Let’s start with Seton Hall after their win in the Garden State Hardwood Classic.
New Jersey is Blue
12/11 @ Rutgers, W 45-43: Time to eat crow. We projected a double-digit loss for the Pirates at Jersey Mike’s Arena in the Garden State Hardwood Classic, and we were wrong. Contrary to all indications that these teams were trending in opposite directions—Rutgers for the better and Seton Hall for the worse—the Pirates were able to flip the script and pick up the first road victory in this bitter rivalry since 2015.
It feels like this team is starting to come together—they’re understanding roles, recognizing one another’s tendencies/strengths and making better decisions. In the latter part of the second half, their growth was epitomized by, what was for us, the play of the game: off of a Rutgers missed three-point attempt, Kadary Richmond pushed the ball up the court and drove into the paint before the defense could get set. Instead of attempting a contested floater around an extended Cliff Omoruyi, Richmond kicked out to an open Dre Davis on the perimeter, who then pulled the defender with a shot-fake and promptly swung the ball to the corner where an unguarded Al-Amir Dawes buried a wide open three. This basket brought Seton Hall within one point of Rutgers and gave the Pirates some much-needed momentum down the stretch in a hostile environment.
Welcome back: Dre Davis returned to the lineup after missing the last three games with a knee injury. The only player on either squad to score in double figures, Davis’ 10 points proved to be of great importance in such a low-scoring affair. Whether it be through point-production, making the extra/right pass, applying pressure on the defensive end or knocking down clutch free-throws, the junior wing—who seemingly received far too little fanfare after transferring from Louisville in the offseason—knows how to be an asset and maximize his role within the team.
KC Ndefo was awarded MVP honors after the game, and rightfully so as he was instrumental to Seton Hall’s victory. Ndefo’s total of 9 points was good for second-highest, behind only Davis, but it was his intensity on the defensive end that set the tone for the Pirates’ masterful performance on that side of the ball.
12/14 vs Drexel, W 66-49: The Dragons have some nice players and logged a couple of decent wins in their non-conference schedule—which gave the impression that this team might be a cut above the low, mid-majors. Yet, no matter how we tried to theorize that this had the makings of a trap game following an emotional win over Rutgers, it was very apparent in the early going that Drexel was totally overmatched in this fixture.
Coach Shaheen Holloway was obviously displeased that his team gave up the lion’s share of a 31-point lead (Drexel cut the deficit to 11 at one point) late in the second half, but the result was never in doubt. This was a non-contest as early as the 10th minute in the first half—Seton Hall dominated throughout.
Health concerns: the only reason why this convincing 17-point victory may leave a bad taste in the mouths of Pirates fans is the loss of Femi Odukale and Jaquan Sanders. Both had to leave the game due to injury—Odukale with an ankle, Sanders with a groin—and no information regarding their return has been announced yet. This roster, which was already down to 10 available scholarship players before Drexel, can ill afford to lose a starter in Odukale or a talented outside shooter in Sanders for an extended period.
Looking ahead: 12/17 vs Providence: Out of their first two Big East conference games, we like the Pirate’s chances at home vs Providence better than on the road at Xavier—we’d feel a hell of a lot better with a healthy Femi Odukale in the lineup, though (same goes for Jaquan Sanders).
The Friars lineup is akin to the Hall’s in that it’s comprised of capable, gritty guys in lieu of superstars. Sure, they’ve got a few uber-talented players—namely, sophomore forward Bryce Hopkins, a transfer from Kentucky—but Providence doesn’t really have one guy that consistently stands out on the stat sheet; instead they rely on balanced production from positions 1-5.
Like Seton Hall, Providence is a below-average 3PT shooting team and puts up less than 19 attempts from beyond the arc per game. Expect this matchup to be a highly physical, defensive-minded affair with a bunch of trips to the free-throw line for both squads. Look for free-throw %, foul trouble, rebounding and turnovers to be prevalent themes in the post-game discourse. Before the injuries to Odukale and Sanders we’d favor the Pirates in a close win at home. Now? This game is a push.
12/20 @ Xavier: The Musketeers are big, talented, well-coached, and almost every starter shoots the three at an elite percentage—the lone exception being New Jersey native Zach Freemantle, who can shoot the three, although that’s not really asked of him within their offense. If this game were played in Newark with a Pirates squad at full-strength, besting Xavier would still be a tall order for Seton Hall; but on the road, with what’s sure to be a banged up (and already hampered by injury) roster after the Providence matchup, we fear the Musketeers deal the Hall their first in-conference road loss.
What a difference a week makes. The Scarlet Knights, riding high off of upsetting ranked Indiana, get humbled by bad officiating in Ohio and then stunned at home by their in-state rival. We hate to be negative, and we know Rutgers fans want to put the last seven days behind them, so we’ll keep the recap brief.
12/8 @ Ohio State, L 67-66: Rutgers got jobbed and everyone knows it—Big Ten officials even admitted as much. The Scarlet Knights essentially pulled off the improbable and beat a ranked conference opponent on the road, and yet, still returned home with an “L”. If you somehow managed to miss the game, the replays, or the controversy: with Rutgers holding a 66-64 lead just as time was about to expire in Columbus, Ohio State’s Tanner Holden ran out of bounds under his own volition (thereby making himself ineligible to touch the ball until possessed by another teammate first) as teammate Bruce Thornton rushed the ball up the court. Holden then received the ball directly from Thornton (again, not eligible to do so) and proceeded to sink a three-point heave from well beyond the arc. Although the violation was blatant, the referees still missed the call and counted the basket—game over. Rutgers deserved better.
12/11 vs Seton Hall, L 43-45: While there was another controversial “no-call” at the end—with five seconds to play, KC Ndefo may have stepped on the line while saving the ball from going out of bounds in Rutgers’ end—the context of this contest was vastly different from the Ohio State game. Simply put: the Scarlet Knights did not deserve to win the Garden State Hardwood Classic.
Rutgers committed 19 turnovers and shot 32.6% from the field—even though Seton Hall wasn’t playing very well on offense either, it’s still really hard to win with those numbers. The Scarlet Knights looked flat at times and failed to match Seton Hall’s toughness/intensity—very unlike a Pikiell-coached team playing in front of their home crowd.
Needing more from leadership: the three captains—Paul Mulcahy, Caleb McConnell and Cliff Omoruyi—combined for 20 points and 10 turnovers. That’s not good enough to be successful going forward and it was certainly a surprising performance from the trio in a game with so much juice behind it.
Looking ahead: 12/17 vs Wake Forest: The Demon Deacons are led by an outstanding point-guard in Tyree Appelby who, although slight at 6’1’, 175 lbs, is lightning quick and incredibly adept at getting to the hole and finishing, creating space and shooting (from anywhere) off the dribble, and playing the two-man game with a seemingly endless supply of competent bigs. If you were to label anyone on this Wake Forest team as “indispensable” to their success, it’d be Appleby no question. Unfortunately for the Deacs, Appleby sprained his ankle in their last contest vs Appalachian State and is doubtful to see the floor vs Rutgers.
Worth noting: Talented wing Damari Monsanto, one of Wake’s few legitimate threats on the perimeter apart from Appelby, logged a “DNP-coach’s decision” in their last game due to a failure to meet coach Steve Forbes’ expectations with respect to effort in practice. No mention of his return to the lineup has yet been made. With big question marks hovering over Monsanto and Appelby, this Wake Forest team could be heading into a buzzsaw on Saturday in Piscataway.
After two brutal losses and ample time to rest and prepare for the Demon Deacons, we expect to see an especially hungry Rutgers team in this contest. Wake Forest represents a final opportunity for the Scarlet Knights to earn a coveted win against a top-100 opponent in the non-conference schedule, and we’d be stunned if Steve Pikiell’s group let it slip away, particularly at home.