Preview: Seton Hall at Marquette
The Seton Hall Pirates (10-4, 0-1) travel to Wisconsin on Tuesday night to take on the #15 Marquette Golden Eagles (11-2, 1-1). Tip-off is scheduled for 9 PM EST and the game will be televised on SNY via ESPN Regional coverage.
Marquette boasts a perfect 8-0 home record this season with only 1 game- the season opener against IUPUI - decided by fewer than 10 points. They hammered Providence, 96-67, in their Big East opener at the Bradley Center last week. Seton Hall, conversely, has not won a Big East road game since upsetting Pittsburgh nearly two years ago. The Pirates went 0-8 in conference road games in Bobby Gonzalez's first season.
Since entering The Big East for the 2005-06 season, Tom Crean's program has emerged as one of the conference's elite. The Golden Eagles have advanced to the NCAA Tournament in each of their first two seasons, including consecutive seasons of at least 20 overall wins and 10 conference wins. Marquette is 55-23 as a Big East member, including an oustanding 21-13 in regular season conference play. Most responsible for the sustained success is the veteran nucleus that has been together the entire time. Not only does every starter return from last year's 24-win team, but their core players - guards Dominic James, Wesley Matthews and Jerel McNeal along with forwards Dan Fitzgerald and Ousmane Baro - have been together each of the past 3 years. Add into that talented group the emergence of 6'6" So. F Lazar Hayward and the Golden Eagles may have their best team of the three this year.
Marquette features 4 players averaging at least 10 PPG:
1. 5'11" Jr. G Dominic James - 2006 Big East Rookie of The Year and 2007 All-Big East 1st Team: James is MU's leading scorer at 14.9 PPG, hitting a .429 from the floor (67/156), including .393 from the arc (22/56). James is also at .704 from the FT line (38/54) with 57 assists (4.4/g) and just 26 turnovers in 13 games, which is less than the number of steals (27) he has made. James has taken nearly 30 FGA more than anyone else on the team.
2. 6'6" So. F Lazar Hayward: Hayward has been one of the big storylines of the season in the Big East. In just his second season, Hayward has already doubled his per game averages from a year ago, and is second on the team with 13.3 PPG, and pulls down a team-leading 6.1 RPG. Form the floor Hayward is an impressive .568 (63/111) and has the range to bury the 3PT shot at a .458 clip (11/24). Hayward is also a team-best .818 from the FT line (36/44), and has turned the ball over just 20 times in 13 games. He has also been the model of consistency, scoring at least 11 points in 12 of Marquette's 13 games.
3. 6'3" Jr. G Jerel McNeal - 2007 Big East Defensive Player of The Year: McNeal is Marquette's Paul Gause in terms of tenacious ball defending and disruption. Offensively, he chips in 13.2 PPG on .504 shooting with the second-most FGA on the team (64/127). McNeal also pulls down 4.7 boards per contest and is second on the team with 50 assists in just 13 games.
4. 6'5" Jr. G Wesley Matthews - Matthews is the prototypical complimentary scorer. In 13 games, he's had 4 games of 7 points or less, and 5 of 13 points or more. Matthews shoots .455 (46/101) from the field, but just .217 (5/23) from the arc. In addition, Matthews is the only Eagle playing at least 20 MPG with a negative A:T ratio, and he is second on team (behind McNeal) with 31 TO.
Marquette also gets key minutes from veterans 6'10" Sr. F Ousmane Baro (5.8 PPG, 5.5 RPG, .609 FG in 18.5 MPG) and 6'9" Sr. WF Dan Fitzgerald (career .390 3PT shooter in 300 attempts), who has returned to the team following a 5-game injury absence. 6' So. G David Cubillan also sees extended play and averages 7.6 PPG in 21 MPG.
Much like Seton Hall, Marquette's production is dominated by the guards and wings, which makes for similar statistical trends:
*SHU is 2nd in BE scoring at 85 PPG, MU is 5th at 80.7
*SHU is 2nd in The Big East in TO margin at +4.86, MU is 3rd at +3.31
*SHU leads in steals at 10.64 (61% of TO), MU is 2nd at 10.23 (59% of TO)
*SHU leads in FT shooting at .731, MU is 4th at .706
*SHU leads in steals at 10.64, MU is 2nd at 10.23
Marquette's dribble penetration is outstanding, but more importantly they find the open man to convert. As a result, their shooting percentage is amongst the league's best (3rd at .493). Seton Hall is an inconsistent offensive team in terms of understanding the importance of sharing the basketball. Despite a high-scoring team, SHU is just 14th in shooting at .437, and assists on just 45.9% of their shots compared to an impressive 54.8% for Marquette. This difference is highlighted even more when realizing the TO forced per game by steals are roughly the same. SHU does compensate well in offensive rebounds, as they lead the conference with 16 per game.
The experience factor also reveals itself in Marquette's defense. Despite playing smaller lineups than traditional Big East teams who have had sustained success, Crean's team is much more disciplined defensively. While Seton Hall allows opponents to convert on more than 45% of their shots, and the lone Big East team to allow greater than 50% from within the arc, Marquette is at a strong .399 overall, and .436 from within the arc. Their 3PT defense at .317 is 4th in the conference. Marquette is also 5th in rebounding margin at +5.4, impressive considering they are just 12th in offensive rebounds considering that high shooting percentage.
Marquette is a complete, veteran basketball team that dominates at home. Seton Hall is an inexperienced team who will have just 2 active players tomorrow that have ever been a part of a Big East road win.
While the game is a better physical match-up than Connecticut, The Hall's Achilles' heel all season long has been the shocking inability to stop anyone defensively. The guards and wings have done an awful job at defending the entry lanes and the inexperienced frontcourt players are picking up fouls at a more alarming rate as a result. And without Paul Gause to stay in front of some of these MU guards, it will take a gargantuan effort defensively to compete.
Secondly, Marquette will not be stymied by Seton Hall's pressure defense which loses over 3 steals per game in Gause as well.
Last year, the Pirates forced just 11 turnovers against Marquette, whose ball movement (17 AST on 33 FG) carved up the pressure. In fact, McNeal anchored the press-break and delivered 10 assists of his own in that game. Marquette also shot 57.9%.
Therefore, the best opportunity for Seton Hall to win will most likely be in a shootout. SHU's frontcourt could be a big factor on the boards for sure since they have a distinct height advantge. Should Jamar Nutter and Jeremy Hazell repeat their recent performances, The Hall could stick around.
Prediction: Marquette 86, Seton Hall 75