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Game 26: St. John's at Seton Hall Pirates

Here are the late pregame notes for tonight's St. John's game at Seton Hall's Prudential Center, where the Pirates and the Johnnies resume the lovefest of recent years. No, none of the current Red Storm players were at Seton Hall besides walk-on Jamal White, but we are sure someone will remind the players that blue and red do not always get along.

Come to think of it, this seems like a true rivalry week for the Red Storm. The longtime rival Hoyas, the local rival Seton Hall, and west coast rival (for Steve Lain, who was ousted from the program with pitchforks and a catapult) UCLA. Can the Red Storm build on a solid performance against Georgetown and knock off the Pirates on the road?

A number of St. John's fans are making the trip tonight, hoping that the home crowd goes home unhappy.

Listen/ See: Pete Kuzma f/ Bilal, High and Dry (A jazzy Radiohead cover. Video, opens in new window.)
Tip Off: 7:00 PM, Eastern
At: Seton Hall Pirates (17-8, 6-7)
Location: Prudential Center (aka "the Rock"), Newark, NJ
TV: SNY | ESPN3 Radio: Bloomberg 1130 AM | Sirius 93
Opposition blog/ message board: South Orange Juice

Pomeroy page

See also: Red Storm looks to play Pirates spoiler Tuesday in Newark

From a Q&A session I did with Jason Guerette (twitter), writer for the Seton Hall-focused South Orange Juice (they do a great job on recruiting news as well). Below are some good answers on Herb Pope, the Hall's six game losing streak, Brandon Mobley and Aaron Cosby, and the Seton Hall defense. I added some editor's notes to flesh out the explanations with stats to help you better understand the Pirates' strengths and weaknesses. For those reading on mobile devices, look for the brackets [ ] for additional notes.

1. Please, explain that 6 game losing streak to us.

It was general lack of shot making, and at some points, lack of leadership. No matter what shots they were- layups, threes, etc…-Seton Hall just plain couldn’t put the ball in the basket [Rumble note: averaging .83 points per possession in those 6 games; average performance is 1.03 points per possession in other Big East games]. A couple of times, Jordan Theodore wasn’t playing like a point guard and was trying to do too much on offense, disrupting the flow that makes Seton Hall’s offense good.

2. Herb Pope's been very good for the Pirates, taking fewer bad shots and making some shots he hadn't made before (his efficient three-point shooting). What's changed with Pope?

With Herb, in regards to better shot selection from him, you have to realize that plays are actually being run for him now. Before, he was instructed to hunt for offensive rebounds and putbacks as his only means of offense. Now, he’s a big part of the offense [Rumble note: 27% of the Hall's possessions are finished by Pope], enough that teams have been doubling him for about a month and a half. All of it stems back to the fact that he’s finally completely healthy again. Last year he was a shell of himself, and this year he’s even better than the player that led the Big East in rebounding two seasons ago.

3. Why is Brandon Mobley starting over Patrik Auda?

This is twofold. One, Auda was struggling mightily since the Dayton game in late December, and his struggles, mainly with foul trouble, really started to affect his play even more, especially his aggressiveness. He was not even looking for his own shot.

Patrik Auda MP PTS FGA FG% 3PA 3P% FTA FT%
First 11 games 28.9 9.6 6.2 0.500 2.5 0.370 3.8 0.667
Post-Dayton 19.5 3.9 4.0 0.429 0.8 0.182 0.9 0.417

Mobley, conversely, had been playing well off the bench when Auda went out with foul trouble. Willard made the switch a couple games ago, and it’s worked out for the best because Mobley has continued to play well while Auda’s confidence is gaining again with less of a pressure to avoid foul trouble.

4. What makes the Hall's defense so dang good [2nd in the Big East in defensive efficiency]?

Seton Hall’s defense is a switching, matchup zone. Think Louisville but with less trapping. Coach Willard likes to use this zone most possessions (although they opened up in man defense for a while in the Pitt game), and when the shot clock runs down, the Pirates switch to man.

It confuses young and veteran teams alike because they disguise that switching point well, and by the time the opposition realizes it, the shot clock has wound down to 5 seconds. Added to this is a press that the Pirates run off of made shots that is designed not to necessarily trap or force turnovers, but to slow the opponent down and take as many as 10 seconds off the shot clock before the ball even crosses halfcourt. That makes the matchup zone even more effective. It’s a tough defense, especially with ballhawks like Jordan Theodore and Fuquan Edwin lurking and looking for loose balls to scoop up. Rarely will you ever catch this team sleeping on defense.

5. What makes the Hall's offense so infuriatingly bad?

Seton Hall’s offense isn’t necessarily bad. [thanks to the six-game losing streak, Seton Hall's offensive efficiency of 93.4 points per 100 possessions is last in the league; they were as high as seventh early in the Big East season.] When it’s been bad is when there’s been a lack of flow. Jordan Theodore is the key in this regard, and you can tell by his stats that he’s been very, very good this year. When everyone’s involved in the offense, it tends to run smoothly. Seton Hall does like to take the three point shot [35% of their attempts are from outside, 2nd highest in the league], and when the offense is flowing, these tend to drop for them. The collective shooting ability of the team is higher than last season.

6. Which of the newcomers has impressed you most? Which one has the most work to do to become a major part of Kevin Willard's rotation?

I knew Aaron Cosby could shoot, and I figured he’d start. He’s been the most productive [averaging 8.5 ppg in Big East play, taking 17% of the team's shots], but I think everyone’s been surprised by Mobley. He injured his shoulder in the summer and was out until the Mercer game in mid-December. He was instantly effective, and that has been a pleasant surprise. As far as players who need work, Sean Grennan has hardly played this season, so of the freshmen that have played, he’d be the one with the most work to do.

Thanks to Jason for his assist. Again, check him out at South Orange Juice.

Keys to the Game:

Careful ballhandling/ passing against pressure. With only Phil Greene to play point guard, expect the Pirates to apply lots of different pressures on the Red Storm. If St. John's can keep their turnovers down - avoiding steals by Fuquan Edwin, Jordan Theodore, and Freddie Wilson after Seton Hall makes in particular - they will have a chance to get Maurice Harkless and D`Angelo Harrison chances to score. If not, the Red Storm will struggle.

Find a way to score. The Hall's defense has been very good inside the arc and great on the outside. They apply a lot of pressure and take teams out of what they want to do. Finding Maurice Harkless will be difficult, and Phil Greene may struggle to get his shots off. Good ball movement, awareness of Seton Hall traps and steal attempts (Pope can get steals in the half court defense), and the scrappy energy from the Hoya game will help this team find points and free throw attempts.

Box out. Brandon Mobley (pronounced "Mah-blee") is a good rebounder. But Herb Pope is a great rebounder. D.J. Kennedy's forner AAU teammate is big, brawny, nasty, and crafty at going after the ball on both ends. With an undersized roster and little rebounding help for Moe Harkless, Pope needs to be found.

Stifle the Pirates' guard scoring. St. John's hasn't been a great defensive team this season, but at times the effort has been solid. Against Seton Hall, the Johnnies need to step up their activity with the zone, making penetration difficult and getting out on three-point shooters.

Two and a half scorers. St. John's can't win without big contributions from Harkless and Harrison, but other players need to step up and put up some points. It will be hard to do against the Pirate offense and a Red Storm team that doesn't have a lot of shooting options. But Phil Greene has looked smoother with his shot every game. If he can pick up the slack and help spread the floor, the Red Storm could pull off the upset.

Prediction: St. John's has a chance to win, but I think the Pirates get the close win, 68-64.

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Schedule recap, with links to the Rumble St. John's game recaps and re-watch links