PirateCrew - Preview: Seton Hall vs Marquette
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Preview: Seton Hall vs Marquette

The Pirates (14-10, 5-7, RPI 87 SOS 54) hit the road for two games this week. First up is the #11-nationally ranked Marquette Golden Eagles (21-4, 10-2, RPI 24 SOS 86) in Wisconsin on Tuesday night, followed by a trip to Queens to take on the St. John's Red Storm (12-13, 3-10) on Sunday afternoon.

Marquette has beaten Seton Hall like a drum since they've entered the Big East Conference, boasting a 5-0 record against the Pirates, including the rare 3-game sweep last season. They are also 15-0 at home this year, including 6-0 against conference opponents. Of those 6 victories, only 4 have been by double-digits.

The Hall is 2-3 on the road in conference play this year, winning their past two (at Rutgers, at DePaul).

Marquette took care of St. John's on Saturday night, 73-59, thanks to an impressive +7 advantage on turnovers after forcing the Red Storm into 24 miscues.

Speaking of turnovers, the Pirates able to hang around against #1 Connecticut on Saturday because they registered an impressive turnover margin of their own (+8), the 4th time in the past 6 games the Pirates have manufactured at least a +7 differential. The team is 3-1 in those games, losing that game to the Huskies.

Those gaudy turnover margins are reflective of what has been a remarkable transformation from pedestrian to assertion on the defensive side of the basketball. Team defense has fueled the Pirates' 5-1 spurt back to respectability. The team has held opponents to below .430 FG shooting in each of their past 6 games, has featured a +30 TO margin during that span, and also limited Georgetown and Connecticut ? two of the top 6 shooting teams in the conference ? to their worst shooting games of the season.

Seton Hall has shot up the ranks to 7th overall in defensive FG percentage (.438) and 3rd in defending from 2PT range (.456).

But Marquette's offense will pose the biggest test yet.

The Golden Eagles are 2nd in scoring offense (78.6 PPG) and 2nd in FG shooting (.484). They are the conference's top shooting team from 2PT range at an incredible .551 clip. They are also 5th in 3PT shooting at .359 as a team, en route to scoring 943 points in 12 conference games.

Over 68% of those points are scored by the talented trio of guard that have carried Marquette to 3 consecutive NCAA Tournaments and are now peaking as seniors:

1). 6'3" 200lb Sr. Jerel McNeal: McNeal has developed into the best of the 3, and a contender for the Big East Player of The Year Award. Nobody in this conference is as versatile as he is. McNeal averages 23.5 PPG in league play, shooting a prolific .489 from the floor, an astounding .475 from the arc (38/80) and .699 from the FT line. Plus, McNeal is averaging 4.7 RPG with 4.8 APG on a 1.8 A:T rate. To exemplify how dynamic of a player he is, just look at his last game: 20 points with 7 assists, 7 rebounds, and 5 steals against SJU on Saturday night.

McNeal has scored an incredible 20 points in 9 consecutive games

2). 6'5" 215lb Sr. Wesley Matthews: Matthews has always been a "glue guy" of sorts, doing most of his damage inside. In conference play, he's putting up 17.5 PPG on just 28 three-point attempts (.393), and knocking down 2PT shots at a sensational .594. He's also grabbing 5.2 boards per game, and is .789 (46/71) from on FT's. As a result of doing a lot of the inside work, he has more turnovers (27) than assists (24).

3). 5'11" 185lb Sr. Dominic James: James was always the headliner of the trio as a seemingly unstoppable playmaker. While is scoring average is the fewest of his career, his A:T mark is a career-best. James has embraced his role as the quarterback of an offense with so many weapons. He has a ridiculous 3.4 A:T rate in Big East games, in addition to averaging 12.8 PPG on .444 FG, along with 5.3 APG & 3.9 RPG. James has shot 12/22 over his past 2 games with 15 assists, averaging 14 PPG.

Complimenting those guards is 6'6" 225lb Jr. F Lazar Hayward: 14.7 PPG and 7.2 RPG. Hayward is shooting .459 in league play, including .380 from the arc. He has committed just 18 TO in 391 minutes. Hayward is a combination of Brian Laing's athleticism with Robert Mitchell's defense and rebounding ability.

The Golden Eagles get contributions upfront from 6'6" 215lb So. Jimmy Butler (4.8 PPG, 3.7 RPG in 17.3 MPG) and 6'8" 250lb Sr. Dwight Burke (2.9 PPG, 3.3 RPG in 19 MPG).

Marquette lost at South Florida by 1 point in a game where they shot 4/24 from 3PT range, and a terrible 10/23 form the FT line. Their other conference loss was to Villanova (104-82) when the Wildcats were unconscious from behind the arc, shooting 13/24.

Also notable is that Marquette did not benefit from a turnover advantage in either game. They are the top team in the league in TO margin, at an excellent +4.50. They certainly talented enough to win this game without notching a favorable TO margin, but limiting that number leads to a larger point about protecting the basketball for Seton Hall as a way to slow the tempo and dictate the style of the game.

Against Connecticut the Pirates slowed the game down and tried to shorten it. Connecticut is fueled by manufacturing points out of turnovers on the fast-break and Marquette is the same way. Unlike playing UConn, the Pirates could actually have an advantage upfront with John Garcia and Robert Mitchell both playing very well. Garcia went shot 10/13 for 22 points and 13 rebounds against Connecticut in 34 minutes. While "Stix" was clearly bothered by Connecticut's size and width, he did grap 15 rebounds against that frontline in 35 minutes.

When you shoot as well as Marquette does, your rebounding numbers take a hit as they are last in offensive rebounds. But don't let that fool you. In the previous 2 games against SHU, Marquette grabbed a startling 17 and 21 offensive rebounds, respectively. It's a huge point of concern.

Marquette is 10th in FG defense (.449), 7th in defending from 2PT range (.493), and 13th in defending the arc (.361).

Knocking off Marquette would be an enormous achievement for Seton Hall considering the circumstances. Obviously they are one of the better teams in the conference this season, but they're also undefeated at home, and have owned the Pirates in recent years. Handing a ranked team their first loss at home this late in the season, in addition to having already notched quality wins against Southern California (RPI 45) and Virginia Tech (RPI 48) on a neutral court, plus Georgetown (RPI 37) at home, would go a long way towards a possible postseason berth for The Hall.

It's a tremendous opportunity.

I think we can win, but it will take a colossal effort, the type of game that we saw when Garcia and Paul Gause were freshmen when the Pirates knocked off Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh. Garcia is playing the best ball of his career and Mitchell is a better defender and rebounder than what we had in his spot last year. We need both to rebound and defend the way they did against UConn.

Gause and Jordan Theodore also give us better perimeter defenders than we had in those last two games against Marquette last year. They have got to stay in front of these Marquette guards. You will not turn them over with any regularity and gambling to do so will expose the interior defense. Those Marquette guards are too quick and intelligent.

It's tough to see a win though when you consider Marquette shares our strengths, but are stronger in those areas and have so many more weapons. I think we could shock them, I really do. But it's going to have to be in a style of game that we just say on Saturday.

I think we'll be right there, but they're too good.

Prediction: Marquette 68, Seton Hall 64