has been better than I had thought, but much of that if probably because of lower expectations," Bilas said. "I know that their expectations are not low (of themselves)."

That belief in themselves could carry them a lot further than many had previously expected, excet of course for their coach and his players.



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