After suffering a heartbreaking one-point loss to Connecticut at home Wednesday night, the Bearcats take to the road to try to erase the bitter taste in their mouths Sunday afternoon when they take on the Seton Hall Pirates (13-6, 3-3), who may be the hottest team in the Big East right now.
Bobby Gonzalez has the Pirates on a three-game winning streak and very much in the thick of the conference race after knocking off South Florida, Louisville, and Providence in very convincing fashion.
The Pirates are led by 6-5 senior forward Brian Laing, who scores 18.9 points and grabs 7.4 rebounds per game. Due to Seton Hall's lack of significant height, Laing has to play the power forward position and despite his 6-5 frame, is athletic and strong enough to certainly hold his own down low. Laing will take his defender out of the paint on occasion and will shoot some threes – his 55 three attempts are third-highest on the team. And he uses his aggressiveness to force the issue and get to the free throw line where he's an excellent shooter at 83 percent. His 87 free throw attempts are second to Eugene Harvey's 143. Laing comes into this game on fire as he has scored 25 points in the Pirates' win over Louisville last weekend, and 22 over Providence Thursday. Last year, in their overtime loss at Cincinnati, Laing scored 18 points and collected five rebounds.
6-9 sophomore John Garcia is the Pirates' only big man who sees significant playing time. In his 20.6 minutes a game, he grabs a team-high 8.1 rebounds and scores 7.6 points. He's obviously not one of the first options on offense, so he won't scare anyone inside. On the defensive end, he has 30 blocked shots on the year, but at an average of just 1.6 won't keep the 'Cats from going inside to Adam Hrycaniuk. Last year against the 'Cats, he scored just six points, but grabbed 12 rebounds.
The only other players over 6-6 who see the floor are 6-11 JC transfer Augustine Okosun, who gets just under nine minutes a game, and 6-11 freshman Mike Davis, who gets just under 10 minutes a game. Neither presents a threat inside although Okosun had a decent night against Providence with six points on 3-of-3 shooting. Mike Davis averages 3.1 points per game.
In the backcourt, sophomore point guard Eugene Harvey gets things going in high gear for the Pirates. Not only does he average 16 points per night, he also dishes out 4.5 assists. Harvey can be susceptible to pressure however – he turns the ball over 3.4 times a game. One thing he isn't much of a threat to do is shoot from behind the three-point arc. He's only taken 28 threes and hit just six, so the Bearcats will likely play off a bit and make him burn them from deep. Perhaps the most dangerous aspect of Harvey's game is his ability to create contact and get to the foul line. His 143 free throw attempts are easily the most on the team (by 56 attempts over Brian Laing). Last year against the Bearcats, Harvey exploded for 24 points and four assists.
Guard Jeremy Hazell has been lights out of late. He scored 22 in the Pirates' win over South Florida, then lit up Louisville for 29 in another win. He scored just nine in their win over Providence, but he was 3-of-4 from the field – all three pointers. Hazell practically lives behind the line – 135 of his 186 shots are from behind the arc. He hits at a .370 clip, so he is dangerous from back there. The one thing the Bearcats might bank on is Hazell's inconsistency. In the two games prior to his recent hot streak, Hazell scored two points against Marquette, and zero against Pittsburgh. But, if he's hitting early, watch out.
Another potentially dangerous shooter is Jamar Nutter, who averages 10.2 points per game and makes an average of two three-pointers per game. His three-point percentage (.388) is higher than Hazell's, but he doesn't take nearly as many attempts (98). Nutter is coming off a 19 point effort against Providence. Last year against UC, he scored 10 points.
6-3 sophomore guard Larry Davis (yes, Seton Hall has a Larry Davis, too) is really starting to thrive in his reserve roll. In four of his last five games, Davis has played over 25 minutes and averaged 10 points in that span. He doesn't shoot that well from the field (.331 clip), but can knock down free throws when needed (.769). Davis was especially good in the Louisville game when he scored 10 points, grabbed eight rebounds, and dished out six assists.
Typically in the Big East it's very difficult to win on the road. This game will be no exception, especially with the Pirates playing so well of late. The Bearcats will be looking to steal a win to get back on the upswing before they head into Morgantown to face the Mountaineers…and a certain coach from the past.