If there was one team Marquette would love to see on the schedule to avoid a letdown after being ranked for the first time this season, Seton Hall would be near the top of the list. The Pirates have lost three straight in the Big East and injuries are mounting for Kevin Willard’s group.
With just eight scholarship players in action — and one of those just returning from injury — losses to Notre Dame, Louisville and Providence have overshadowed a solid non-conference slate, and an NCAA Tournament berth is quickly fading despite 14 games remaining on the schedule.
If the Pirates have any prayer of turning around the season, it will begin and end with junior forward Fuquan Edwin. The only Big East player last year to grab more steals than Jae Crowder, the 6-foot-6 wing is averaging 17.7 points (fourth in the Big East), 5.8 rebounds and 2.4 steals per game. He’s been forced to take on a “hero ball” mentality with the short roster, as his 57 attempts are also fourth in Big East play. He’s the Pirates biggest threat, and Buzz Williams surely had the Golden Eagles watch plenty of film on the potential All-Big East member.
Southern Illinois transfer Gene Teague has been a pleasant surprise, averaging 12.5 points and 8.3 rebounds — second only to Notre Dame’s Jack Cooley — in 28 minutes per game. The 6-foot-9 forward has filled the void of Herb Pope well, and he’s already attempted 95 free throws this year, fourth in the conference. He’ll look to get the Marquette bigs in foul trouble.
Freshman Tom Maayan and sophomore shooting guard Aaron Cosby make up a solid backcourt, as the two have passed well, and the latter has connected on 31 3-pointers, ninth best in the Big East. Marquette will get another crack at a freshman point guard, and Maayan’s turnover numbers (3.0 per game) should play right into the Golden Eagles’ hands.
Redshirt senior Kyle Smyth has been thrust into a starting role as the injuries mount, and he’s tapered off after a hot start. 63 of his 79 attempts from the field have come from beyond the arc, but after starting the year 17-for-33 (51.5%), he’s made just 5-of-30 of his 3-pointers. He’s still a threat, but he’s in a slump, which is never good news for a 3-point specialist.
Sophomore guard Haralds Karlis will see extended minutes, as will junior center Aaron Geramipoor and 6-foot-9 sophomore Kevin Johnson, who is just returning from an injury of his own.
The main Pirates shelved for tomorrow are Brandon Mobley (shoulder), Patrick Auda (foot) and Brian Oliver (ankle). All three were part of the rotation at the beginning of the year, and sophomore guard Freddie Wilson has since transferred to Drexel after 1.5 years at Seton Hall. Not good.
Where the Pirates are good
— This is not to say the Pirates are a mid-major team, but an underdog on the road — like a mid-major — has a chance for an upset if they are making 3-pointers. The Pirates are shooting better than 37 percent from beyond the arc on the year (38th) and are getting 35 percent of their points from there, one of the highest ratios in the country. Losing Mobley and Oliver hurts the Pirates’ range, but Edwin, Smyth and Cosby all have excellent range.
— Speaking of Edwin, there’s something to be said about star power. He’s one of the top players in the Big East this year, and his 6-foot-6 frame makes him a tough guard. He’s versatile, can get hot in an instant and plays lockdown defense. Chances are you’ll be able to look at Edwin’s line in the box score to determine if the Pirates got blown out, kept it close, or pulled off the upset.
Where the Pirates can be beat
— Without a true point guard, turnovers have been a major issue. They’ve turned the ball over on 24 percent of possessions in Big East play, the second worst mark in the conference. Furthermore, defenses are getting steals at a high rate against them, leading to transition baskets. The freshman Maayan’s turnover rate is an astronomical 51.5 percent, and outside of Edwin this is an area the Pirates can be beaten.
— Marquette has played teams with little depth, but nothing quite like the Pirates. The Golden Eagles are best when the game is slowed down — as seen in their first three Big East games — but tomorrow night may be a good chance to open up the offense and pick up the pace. Buzz Williams will play his style, but Seton Hall turnovers may force Marquette to push pace.
Three keys to the game
1. Jamil Wilson: Zone-buster
Seton Hall will play almost the entire game in zone tomorrow night, meaning Jamil Wilson must continue to find the open areas and knock down jumpers. He’s done this without flaw the last two games, and can make it a perfect 3-for-3 in what should be a high-scoring affair for Marquette.
2. Cadougan/Wilson swarming at half-court
Maayan and Cosby are the ball handlers out of necessity, and that’s meant trouble for the Pirates. Consider this: Five different Pirates average two or more turnovers per game. This is a game where Wilson and Cadougan likely will pick up at half court and harass whoever’s bringing up the ball. They’ll set the tone defensively, followed closely by whoever draws the assignment of Edwin.
3. Avoid the letdown
On Monday Marquette was voted into the AP top 25 poll for the first time this season. It’s impossible for players not to notice, and against an inferior opponent the Golden Eagles should beat, there’s always a chance of a letdown. That, and a big game at Cincinnati looming next week, and Marquette will need to avoid looking past tomorrow night.