NYC area preview for Wednesday

March 12th, 2008

Fordham, Sacred Heart and Seton Hall on tap

With the MAAC Tournament now complete and many of the other area teams either finished for the season or waiting for Sunday to find out whether or not they’ll be playing postseason basketball (Rider), three teams in the area still have games to play in Wednesday. Fordham and Seton Hall begin play in the Atlantic 10 and Big East tournaments, respectively, while the Pioneers of Sacred Heart host Mount St. Mary’s in the Northeast Conference title game. Here’s a preview of each game, along with my picks (the games will be listed in chronological order based on their start time).

Atlantic 10 Tournament First Round
#12 Fordham vs. #5 St. Joseph’s (Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, NJ)
Wednesday 2:30 PM, CSTV

Category (conf. rank) Fordham St. Joseph’s
Points per game 64.9 (11th) 74.3 (6th)
PPG allowed 66.7 (5th) 68.6 (8th)
Field goal % 42.3 (11th) 47.6 (2nd)
FG % defense 45.1 (13th) 43.8 (10th)
3 PT % 32.5 (13th) 39.1 (3rd)
3 PT % defense 34.5 (6th) 37.9 (14th)
Rebound margin - 2.7 (13th) - 0.2 (7th)
Turnover margin + 0.32 (8th) + 1.72 (4th)

Category Fordham St. Joseph’s
Points per game Bryant Dunston (15.5) Pat Calathes (17.8)
Rebounds per game Dunston (10.0) Calathes (7.7)
Assists per game Marcus Stout (2.9) Tasheed Carr (5.8)
FG percentage Dunston (52.5) Calathes (44.6)
3 PT percentage Stout (35.3) Rob Ferguson (42.2)
Assist/Turnover ratio Kevin Anderson (2.1) Carr (2.09)

Regular season meeting: St. Joseph’s 70-55 (February 2nd at St. Joseph’s).

Make no mistake about it: this season has been a serious disappointment for the Rams and anyone who would have thought that a team returning five senior starters would be able to make some waves in conference play. But things don’t always work out as planned, meaning that this bunch barely squeaked into the Atlantic 10 Tournament to face an opponent that should have no problem getting up for this game. The Hawks are in desperate need of wins in order to strengthen their case for the NCAA Tournament, and with this game and a quarterfinal against Richmond, St. Joe’s could very well find themselves in a semifinal opposite league champ Xavier if things go according to plan.

Pat Calathes has been the jack-of-all-trades guy for Phil Martelli this season, leading the Hawks in both scoring and rebounding. Even though he stands at 6-10, Calathes possesses the guard skills that you’d normally associate with players standing six inches shorter. The man who runs the show is Tasheed Carr, who led the team in assists per game and ranks behind only UMass’ Chris Lowe with 5.8 assists per game (rounded up from 5.76). The most entertaining individual matchup between the two teams could be between senior big men Bryant Dunston and Amhad Nivins.

Nivins has been the anchor in the middle for the Hawks over the past couple of seasons, and St. Joe’s also has Rob Ferguson coming off the bench to contribute as well. Six players (five of whom average double figures in scoring) see the majority of the minutes, with Darrin Govens and Garrett Williamson rounding out the rotation.

As for Fordham, the offense has basically boiled down to two components: Dunston and Marcus Stout. Dunston is once again averaging a double-double, earning Second-Team All-Conference and All-Defensive honors as a result. Stout is just behind him with his average of 15.2 points per contest, and also leads the team in assists per game. The other Ram averaging double figures is sophomore guard Brenton Butler, who has reached double digits in scoring in each the Rams’ last five games.

Kevin Anderson, Mike Moore, Michael Binns and Herb Tanner also see playing time, but none of those four have proven to be serious offensive threats. St. Joe’s clearly has the advantage on that end of the floor, and if the Rams don’t control the tempo they could be in serious trouble.

Both teams are middle of the pack clubs when it comes to defense, and they both do a decent job of taking care of the basketball. But to be frank, the Hawks have more talent. Fordham will give them a run, especially with five seniors possibly playing their last game, but sometimes you get the feeling that a team’s better off simply ending their season right now instead of delaying the inevitable. I like St. Joe’s in this one.

Northeast Conference Tournament final
#4 Mount St. Mary’s @ #3 Sacred Heart
Wednesday 7 PM, ESPN2

Category (league rank) Mount St. Mary’s Sacred Heart
Points per game 69.1 (8th) 72.4 (3rd)
PPG allowed 66.9 (1st) 71.6 (7th)
Field goal % 44.7 (4th) 44.6 (5th)
FG % defense 41.9 (2nd) 44.6 (t-5th)
3 PT % 37.0 (3rd) 34.9 (6th)
3 PT % defense 32.7 (4th) 34.1 (6th)
Rebound margin - 1.3 (8th) - 4.1 (9th)
Turnover margin + 0.65 (4th) + 2.42 (1st)

Category Mount St. Mary’s Sacred Heart
Points per game Chris Vann (14.7) Brice Brooks (12.6)
Rebounds per game Markus Mitchell (5.9) Drew Shubik (5.8)
Assists per game Jeremy Goode (5.6) Shubik (5.6)
FG percentage Sam Atupem (51.7) Ryon Howard (52.0)
3 PT percentage Vann (39.4) Ryan Litke (38.0)
Assist/Turnover ratio Goode (1.62) Shubik (1.54)

Regular season meetings: Sacred Heart 67-59 (January 19th at The Mount).

Tournament Results: Mount St. Mary’s beat #5 Quinnipiac (80-70) and #1 Robert Morris (83-65). Sacred Heart defeated #6 Central Connecticut State (84-71) and #2 Wagner (55-49).

On paper the Mountaineers have the clear advantage when it comes to defense. But the Pioneers are coming off of their best defensive effort of the season, one in which they held Wagner to forty-nine points and thirty percent shooting from the field. Dave Bike’s team is a balanced group led in scoring by Brice Brooks, but anyone from Corey Hassan to Drew Shubik to Ryan Litke to Ryon Howard can victimize the opponent on any given night. After getting off to a slow start to the season, the Pioneers were in the thick of the NEC race until about a week left in the season.

The only negative that came out of Sunday’s win at Wager were the fifteen turnovers committed by Sacred Heart, a surprising number given the fact that they led the NEC in turnover margin this season. But they were still able to overcome a rough shooting night (Hassan went 1-10 from the field on his own) to make it to Wednesday’s final. Another piece of good news for Pioneer followers: only twice has the road team won the conference title game this decade. Monmouth was the winner on each occasion as they knocked off FDU in 2006 and St. Francis (NY) in 2001.

As for the Mountaineers, they’ll show up with one of the conference’s best defenses. The Mount gave up the fewest points per game this season and finished second in field goal percentage defense. On offense, this is a team that prefers to play a half-court style and won’t shoot themselves in the foot. Point guard Jeremy Goode leads the way, distributing the ball to players such as leading scorer Chris Vann and Will Holland while not being afraid to put up some shots himself (Goode is second on the team in scoring).

Both teams tend to rebound by committee, but neither has been particularly dominant in that area, ranking near the bottom of the NEC in rebound margin.
While this is a tricky game to pick, I like Sacred Heart and Dave Bike to make their first appearance in the Division I tournament (remember, this school as a Division II title to its credit).

Big East Tournament First Round
#12 Seton Hall vs. #5 Marquette
Wednesday 9:30 PM, ESPN

Category Seton Hall Marquette
Points per game 77.4 (4th) 76.2 (5th)
PPG allowed 77.6 (16th) 64.0 (4th)
Field goal % 42.5 (13th) 45.3 (8th)
FG % defense 45.1 (15th) 41.2 (5th)
3 PT % 34.2 (10th) 35.9 (4th)
3 PT % defense 37.5 (15th) 29.3 (2nd)
Rebound margin - 3.7 (16th) + 1.3 (11th)
Turnover margin + 3.55 (3rd) + 4.17 (2nd)

Category Seton Hall Marquette
Points per game Brian Laing (19.0) Jerel McNeal (13.6)
Rebounds per game John Garcia (7.1) Lazar Hayward (6.4)
Assists per game Eugene Harvey (4.81) Dominic James (4.33)
FG percentage Garcia (61.7) Ousmane Barro (55.1)
3 PT percentage Jamar Nutter (38.8) Maurice Acker (41.2)
Assist/Turnover ratio Harvey (1.3) James (1.88)

Regular season meetings: Marquette won both meetings, 61-56 (January 8th at Marquette) and 89-64 (February 12th at Seton Hall).

For all the talk about Tom Crean’s guards (and rightfully so), the major difference between the Pirates hanging around in the first meeting and getting blown out of their own gym a month later could be the play of Lazar Hayward. In the five-point win in Milwaukee, Hayward only had seven points and six rebounds. In the return meeting, Lazar went for twenty-three points and nine rebounds as the Hall had no answer for the sophomore forward. Another key to this one could be the matchup between Ousmane Barro and John Garcia. I predicted the same heading into the second meeting, only to have Hayward play one of his best games of the season.

The Pirates give up nearly forty rebounds per game, something that isn’t shocking considering their style of play and lack of size. But if they want to have any shot at hanging around in this one, they’re going to need to hold their own on the glass if not win the category. The leading scorer for Seton Hall has been Brian Laing, recently named to the conference’s first team. Other options include point guard Eugene Harvey and guards Jamar Nutter and Jeremy Hazell (named to the All-Rookie Team). A trio of big men occupies the pivot in Bobby Gonzalez’s “small ball” system, with John Garcia coming on of late.

As for Marquette, the Golden Eagles can boast a triumvirate of second-team All-Conference players in Hayward, McNeal and James. But they’ve also got some depth, with roles players such as David Cubillan, Dan Fitzgerald and Maurice Acker also able to burn an unsuspecting opponent. And you can’t forget about the third guard in Marquette’s three-guard attack, Wesley Matthews. Matthews may be Coach Crean’s best perimeter defender, but all of the guards do a solid job of containing their opponent.

While Seton Hall’s pressing style can give them a chance in this one, something has been missing from this group on the defensive end of the floor ever since Paul Gause tore his ACL a few weeks ago. There’s no longer a ball-hawking defender who can force teams to throw the ball away and rush things on offense, leading to better shot opportunities for the Pirates. And without Gause the lack of size becomes even more apparent. I like Marquette to win this one.