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Friday, January 11, 2008

BIG EAST GAME PREVIEW: SETON HALL @ PITTSBURGH

January 12, 2008


On paper, this does not look like a close match-up. Pittsburgh has one of the strongest home court advantages in the country while Seton Hall is still looking for their first road win under Bobby Gonzalez.

However, Pittsburgh, as everyone knows, has injury issues with Mike Cook gone for the season and Levance Fields out for at least another 6 weeks. Seton Hall likes to pressure the basketball the full court for the full 40 minutes, but their own injury issue with Paul Gause makes them much less effective playing that style.

Local Media Previews of the Game:

Pitt Players, Coaches back Ramon Despite Troubles (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)
Pitt Displaying Diverse Line-ups (Tribune-Review)


Pittsburgh has shown a lot of resilency since the injury bug has hit. Sure, they have dropped a couple games, but judging by their 1-pt loss in the waning seconds at Villanova and a double-digit road win at South Florida, this team still has a lot left and they are not spending any time feeling sorry for themselves.

Villanova did set a blueprint to be successful against Pitt, pressuring the ball the entire game. It does not have to be fullcourt pressure, but extending the defense on the perimeter will keep Ronald Ramon, not a true point guard, from setting up the offense easily. Once Pitt is set up, they are tough to stop as Sam Young and Dejuan Blair still make up a top frontcourt duo. Zone pressure full court also might not be that effective as Pitt is still a veteran-based team and might even be a better finishing team now with Young, Blair, Gilbert Brown and Keith Benjamin running the floor. Each of their games seem to be stronger in the open court and that was definitely shown against South Florida. Villanova was able to slow the game and force Pitt to run a halfcourt game with heavy pressure on the ball, forcing 22 turnovers, most after Pitt broke the token full court pressure.

Seton Hall has been an interesting team to say the least. They have already played in four overtime contests, including at home against Monmouth, Robert Morris and James Madison. At times, the Pirates play down to their competition and find themselves in HUGE holes, only to use their full court frantic pace to pull themselves out. Luckily, they do play more consistent against the better teams, because that style is not likely to find success against Big East teams when trying to climb out of a big hole.

Seton Hall was very successful in nearly stealing a road win at Marquette this week by settling back into a zone defense and working to keep the score in the 50's against Marquette. To win on the road, you have to be willing to get your hands dirty and be able to grind it out in the half court. If they can do this and turn it into a posession by possession game in the last three minutes, the athletic ability and quickness of Eugene Harvey could give Pitt trouble on both ends of the floor. It might be a tougher task against Pitt as the Panthers will rebound the ball very strong and use their size against a smaller Pirate club, but that is probably the best strategy for Bobby Gonzalez to follow.

The other key for Seton Hall is to make shots, especially on the perimter. Jamar Nutter, who is the only Pirate likely to play that has experienced a Big East road win, is a hot and cold player. If he is hot from the perimeter it will give the Pirates a huge list. Freshman Jeremy Hazell is also very capable of letting them fly from deep, against Pitt, however, that is tough. Ask high scoring freshman wing players such as Dominique Jones and James Anderson, or even experienced shooters like Scottie Reynolds or Jon Scheyer how tough the Pitt perimeter defense can be.

If Seton Hall can put Pittsburgh into a halfcourt game and pressure the ball from there, they could turn this one into a similar contest as they did against Marquette. Pittsburgh is returning home after a couple road games, and they have to avoid looking past the pesky Pirates to a Big Monday date with Georgetown. This wounded Pitt team does seem to be playing with extra motivation as some players who were previously role players want to prove they are capable of succeeding in the Big East.

Seton Hall has not one a road game in the Big East since then-coch Louis Orr brought his team to the Peterson Events Center for the last regular season game of 2005. That win liekly clinched the Pirates a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Can they taste road success at Pitt again? Maybe...but, I would not count in it just yet.


NBE Blogger Prediction: Pittsburgh 74 Seton Hall 67

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