The Head Coach is a Pitino guy
Seton Hall’s Head Coach is a product of the Rick Pitino coaching tree. Now in his ninth season, Kevin Willard spent time under Pitino in Boston and Louisville as an assistant. He was on the Cardinals coaching staff from 2001-2007. In 2007, he accepted the job as the head coach at the University of Iona where he spent three years before arriving at Seton Hall. Willard even played his freshman year of college basketball at Western Kentucky University before transferring to Pitt, so the guy is familiar with hoops in the Bluegrass.
His strong ties to Pitino may give fans even more of a desire for a blow-out win Saturday in Madison Square Garden. To his credit, Willard has taken the Pirates dancing three times in his tenure. Last year they advanced to the second round of the NCAA tournament after beating NC State and then the Pirates took Kanas to the wire before losing by only 5. Kansas would go on to make the Final Four. Kevin Willard has proven that he gets his team ready for big games on the big stage.
Seton Hall is close to Madison Square Garden
Seton Hall University is located in New Jersey and is approximately 15 miles from New York City. Seven players on the Pirates roster are from either New York or New Jersey, with two others from nearby northeast locations. Playing an opponent like Kentucky in a historic venue like Madison Square Garden, it is reasonable to think that Seton Hall could come out with some extra juice on Saturday.
I am not saying it will be like a road game for Kentucky since the fans so travel so well, but there could be opportunity for Seton Hall to capitalize on the proximity of their campus if they are playing well enough to get the crowd behind them. I am sure that some players invited family and friends to come out for the noon tip-off. It would serve the Cats well to get off to a quick start, which they have seemingly yet to do at any point this season.
In their last game, it was Francis Alonso who came out on fire and gave UNCG confidence that they carried with them through the entire game. Kentucky needs to take away any confidence that Seton Hall has before the under 16 minute timeout and make a statement. Basketball is just different in MSG and certain players rise to the occasion while others falter. I am anxious to see how UK responds to this neutral site game because it didn’t go so well last time.
The Pirates are a one man show
Seton Hall has an extremely lopsided attack on the offensive end. Myles Powell has scored over 100 points more than the next closest player on the Pirates roster. This season he has already tallied a 30 and 40 point game putting his average at 24 points per game. Powell gets to the line regularly and knocks his free throws down. His 46% from the field and 89% from the free throw line are indicators of his impressive efficiency to this point.
Ashton Hagans will have another chance to guard a great scorer - I expect Hagans to get the start and be tasked with slowing down Myles Powell. Kentucky has shown improvement on defense, but there is still a lot of work to do. Not many teams have been able to slow Powell down, including Louisville, who surrendered 23 points to the junior guard. Kentucky has undoubtedly scouted and developed a game plan for how they are going to guard Powell. It is safe to assume that Ashton Hagans will be the focal point of the defensive effort in terms of limiting Myles Powell from getting any good looks.
Seton Hall has a weakness
The Pirates are being out-rebounded on the year by nearly two boards a game. Kentucky, on the other hand, is dominating opponents on the glass by a +16 margin. I can’t imagine a scenario where UK doesn’t obliterate Seton Hall on the boards. Kentucky has out-rebounded every team they have played this season except Duke, and even then the Blue Devils only had the edge by a single rebound.
The undeniable best attribute of this Calipari team has been their ability to own the paint. Seton Hall has a major weakness in that area and will have to find other ways to compensate. This feels like a good PJ Washington game. There is not a player on Seton Hall’s roster that should be able to keep Washington, Reid Travis, and EJ Montgomery from doing what they want, especially on the offensive glass. I predict that at least one Wildcat, maybe two, will get a double-double in this game.
They lost to Louisville
The Pirates are making their rounds in the Commonwealth as they just played Louisville last week, losing 70-65 on their home court. Seton Hall let a 12 point first half lead slip through their fingers. It was Myles Powell who led the Pirates with 23 points, but it wasn’t enough to hold off the Cardinals.
A late three by Louisville’s Ryan McMahon cemented the loss for Seton Hall who had control of the game. It was evident that the Cards were able to wear down Seton Hall over the course of the game. Kentucky cut their rotation down over the last few games, but this may be an opportunity to utilize the depth that John Calipari has at his disposal.