Monday, December 1, 2014

Seton Hall/Mount St. Mary's Preview

Jamion Christian leads reigning NEC champion Mount St. Mary's into battle with Seton Hall Tuesday night. (Photo courtesy of Big Apple Buckets)

Seton Hall is 5-0 for the first time since the 2009-10 season, a campaign that ended with the Pirates appearing in the National Invitation Tournament, but also one that cost former head coach Bobby Gonzalez his job shortly after The Hall's loss to Texas Tech. Kevin Willard was hired from Iona to replace Gonzalez, and has slowly built the Pirates back into a contender, enduring more than his share of hardship and injuries along the way back to respectability in South Orange.

After the Pirates defeated George Washington on Saturday, Willard made clear that his team is approaching one game at a time despite their uncommon success. They take on a Mount St. Mary's team that, although entering Tuesday night's matchup at the Prudential Center as the reigning Northeast Conference champion, is a different unit this year. For starters, head coach Jamion Christian, a former assistant to Shaka Smart that is still one of the youngest head coaches in the nation at just 32 years old, must replace his three-tiered senior core of Rashad Whack, Sam Prescott, and four-year warrior Julian Norfleet in Emmitsburg this season. The Mountaineers are an interesting sort, as evidenced by their "Mayhem" philosophy, a style directly influenced by the world-famous "Havoc" system Christian's former mentor Smart has honed to perfection at VCU.

To profile The Mount and "Mayhem," as well as the people who make the system work, we are honored to once again welcome Big Apple Buckets contributor and NEC expert Ryan Peters to the site, as Ryan was gracious enough to take part in our latest question and answer session to help get to know Mount St. Mary's a little better:

Jaden Daly: First and foremost for those who don't know it, what exactly is "Mayhem," and what are its strengths and weaknesses?

Ryan Peters: Jamion Christian developed Mount St. Mary’s Mayhem scheme from his old boss, Shaka Smart, when he was an assistant on VCU’s staff. The major principle of Mayhem is to push the tempo by forcing turnovers (16 per game is the goal) with trapping and pressure defense and taking a lot of threes (25 per game). They’re essentially speeding up the game to a level that makes the opponent uncomfortable. To do this you need a quality rotation of 9-10 guys, so the head coach can cycle players in and out to keep their energy levels high. Over the course of the game, opponents would (ideally) tire and turn the ball over in spurts.

When things are going well, the Mount are making far more three-pointers than the opposition, while winning the turnover battle and generating easy points in transition. Of course, if teams possess multiple ball handlers and break the press, there will be some easy baskets on the offensive end. For Christian’s two plus seasons, the Mount’s opponents have converted on a whopping 55% of their two-point attempts. 
   
JD: How has Jamion Christian gone about replacing Rashad Whack, Sam Prescott and Julian Norfleet over the first four games? Who is getting most of the touches offensively, and what is their best asset?

RP: Replacing the Big Three is a work in progress, as can be expected when you lose a significant portion of your scoring. There aren’t one or two guys that will step into Norfleet and Whack’s role; instead the Mount plan to implement a more balanced approach with the goal of having 4-6 guys averaging between 8 and 12 ppg. Someone may eventually emerge as a go-to-scorer when it’s time for NEC play, but I doubt the coaching staff has any idea who that player might be at the moment. Marshall transfer Chris Martin, sophomore Byron Ashe, and freshman Lamont “Junior” Robinson are likely the favorites to eventually become consistent double-digit scorers. For now though, it’s all hands on deck as Christian feels out his rather inexperienced roster. 
   
JD: Through their first four games, what has been most impressive about the Mountaineers, and how reflective is it of their potential?

RP: The only positive from the young season thus far was their road victory over Bucknell, which, quite frankly, came as a surprise. In the victory, nine Mountaineers scored while registering at least eight minutes on the floor. The offense was excellent at 1.12 points per possession, while the defense turned over Dave Paulsen’s squad 14 times and limited the Bison to just 11 three-point attempts, a season low. After coming off a poor performance at home versus Maryland Eastern Shore, Christian had to be pleased with his team’s balance, offensive efficiency and tenacity on the defensive end. I’m sure he hopes that type of effort is consistent when league play commences in January. 

JD: Against a deeper team such as Seton Hall, is The Mount's eight-man rotation a major concern?

RP: Christian will play nine guys, give or take, against the Pirates, so I’m not concerned about their depth. It’s matching up with the Seton Hall’s backcourt length and athleticism that will be extremely problematic. Robinson, Ashe, and Martin probably make up one of the smallest backcourts in the country, so guys like Gibbs, Sena and Whitehead won’t struggle to find their shot. The key for Seton Hall will be to attack the rim. Despite possessing ample length in the frontcourt, the Taylor Danaher/Kristijan Krajina/Gregory Graves trio has yet to register a single block this season. I certainly wouldn’t categorize them as rim protectors, so the Pirates need to take advantage and not settle for long jumpers.

JD: Touching up on that, how much more do you see Kristijan Krajina and Taylor Danaher involved in the game plan given Seton Hall's lack of height?

RP: I envision the 6’11” Krajina will be part of the game plan – so far his 37 shot attempts lead the Mount through four games. He’s a fairly efficient back-to-the-basket player in the low post, so I think Christian will try to get the big man some looks throughout. Really though, the Mount mainly revolves around perimeter play with a majority of the rotation more comfortable taking jumpers rather than banging around in the post. The Mount will need to make a bunch of threes to have a chance at the upset. 
   
JD: Finally, with the Northeast Conference as wide open as it is, where do you ultimately see the reigning champions faring?

RP: This preseason I pegged the Mount as the fifth best team in the NEC, with the chance to emerge as a legit contender. Given their difficult non-conference schedule (they play five guarantee games, I believe), there will be bumps in the road before this team potentially peaks in February/March. They may not even win four non-conference games, but I would still view them as a program that finishes in the top half of the NEC. And given the parity you mentioned, they have as good a shot as any league foe to be dancing in March once again. I don’t believe that will be the case (I still like St. Francis Brooklyn and Robert Morris to meet in the NEC title game), but they fooled me last season.

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