SETON HALL PIRATES (11-6, 1-3)
Time: 8 p.m.
Television: WHAS-11/SNY/ESPN Plus
Location: The Prudential Center: Newark, N.J.
Favorite: Louisville by 7
All-Time Series: Louisville leads 7-3
Last Meeting: Louisville won 86-71 on 3/4/07
Best Win: Seton Hall 74, Virginia 60 (11/24)
Worst Loss: Saint Mary's 85, Seton Hall 70
Yes, I'm aware that the Gaels are good, but the loss to Penn State was a nail-biter and that was with Claxton playing.
Probable Starting Lineup
G Eugene Harvey...16.8 ppg
G Jamar Nutter....9.9 ppg
G Jeremy Hazell..11.2 ppg
C John Garcia...7.8 ppg
F Brian Laing....18.4 ppg
I alluded to it in the Marquette wrap, but this game has me extremely nervous because I feel like Louisville can play just as well as they have been and still lose, which would be an absolute momentum crusher. Also, I just woke up from a dream of the Pirates prevailing. Can't remember the final score, but I want to say it was Seton Hall 67-63. If it happens I'll go ahead and not sleep again until April.
The Cards can bring the same intensity and execution on the defensive end that they've displayed over the past three weeks, and Seton Hall is still going to score. The Pirates rank first in the Big East in shots attempted, second in scoring (81.2 ppg), and boast two of the league's top ten scorers in Brian Laing and Eugene Harvey. While the Jersey boys aren't anywhere near as enthusiastic about keeping shots out of the basket as they are about putting them in, U of L has gone through several long stretches this season where it didn't matter how well or how closely they were defended.
Simply put, the Cards are going to need multiple people to step up and hit some shots this evening.
Pitino has had just a day to prepare his team for tonight's game, but the good news - as Brian Bennett tells us - is that Seton Hall is very similar to Marquette. Bobby Gonzalez starts three guards, they love to push tempo, and on defense they're going to come out and challenge Louisville's guards with consistent ball pressure. The biggest difference is that they rely more on the three-point shot than the Golden Eagles, taking more than any team in the conference this side of Louisville and West Virginia. This could work in U of L's favor as the Pirates come in to the game 15th in the conference in three-point percentage at 31.6%, and the Cards have held their last three opponents to 21.7% from deep.
"When we make threes, we can win games," Gonzalez said. "We can't win a game if we don't make three-point shots."
The two players Gonzalez relies on most from beyond the arc are senior guard Jamar Nutter freshman guard Jeremy Hazell, both of whom come into tonight with hot hands. Hazell hit 5-of-11 shots from three and scored 22 points in the Hall's 10-point win over South Florida on Thursday, while Nutter added 13 and went 3-of-5 from deep. Each as the potential to completely change a game if left unchecked on a handful of possessions.
One player who isn't relied on to shoot well from three is Harvey. The sophomore guard has hit just five threes all season, but it hasn't stopped him from scoring in double figures in 16 of the Hall's 17 games. Harvey is one of the more athletic guards in the conference, and he sets the pace when the Pirates have the ball. He leads the team in assists at 4.4 a contest, and is second in minutes played at 36.5.
The guy who leads the team - and the conference - in minutes played is Laing, a senior forward who is playing the best basketball of his collegiate career. He ranks third in the league in scoring (18.4 ppg), third in free-throw percentage (83.8%), and is also in the top 20 in rebounding (7.2 rpg). What's also particularly troubling for Cardinal fans is that he scored a career-high 29 points against the Cards a year ago. The bad news for Pirate fans, however, is that Laing is playing despite a painful hip-pointer, which may have been the cause for his 1-for-9 shooting performance against USF.
Laing is far from the only Seton Hall player dealing with an injury.
Junior guard Paul Gause, the Big East's leader in steals, has missed the last four games with a broken knuckle and will not play this evening. Reserve guard Larry Davis is also dealing with a hip-pointer injury that forced him to miss the second half on Thursday. And sophomore center John Garcia, the Big East's seventh leading rebounder, popped the same knee cap that he's had two surgeries on out of place against USF. He had the joint taped and then put a sleeve over it before returning about four minutes later and playing the rest of the game.
While he preaches ball-pressure, don't be surprised if Gonzalez plays a healthy amount of zone to make the Cards prove they can hit some outside shots. They're also going to try and steal some cheap points out of their press, which means that Edgar Sosa needs to play as well as he did on Thursday.
This is another game that Sosa, Earl Clark, and Derrick Caracter will be playing close to home, but there's a little bit more bad blood between these teams then there is with U of L and Rutgers.
Once close friends, Pitino and Gonzalez have had a significant falling out after last year's Senior Day game in Freedom Hall in which Gonzo appeared at one point to push a U of L player, and was later thrown out of the game while Pitino was trying to get his seniors on the floor for the last time. The game also featured multiple shoving matches, and technical fouls were handed out to both Jamar Nutter and Terrence Williams.
"We weren't going to back down," Williams said after the game. "I'm a Louisville guy and by pushing back I was saying we weren't going to back down."
Don't be surprised if Seton Hall gambles and goes for a lot of steals and contests a lot of shots, because despite their injuries the Pirates are deep, and they know that Louisville doesn't shoot particularly well from the line.
This should be interesting.
CC Prediction: Louisville 78, Seton Hall 73
At the beginning of the week I said that if the Cards knocked off Marquette I thought they'd lose on Saturday, and when I went to sleep last night I was planning on sticking to that. But after seeing what I saw Thursday night, I'm now refusing to believe that this team won't do what needs to be done against an inferior opponent this evening.