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St. John's vs. Seton Hall: 5 Questions with GonzoBall

Before the Seton Hall/ St. John's hoops matchup, the second set of 5 Question posts in anticipation for this Wednesday’s game against rival Seton Hall (again, see the pregame post on Johnny Jungle) - this time with GonzoBall, the solid and thorough Seton Hall blog.

1 - At 5-7 in conference, what's the feeling about Seton Hall now - is this what the staff expected? What the fans expected? How has the team disappointed you? How have they exceeded expectations?

Obviously it's been a roller-coaster of a season. They dropped their first 3, were a bleak 1-4 before impressive victories (UL & PITT) at home restored faith in the fan base as the Pirates sat at 3-4 ready to embark on a three game road trip. At that point, I expected the Pirates to make a mid-season push by making a bit of noise on the road, possibly winning 2-of-3. I envisioned Seton Hall defeating USF and winning one of Nova or Pitt. Obviously, things didn't work out the way we would've hoped as the Pirates were swept by USF, 'Nova and Pitt. At 3-7 and 4 road games remaining for a team that has yet to win their first, Hall fans were left thinking, "NIT? More like CBI, CIT."

As far as expectations, let's put things in perspective. The Big East media and coaches ranked the Pirates 10th in pre-season rankings, stirring up many of the players and coaches. Well, twelve games into the season and here we are, tied for 10th place with USF. Before the season started, Bobby Gonzalez stated the team goal was to make the NCAA Tournament and you can't fault him for saying it.

However, the offseason hype machine was pumping and Seton Hall fans were angered when the preseason rankings didn't align. At this point, you'd have to say the prediction of finishing in the bottom half of the conference was a dead accurate assessment.

2 - I notice the team gets a lot of steals but not a lot of non-steal turnovers - the traps and forcing teams to toss the ball out of bounds that other teams sometimes work on. In fact, the team's allowing opponents to shoot quite efficiently from the floor, especially in Big East play (1.12 points per possession). What are the big problems on D? Do they happen every game, or only against better teams? What does a good defensive game from the Pirates look like, and who is the ace defender?

It's true, the Pirates average 7.7STL per game and have shown strong ball hawking tendencies through much of the season. That said, their full court press hasn't been the reason behind many of the turnovers. In fact, Seton Hall's full court defense is about one trap away from being extremely effective. It seems as if the opposition has trouble when they're first pressed and sometimes after the first pass, but once they get the second pass off towards half court or the front court, they're in the clear. Look at their game against Villanova for example, I tweeted and wrote after the game that Villanova was able to score in 7 seconds or less on the majority of their possessions. They broke the press early and often and launched quick shots that kept falling, keeping the Pirates at a distance.

There's been games where the defense has had multiple breakdowns, with defenders not particularly aware of where their man is, allowing them to streak free for an easy lay in. I spoke a little on Seton Hall's perimeter defense in last week's Q&A with Notre Dame that they've been wildly inconsistent. Sometimes, they'll step up, cut out a team's inside game and other games it's the complete opposite as they've struggled against the BIG EAST elite. Let's look at the evidence: Kevin Jones and Devin Ebanks of West Virginia combined for 41PTS/32REB, Wesley Johnson 20PTS/19REB, Jarrid Famous 15PTS/14REB and Gary McGhee's 12PTS/11REB during the second Pitt game. On the other hand, they were able to limit Greg Monroe to 8PTS/9REB and Gary McGhee to 6PTS/4REB in the first contest.

3 - Give me a rundown on the roster - starting lineup, key bench players, who's making an impact at each position (is John Garcia even playing? How about Melvyn Oliver?).

Well, Bobby Gonzalez has altered the starting lineup 301 times since BIG EAST play began after he broke up the consistent lineup that delivered a 9-1 start to non-conference play. Against out of conference competition, Gonzo started a conventional lineup of: Harvey, Hazell, Stix, Pope and Garcia. However, once the fall semester came to a close, Gonzalez had to account for transfers Keon Lawrence and Jeff Robinson, both of whom have worked their way into the starting lineup.

The most likely starting lineup against SJU will be a three-guard mix of: Harvey, Keon, Hazell, JRob, Pope. Keon Lawrence, a transfer from Mizzou has been ineffective on offense shooting terribly at 29%. However, he has worked his way into the starting lineup and kept his spot due to his defense. Keon is our best defender who is capable of stopping or at least slowing down the opposition's #1 option. Despite averaging 5PTS and shooting under 30% through 14 games, he's still seeing 22 minutes, which is entirely too much.

I recently lobbied for an increase in Robert Mitchell's playing time as Bobby can't keep giving Keon extended minutes when he can't produce on the offensive end. His defense is nice, but the minutes can be cut if it means replacing Lawrence with a more productive option, such as Robert 'Stix' Mitchell.

4 - How have all the new players integrated into the Seton Hall system? Of all the players, new and old, who has fit in seamlessly? Who has found a hard time with their role?

As stated above, Keon Lawrence hasn't been the player we thought we were getting when he decided to transfer to The Hall last year. In two seasons at Mizzou, he averaged 10.4PTS, while shooting 43%, certainly better than he's performed this year. Sure, Seton Hall and Mizzou are two different systems, but I feel it's more than that and justifiably so. Lawrence was arrested three days before the season began for driving the wrong-way on the parkway injuring another motorist and conflicting reports have emerged regarding his consumption of alcohol that night. Last month, he turned himself in and was released pending an upcoming court case.

On a positive note, Jeff Robinson has fit in quite well since Bobby has worked himself into the lineup, so much so that he's earned the starting 4 nod and has become one of the top options for a Pirates offense who often struggles when Hazell isn't lighting it up.

5 - Bobby Gonzalez: is he on the hot seat?

The University announced prior to the season that they have extended Bobby Gonzalez through 2014-15. It's unclear whether Bobby has actually signed the contract, however, you'd be crazy to think he won't be picking up the pen in the offseason. Say the Pirates don't make the NCAA Tournament, it'd be the 4th time in his 4 year tenure that he failed in bringing them to the postseason, a stat that won't go over too well with many fans and you'd have to believe, the administration. Still, the University granted the extension without knowing how this year would turn out in a move that made little sense as he still had a year remaining on his contract.

It's hard to say he's on the hot seat, even if there's a buyout clause in the contract (current or extension), Seton Hall is not a University that would easily accept paying a coach for unused services. Say they were able to rip up an, "unsigned extension," and terminate Gonzalez, what coach would then take on a job after a University didn't honor an extension they previously offered? None of it makes much sense, but it's safe to say, he's not on the hot seat, yet.