Monday, February 13, 2012

Meeting Across The River


Next up for St. John's after gritty loss at Georgetown is metropolitan area rival Seton Hall. (Photo courtesy of WSOU)

For all the talk of Syracuse, Georgetown and Connecticut serving as St. John's biggest adversaries, perhaps the most bitter Red Storm rival is one located simply on the other side of the Hudson River in Seton Hall University.

Led by second-year head coach Kevin Willard and seniors Jordan Theodore and Herb Pope, the Pirates are 17-8 on the year and 6-7 in the Big East following their 73-66 home win over Pittsburgh yesterday. After finishing just 13-18 last season, the Hall is close to experiencing a similar reversal of fortune over two seasons to what St. John's accomplished by returning to the NCAA Tournament last season.

The Pirates and Red Storm meet again tomorrow night, and it's worth noting that the Red Storm have yet to walk off the court at the Prudential Center victorious. Seton Hall has owned this rivalry as of late with three wins in the last four meetings between the two schools, but most of the personnel on both sides has changed since then. To help us preview tomorrow night's pivotal New York/New Jersey matchup; I caught up with Jason Guerette, who is one of the standout play-by-play voices of the Pirates on WSOU, (89.5 FM and WSOU.net) and Jason shared his thoughts on his alma mater (he's a senior at Seton Hall graduating this May) as well as their next big challenge.

Jaden Daly: Now that Seton Hall is back in the NCAA Tournament conversation, what is their most realistic seed at the moment?

Jason Guerette: Well, the Pirates still have a lot of work to do. They cannot afford another bad loss even more so than they could use a big win, because at this point a bad loss hurts more than a great win helps. That includes the need to beat St. John’s, DePaul and Rutgers without question, and quite honestly, Cincinnati is important as well because of the current proximity of the two in the standings. Joe Lunardi has the Pirates as a 12 seed right now, and if things break right for them, they could improve that by a couple slots. But again, they need to get there first.

JD: Aaron Cosby has really come on strong as of late. Has he been the most surprising player for the Pirates this season; and if not, who has been?

JG: I really liked this team ever since I saw them on media day back in the fall, so I wouldn’t say Cosby has surprised me the most, but from an outsider’s point of view, I think the most surprising player would have to be him. He’s been terrific shooting the ball and when he makes the threes (like he did against Pitt and Rutgers), it opens up lanes for Jordan Theodore and Fuquan Edwin to slash into and make plays. I think the team collectively has been a pleasant surprise as a whole, but I don’t know if I can pinpoint a true “most surprising” winner. Cosby’s been the most productive, though.

JD: If anyone has technically replaced Jeremy Hazell, who has made the biggest contribution to what was his spot in the lineup?

JG: Gotta go back to Cosby again for this one. Hazell was a special player who could stretch the defense to irrational proportions and whose very presence on the court changed the way teams defended the Pirates. He was also a volume scorer for much of his career. This year, Cosby has been more shooter than scorer, but he’s been much more efficient than Hazell. Both players have their positives and negatives, but I definitely think that Cosby fit better with Kevin Willard’s system.

JD: We've already mentioned Cosby, but how have the other freshmen performed so far this year?

JG: Freddie Wilson has done an adequate job as a backup point guard. He’s shown a confidence with the ball in his hands (probably because he had it on a string in high school) and has a strong handle, but he’s also shown flashes of scoring ability from time to time. Brandon Mobley has been terrific. He’s an energetic player who can really rebound the ball well. Offensively, he’s pretty much a jump shooter right now with not much of a post game to his name, but he has a ton of promise for the future. Haralds Karlis is another guy who many people (including me) think will be a very good player. He’s got great athleticism and length at a legit 6’5”, and although he’s had his troubles making jumpers this year, when it goes in it’s a work of art- high arc, and great lift. Because of depth reasons, Sean Grennan hasn’t played much.

JD: One thing Seton Hall has carried over from the Bobby Gonzalez era to the Kevin Willard regime is their dominance of the metropolitan area. What has made this Pirates team so good against St. John's, and even Rutgers?

JG: One thing that Gonzo was always focused on was beating the other Metro area schools because he figured that it would help him recruit the area if he could point to the wins. I think what’s made the team so good against their local rivals was the fact that for most of Gonzo’s tenure (at least the last half of it or so), the Pirates simply had better talent than either St. John’s or Rutgers. This particular year, the heralded frosh at both schools have sort of flipped the script from last year. Now, the Pirates have the leadership while the Red Storm and Scarlet Knights have players with the higher talent level (sans Pope/Theodore/Edwin).

JD: St. John's has never won at the Prudential Center since it opened. What is the biggest key for the Red Storm against a small Seton Hall lineup?

JG: Well, because St. John’s is so thin in terms of depth, even thinner than the Pirates, I think that they should play to their tempo, but not let the game become a track meet. Seton Hall likely knows of the lack of depth, especially down low, so I expect the Pirates to push the tempo and get out in transition. Attacking the basket should be Willard’s modus operandi to try and get the Red Storm in foul trouble, so to be honest, the major key for St. John’s is to make shots. If that happens, it will cut down on the transition opportunities for Seton Hall, and therefore prevent the Pirates from trying to enforce the tempo that they will likely want to do.

JD: Conversely, what does Seton Hall need to do to put St. John's away?

JG: For Seton Hall, it’s all about ball movement and ball security. St. John’s plays that extended pressure zone almost exclusively, and Seton Hall sometimes stalls when faced with a zone. The Pirates need to move the ball when faced with this particular zone because I think if they do that, they will eventually find a good shot. Avoiding turnovers will also be key, because I think St. John’s will need some easy baskets due to the great defense that Seton Hall plays.

JD: Finally, if the season ended today, who is the Pirates' most valuable player and why?

JG: The MVP is unquestionably Jordan Theodore. His evolution into a true point guard and leader has been the key to Seton Hall’s success this year. As he goes, so go the Pirates on the offensive end, and it showed in the losing streak as well as the winning this year.

Jason will not be calling tomorrow night's game; but should still be at the Prudential Center as a fan, and will be on the call for a few more Pirates games this season on WSOU. You can follow him on Twitter as well at twitter.com/JPGuerette.

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