Seton Hall Preview
MORGANTOWN. W.Va. – Herb Pope and Jeremy Hazell can certainly count their blessings.
The two Seton Hall standouts playing Wednesday night against West Virginia at the WVU Coliseum have a lot to be thankful for – Pope, for surviving a near-death experience last spring when a previously undiagnosed birth defect caused him to collapse during a team workout, and Hazell for surviving an attempted robbery on Christmas night when he suffered a flesh wound after a bullet passed through his right armpit.
Two weeks before that, Hazell suffered a broken bone to his left, non-shooting wrist during an 83-78 win against Alabama. Hazell thought about redshirting to make a run at Terry Dehere’s school scoring of 2,494 points but the soon-to-be 25-year-old reconsidered.
Since his return against DePaul on Jan. 12, Hazell hasn’t missed a beat. He scored 23 against the Blue Demons and added 28 in a big, 90-68, win over Syracuse at the Carrier Dome last week.
“I think he’s back but I’m not really qualified to say how far he’s back, but he’s certainly playing well,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins.
Hazell has been particularly impressive against West Virginia, scoring 30 the first time he faced the Mountaineers in Morgantown in 2008 and later producing a career-high 41 against West Virginia at the Prudential Center in 2009. In four career games against WVU he’s averaging 27.3 points and shooting 48% from the field.
“Obviously it’s been hard for us to guard him because he’s had some career days against us,” said Huggins. “Hopefully we can do a better job on him. He’s been great against us.”
Pope, too, has played well against West Virginia, scoring 20 points and grabbing 21 rebounds in two career games against the Mountaineers. Pope is slowly regaining the form he showed last year when he was one of the top rebounders in the Big East Conference pulling down 10.7 boards per game.
Pope, a 6-8 forward, shows averages of 10.8 points and 9.2 rebounds per game this year.
“I’ve known Herb for a long time and I’m really happy for Herb,” said Huggins of the Aliquippa, Pa., resident. “I think Herb has made great strides - and Hazell has been a great player - and to go through what he’s gone through, that’s hard on anybody.”
Seton Hall has been playing well of late, following up the Syracuse win with a 10-point victory over Providence at home last Sunday to improve to 10-12, 4-6 under first-year coach Kevin Willard, the son of Ralph Willard who also worked under Rick Pitino at Louisville.
“You watch the Georgetown game and they played really well, although Georgetown was able to win,” said Huggins. “They played Pitt really tough for two-thirds of the game and I think Pitt kind of wore them down a little bit. You go to Syracuse and win the way they won and you’re a good basketball team.”
Huggins said Seton Hall plays a much different style now under Willard, relying more on tough in-your-face defense instead of simply trying to outscore teams.
“A year ago if they didn’t score a whole bunch of points then they weren’t going to win,” Huggins said. “That’s not the case this year.”
The Pirates will play a lot of man-to-man, but will also play a 2-3 zone and a variation of the 2-3, according to Huggins.
“They’re playing three defenses and they play them all pretty well,” he said. “They’re playing probably more man-to-man, but they play 2-3 and they play a 2-3-matchup where they’re taking guys through and it ends up three perimeter guys are playing three perimeter guys, and the two bigs play the two bigs.”
Senior forward Jeff Robinson, a former Memphis transfer, is coming off a season high 20-point performance against Providence and is averaging 12.9 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Fuquan Edwin, a 6-6- freshman forward, and Jordan Theodore, a 6-foot junior guard, round out Seton Hall’s starting five.
West Virginia (14-6, 5-3) has renewed energy after ending Cincinnati’s 13-game home-court winning streak on Saturday with a 66-55 victory over the Bearcats. Seniors John Flowers and Joe Mazzulla scored 16 points each for the Mountaineers.
Mazzulla has boosted his season scoring average from 5.7 points per game before last Wednesday’s Louisville game to 6.9 points heading into the Seton Hall game. Flowers has also played well of late, scoring a career-high 24 in a 30-point win over Providence on Jan.13 and hitting double figures in five of his last six games to boost his scoring average to 9.8 points per game.
The Mountaineers continue to have eight available scholarship players with the unchanged status of suspended guard Casey Mitchell, who has missed the last two games for violating team rules.
West Virginia’s defense has limited opponents to 40% or less from the floor in each of its last four games, including USF’s 31.4% shooting performance at the Coliseum on Jan. 23 and Cincinnati’s 35% shooting effort last Saturday night. Overall, the Mountaineers are limiting their opponents to 40% shooting, including only 27.8% from 3 – tops in the league just ahead of Seton Hall’s 28.1 3-point field goal percentage.
West Virginia is now out-rebounding its opponents by an average of four boards per game after struggling in that area earlier this season. Junior Kevin Jones is the Mountaineers’ top rebounder pulling down 6.9 per game, while also averaging 13.2 points per game.
The junior forward is now three points shy of reaching 1,000 for his career.
Tipoff for Wednesday’s game is set for 7 p.m. The contest will be televised locally on the Big East Network as well as on ESPN Full Court and ESPN3.com.
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