DePaul plays a very important Big East contest tonight against Seton Hall at Allstate Arena. Since the Pirates are a team you don't hear too much about on the national stage I reached out to the guys over at South Orange Juice to get some background on how Kevin Willard's first season is going. Here's what they had to say.
Q&A with South Orange Juice about Seton Hall
CCB - Seton Hall has a new coach this season in Willard. What's been the difference with his system?
In comparison to Bobby Gonzalez, the biggest difference in Willard's system is his attention to detail on the defensive end. The Pirates feature a mix of a controlled three-quarters and 2-1-2 full court press and rotate between a base 2-3 zone and man-to-man in their half court sets. The focus on the defensive end has paid a world of dividends for Seton Hall, but for such a poor shooting ball club, the results often go unnoticed. To put it simply, KenPom rates Seton Hall's adjusted defensive efficiency 31st in the nation at 89.7 points per opponent's 100 possessions. Last year? They gave up 98.5, a near 10-point improvement. Yet, they're just 7-9. Offensively, it's been tough to put a finger on exactly what offense Willard runs. Losing Jeremy Hazell, one of the most prolific scorers in the nation will do that. Through much of the first 16 games, saying the Pirates looked lost at times would be an understatement. There's been entirely too much hanging around the perimeter by the post-players, there's been contested drives and wild layup attempts and too many shots early into their possessions. Finally, against Syracuse last Saturday, the Pirates made a concerted effort to pound the ball inside to Jeff Robinson and Herb Pope who responded with monster double-doubles of 17 points, 14 boards and 14 points, 20 rebounds, respectively.
CCB - How has this team been able to overcome and deal with the injury to Hazell?
The Pirates lost Hazell after they defeated Alabama in their first contest of the Paradise Jam and subsequently, lost their way, soon thereafter. They lost three of four following the injury and after compiling three wins against a set of cupcakes, they've again lost 5-of-6 against stiffer competition. It's fair to say that they haven't overcome the loss of their leader. It's sad to say, but in my opinion, it's unlikely that they will should he be sidelined for the season.
CCB - Besides taking care of the ball, Seton Hall doesn't do anything well on offense. Are they really that bad?
Again, much of this can be attributed to the loss of Hazell. Many fans chalked up their poor showing in the Paradise Jam as not having enough time to prepare without him. I never bought into that philosophy. I've always felt that a head coach needs to be prepared for the worst possible scenario at all times. There needs to be a plan B, C and D in place to deal with certain circumstances and it was clear that losing their 20-plus ppg scorer was never considered. Seton Hall hasn't done much of anything well on the offensive end this season, but that doesn't mean that they necessarily can't. We've been clamoring for the Pirates to pound the rock into the paint all season to take advantage of Pope and Robinson's strong post-play. We finally saw what they can produce with their performance against the Orange. Unfortunately, up until Saturday, Willard failed to emphasize this strategy in his game plans. Instead, players are encouraged to shoot the long-ball in Kevin's system, even the post players. It's been beyond frustrating to watch Robinson (52) and Pope (22) waste possessions by firing more 3-pointers at this point than they did all of last season.
CCB - I've heard rumors that Seton Hall fans on message boards already want Willard out. That's one heck of an overreaction, right?
Well, the Seton Hall messages boards are often one heck of an overreaction to begin with. Willard wasn't even finished bringing his first two recruits to South Orange before posters were calling for his head, labeling him a terrible recruiter and one that can't land a local recruit. After any loss, you're going to see the, "fire this coach," "why did we fire Orr?" and, "Willard's worse than Gonzo" posts, but should Seton Hall notch a big victory, the script will flip. Coaching is the ultimate, "what have you done for me lately" business and reading a message board after a win/loss will often be one emotional roller coaster ride. Of course, fellow first-year local coaches Mike Rice (Rutgers) and Steve Lavin (St. John's) are off and running with outstanding classes coming in next season. That hasn't helped Willard's case among his detractors.
CCB - To follow that up, this team doesn't have a single bad loss, so it seems really ridiculous. But since they don't have a "bad" loss, what's DePaul's chance of getting a victory?
Normally, I'd give Depaul a 10-15% chance of pulling off the, "upset," but this year is different. Surprisingly, DePaul has played West Virginia and Georgetown tough. If Krys Faber, Tony Freeland and Cleveland Melvin combine to keep Robinson and Pope off the glass, DePaul can certainly outshoot the Pirates. They'll be at home and will be itching to get out of the BIG EAST basement with a manageable opponent in Seton Hall. Couple all of that with the possibility that news regarding Hazell's wrist (and the rest of his season) may leak before the tip, and I really think the Blue Demons will have a shot to steal this one. Then again, would it even be considered, "stealing one?" I don't know, but as a Pirate fan, I'm not taking a single conference opponent for granted this season. Good luck.
Thanks to South Orange Juice for the primer! Their pre-game coverage has already started. So go check it out.