We look back on this weekend’s Rutgers and Seton Hall games and look forward to the week ahead. Scroll down for Seton Hall.
Scarlet Knights ice game late in win over UMass-Lowell
We knew that UMass-Lowell (2-1)—ranked 145 by KenPom—would be a significant step up in competition for a Scarlet Knights squad coming off blowout wins against Columbia (337) and Sacred Heart (314); however, few predicted just how tough of a test the River Hawks would prove to be for Rutgers, who moved to 3-0 after Saturday’s 73-65 victory in Piscataway.
Unlike the previous two games, which were both only competitive in the first half, this contest was interesting until the final minute of play. It took a pair of free throws from freshman guard Derek Simpson, playing with maturity beyond his years, followed by a key block from junior center (and co-captain) Cliff Omoruyi with 30 seconds remaining to stifle a late run by the visitors.
UMass Lowell, projected to contend for first place in the America East conference, were driven by impressive offensive play from their frontcourt. The tandem of senior center Abdoul Karim Coulibaly and junior forward Max Brooks (both under 6’10”) seemed unphased by Omoruyi and Rutgers’ frontline as they combined for 35 points, shooting 57.7% from the floor (all their points came from inside the arc). Had it not been for the Red Hawks’ abysmal three-point shooting in the first half (0-8)—which afforded Rutgers a 13-point lead heading into the break—the final score might have been decided by an even tighter margin.
The Good: The same trio of Omoruyi, Aundre Hyatt and Cam Spencer, plus another quality performance from Simpson, was the difference again for Rutgers. Omoruyi was far and away the most valuable player on the court and had the stat-line to prove it: 22 points, 15 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal and 3 blocks. He was one of four Scarlet Knights that scored in double figures, with the next highest total being Derek Simpson’s 16.
Simpson, filling in for senior co-captain Paul Mulcahy—who exited the game with just over eight minutes remaining in the first half after re-aggravating an injured left shoulder—saw 34 minutes of action, was productive in all statistical categories and played with extreme poise. As a lead guard, Mulcahy creates mismatches with his atypical size and uses his skill and savvy to beat defenders. Conversely, Simpson’s uncanny athleticism and speed creates nightmares for opposing defenses and, though the freshman has yet to truly “go off” in a game thus far, it’s merely a matter of “when” not “if” for the uber-talented underclassmen.
The Bad: This affair lacked the feel-good factor of the previous two contests. The absence of Mulcahy’s veteran presence (in addition to being without Caleb McConnell, who’s still out with a knee) was noticeable as Steve Pikiell’s squad lacked some of their usual quality on both ends of the floor. Although seen warming up before the second half, Mulcahy never returned to action for the Scarlet Knights. No details on his status have been released yet by the school, but this injury is particularly troublesome considering how benign the contact that forced him to leave the contest was and how important Mulcahy is to this team.
The Numbers: As a team, Rutgers shot worse than UMass-Lowell from the floor (33.9% vs 42.2%) and from 3PT (18.8% vs 22.2%), were out-rebounded on the defensive glass (28-25), had less assists (7-12) and blocked shots (4-8)… and still won.
3: The total number of three-pointers made by the Scarlet Knights. Even if the game plan is to work the ball inside, this number is still pretty low.
15: Number of minutes played by true freshman Antwone Woolfolk; a slight uptick from the previous game (12). The 6’9” post player from Cleveland only scored five points, but showed some positive signs in his increased playing time. Rutgers will need him to bolster frontcourt depth in BigTen conference play.
Looking Ahead: Rutgers will head to Mohegan Sun Arena (Uncasville, CT) for a neutral site matchup with former Atlantic-10 rival Temple on Friday (Tipoff @ 5 p.m. ET). The Owls (1-1) followed a tough overtime-loss against Wagner to start the season with an upset win over Philadelphia Big Five rivals Villanova (then-ranked #16) last week.
Temple has a few guys who can score but the two who should really be on Rutgers’ radar are guards Damian Dunn and Khalif Battle, both listed at 6’5” and averaging 25.5 and 18.5 PPG, respectively. The Owls also have productive size underneath in 6’11” (285 lb.) sophomore forward Jamille Reynolds, who averages 10.5 points and 7 rebounds per game. Reynolds can bang in the post and has a soft touch, but struggles with staying out of foul trouble—a trend we expect to continue against Omoruyi and Rutgers.
Who do we like? According to KenPom, Rutgers (#43) and Temple (#97) aren’t wildly dissimilar teams, statistically speaking. The site predicts a narrow victory for the Scarlet Knights, which we don’t take any issue with.
Backcourt: Without McConnell and potentially Mulcahy, too, (we aren’t very optimistic for his return, and even if he does play, we don’t know how effective he can be with just one arm) we have to give the nod to Temple. Sure, Spencer and Simpson have exceeded expectations, but can they give the Scarlet Knights the same level of production as Dunn and Battle provide Temple? Advantage Temple.
Frontcourt: If Omoruyi plays to his potential, the Owls have no answer for him. Advantage Rutgers.
Bench: Push. Too many question marks at this point, although at full strength we’d give Rutgers the edge for quality depth.
Offense: Spencer, Omoruyi, Hyatt and now Simpson have all proven they can put points on the board. Temple has the two guards (Dunn and Battle), and to a lesser extent, Reynolds. Advantage Rutgers.
Defense: We’d feel more confident about predicting this game if it were at Jersey Mike’s Arena, but it isn’t. At a neutral site, where we don’t anticipate a big crowd advantage for either squad, we look to what travels best: good defense. Coach Pikiell has the Scarlet Knights playing very well on the defensive side of the ball and this is what we believe will be the difference in the contest. Advantage Rutgers.
Prediction: Rutgers wins a close (potentially very close) one.
Pirates route peacocks in Newark
If last season’s trip to the Elite Eight—knocking off bluebloods Purdue and Kentucky en route—was something out of a fairytale for Saint Peters, Saturday’s matchup against Seton Hall (2-0) was more akin to a horror story. The Peacocks (1-1) threw everything they had at the Hall on defense, worked hard to get open looks and battled on the glass, but, in the latter part of the first half it became fairly evident that coach Bashir Mason’s squad was in for a long afternoon.
Shaheen Holloway, the man famously at the helm for Saint Peters’ historic March Madness run, (and just as recently two weeks ago returned to the Jersey City school to accept his MAAC Tournament Championship ring) obviously didn’t let sentimentality interfere with taking care of business in this contest: the Pirates rocked the Peacocks to a final score of 80-44.
The Good: Whenever a power conference program plays a mid-major early in the non-conference schedule, fans like to see a few things transpire: a convincing win (obviously), great effort on defense, improvement (seldom will you find a team in their final form by game 2), and the younger or less-proven players getting playing time and contributing—consider all those boxes checked, emphatically.
Al-Amir Dawes had another good game off the bench for the Hall. The Junior guard logged 13 points and 10 rebounds—not your prototypical double-double for a guard of his size—in addition to two assists and a steal. This stat-line really fails to tell the full story of his impact on the game for the Pirates, a statement we feel has the potential to be regurgitated quite a bit this season. Dawes is super quick, relentless on defense and continues to be a much more complete player than the one many of us thought Seton Hall was getting when he transferred in from Clemson.
Once again, all 10 available scholarship players for the Hall played double-digit minutes. Of those 10, freshmen Tae Davis (7 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block) and Jaquan Sanders (3 points, 4 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 block) played 23 and 18 minutes, respectively, and were impactful.
The defense was exceptional. The Pirates forced Saint Peters to work deep into the clock on what seemed like every possession, resulting in multiple shot clock violations. Seton Hall amassed 5 blocked shots and forced 20 turnovers.
Speaking of turnovers, the Hall was able to cut their team total down to 16 from 20 in the previous game against Monmouth; still not an ideal number, but things are trending in the right direction, at least. Another area of improvement came at the free throw line as Holloway’s squad posted a very respectable 76.3% vs the Peacocks, up from 59% in their first contest.
The Bad: Not many glaring negatives for the Pirates in this one. Rebounding remains a concern, though. Did the Pirates out-rebound the Peacocks? Yes, 41-31. But, frankly, it should have been a more lopsided ratio. Although Saint Peters failed to really capitalize on second chance opportunities, they out-rebounded Seton Hall on the offensive glass (15-11). This stat may not have had repercussions for the Hall in this affair, but it can drastically affect the outcome in a game against more formidable opponents that are offensively efficient (like, say, Iowa, who the Pirates will face this Wednesday night).
The Numbers: As a team, Seton Hall shot 52.3% from the floor and 35.7% from 3PT. Offensive numbers were acceptable across the board for the Pirates; 3PT% and attempts could be higher, but Holloway has been pretty overt about wanting his squad to work the ball inside.
13: Dre Davis’ point total in 22 minutes of play off the bench. The junior small-forward from Indianapolis had a perfect night from the free-throw line (8-8)—for a stocky, physical wing (looks taller than his listed height of 6’6”) being efficient at the stripe could be a huge boon for his game on the offensive end.
Looking ahead: Wednesday night, the BigTen and Big East square off in Newark as Seton Hall welcomes Iowa to the Prudential Center for a primetime matchup (tipoff @ 7:30 p.m. ET). Even though neither team is yet ranked in the AP Top 25, this contest is one of the more intriguing fixtures of the young season and should command some national attention.
So far, both squads own two blowout wins over lower, mid-major competition. And in those wins, both coaches displayed their team’s depth by employing a large rotation—wherein 10 players averaged double-digit minutes. Both squads have great length (Pirates and Hawkeyes in top 50 for average team height), too, but the commonalities pretty much end there. Iowa is a well-oiled machine on offense—ranking higher than Seton Hall in nearly every meaningful statistical category—whereas, the Pirates are still figuring each other out on offense and rely on dominant defense to break opponents.
According to KenPom, the #36 ranked Pirates will upset the #18 Hawkeyes by a razor-thin margin. This comes as a bit of a surprise as KenPom originally predicted Iowa to defeat the Hall by a wider margin less than a week ago (sorta pissed us off, too, since we were going to predict an upset!).
Who do we like?
Backcourt: While both teams have an abundance of wings (hybrid guard-forwards), Seton Hall has more true guards who are primed to contribute. Advantage Seton Hall.
Frontcourt: Kris Murray, Patrick McCaffery, Filip Rebraca, and Payton Sandfort are all 6’7” or taller and proven scorers. Advantage Iowa.
Bench: The Hall’s bench has almost been interchangeable with its starters at times; lots of quality depth/athleticism for the Pirates. Advantage Seton Hall.
Offense: See above. Advantage Iowa.
Defense: While Iowa’s defense isn’t bad by any stretch, against slightly better competition (again, still not good teams with all due respect to Monmouth and Saint Peters whom we love and support), Seton Hall has put up some impressive stats on this side of the ball. Advantage Seton Hall.
Coach: How many Elite 8’s has Fran McCaffery been to? Advantage Seton Hall.
Prediction: IF (and that’s a big if) the Pirates’ don’t turn the ball over and can limit Iowa’s second chance opportunities, we like the Hall in this one.