Following a grueling return flight from the Pearl Harbor Invitational after pulling off a tough victory over a tough California bunch, Seton Hall has no time to relax prior to battling No. 16 South Carolina on Monday night at Madison Square Garden in the inaugural Under Armour Reunion.
Picked 8th in the SEC preseason media poll and rated in the 60s by KenPom before the season tipped off, Frank Martin’s Gamecocks have been one of the bigger surprises across the college hoops landscape thus far.
South Carolina did just miss the NCAA tournament season ago after a 24-8 regular season before bowing out in the second round of the NIT, but they lost three starting senior forwards, which hampered expectations a bit.
Their off-season turnover has done little to slow the team down, however, with wins over Michigan and Syracuse in the same week propelling the Gamecocks to ranked status in late November. South Carolina beat the two by a combined 29 points; their closest game has been against Monmouth, who took them to overtime in an early-season thriller.
Like Florida and Stanford, Seton Hall will be up against another strong defensive team at MSG. Ranked sixth in defensive efficiency, South Carolina has held five opponents to 50 or less points including Syracuse and Michigan. After experiencing some defensive duels in Hawaii and Florida, this should not be an unfamiliar task for the Pirates.
While all of this paints USC as a daunting opponent, there are two key factors that help Seton Hall out.
The first is leading scorer and point guard Sindarius Thornwell (18.7 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 4.1 apg), who will sit out his second game after being handed an indefinite suspension by Frank Martin. Thornwell scored 20+ points in four of his first five games including their three tough games against Michigan, Syracuse and Monmouth.
Unlike Seton Hall, South Carolina is not battle-hardened away from home. All but one of their eight games have been played in South Carolina, though they did beat Syracuse at the Barclays Center in what was probably a semi-away environment — ‘Cuse fans travel very well locally. This will be Seton Hall’s first trip back to the Garden since taking down the nets after the Big East title game in March.
Youngsters Rakym Felder and Hassani Gravett have seen some time in Thornwell’s absence, but it will be the supporting cast that will be a danger to Seton Hall.
Senior two-guard Duane Notice (11.5 ppg, 3 apg) has been inconsistent this season, but he did score 27 in the one game Thornwell missed, while wing PJ Dozier (12.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 2.5 apg) has come on strong after laying a goose egg against Michigan.
Up front, sophomore Chris Silva (9.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.1 bpg) has emerged as a starter this season; a Roselle Catholic product, Silva committed to South Carolina over Seton Hall. The native of Gabon will team up with Estonian freshman Maik Kotsar (9.1 ppg, 4.1 rpg), who has reached double figures in four of his last five games.
While I think Cal may turn out to be better come March, as of right now, South Carolina presents the best chance for a résumé win for Seton Hall prior to conference play. A win here sets up a chance to finish with a 10-2 non-conference record and locks up two résumé scalps away from Prudential Center for the selection committee to mull over should it come to that.
KenPom says: No. 30 South Carolina 69, No. 46 Seton Hall 68 (49%)
Projected South Carolina starters:
G – Duane Notice
G – Justin McKie
G/F – PJ Dozier
F – Chris Silva
F – Maik Kotsar
Projected Seton Hall starters:
PG – Madison Jones
G – Khadeen Carrington
F – Desi Rodriguez
F – Ismael Sanogo
F – Angel Delgado
When: Monday, 9ET
TV: FOX Sports 1
Radio: 970AM (Gary Cohen & Dave Popkin) & SiriusXM 84
Opening line: Seton Hall +1