Preview: DePaul an opportunity for Seton Hall to right the ship

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Seton Hall will look to break out of a recent skid when the travel to DePaul on Sunday afternoon.

Losers in three of their last four games with a struggling offense at the forefront, Seton Hall will play their first game as an unranked school since late November.

In search of their fifth straight win over the Blue Demons, the Pirates should be more prepared and well-rested considering DePaul had to play — and win 74-73 — at Georgetown on Wednesday night, where they snapped their third three-game losing streak of the year.

While the Blue Demons (9-11, 2-6) have the same losing record of past teams, KenPom says that Dave Leitao’s group is playing at a level just outside of the top-100 as opposed to the 150-200 range as seen over the past five-plus years. In other words, DePaul is better than their record.

Local product Eli Cain (11.8 ppg, 4.1 apg, 3.8 rpg) is still a jack of all trades and scored the winning basket at Georgetown, but the biggest reason for an uptick in play this year are newcomers Marin Maric (12.9 ppg, 6.2 rpg), a forward graduate transfer from Northern Illinois, and Max Strus (18.3 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.6 apg), a Division II transfer who plays on the wing.

“I think DePaul has been playing really good basketball,” said Kevin Willard on this week’s Big East conference call.

“I love the way they’ve been rebounding the basketball, it’s been giving them opportunities for not only second chance points, but to get out on the break. I think their size is something that’s really helped them defensively, and their rebounding numbers; especially in conference play, are really tough.”

DePaul’s struggles this season have mostly been on the offensive end, where they are ninth in the league in KenPom and average 73 ppg in conference play, although they are fairly adept on the offensive glass where they rank first.

For Seton Hall, a lengthy bye week has provided an opportunity to decompress before a stretch that leads into the Big East Tournament that contains only two breaks longer than three days as the league has a Wednesday-Saturday/Sunday setup for the remainder of the slate.

Prior to the first bye week which preceded the Butler road trip, I researched Kevin Willard’s record over the past 2.5 seasons when they team had five or more days of rest between games. Not including season-openers and the loss to Arkansas in the NCAA tournament, the Hall is now 11-2.

“The bye week has given a good chance for guys like Sandro, guys like Myles Cale, Eron Gordon, to kind of get back into a rhythm by playing a lot more in practice,” said Willard of the team’s week off.

“I’ve liked the way that those guys have really responded to longer practices while I think the older guys have enjoyed getting back on the practice floor a little bit, too, and kind of get back in a rhythm offensively that we’ve been struggling with a little bit.”

“I think it’s helped the younger guys and the second unit because it’s given them a chance to get more reps. It’s also given the older guys a chance to kind of just get in a nice rhythm in practice.”

Aside from the score, all eyes will be upon Angel Delgado‘s rebound count, as the big man needs just two boards to pass Syracuse’s Derrick Coleman (’86-90) into first on the all-time Big East rebounding list.

“Oh, I remember Derrick a lot. I think my father was an assistant coach on the 1987 team that lost in the championship to Indiana. I was in sixth grade being a ballboy up at Syracuse, just watching Derrick and Sherman Douglas and Stevie Thompson, all those guys,” recalled Willard.

“I think where Derrick was maybe an elite athlete for his size and length, Angel’s a little bit different in the fact that I think he’s a more powerful player than Derrick was. Both played with extreme great passion, I think that’s what I love.

“The fact that they’re both up there in the record books is — I still — I never forget a game where Derrick really didn’t bring it on both ends of the floor, and that’s the same way that Angel’s gotten to where he’s gotten. He brings it, whether it’s practice, ping-pong, no matter what it is. He brings a relentlessness to rebounding, and I think that’s where they’re very similar.”

Three keys to improving the offense:

* – More efficient outside shooting. Seton Hall can only rely upon three outside threats: Desi Rodriguez, Myles Powell, and Khadeen Carrington, which makes their production more important. Rodriguez and Carrington have shot 1-20 over the past three losses, which severely limits the offense as a whole.

** – Getting back to the basics. Decision-making, which includes shot selection and ball movement, has generally been down over the last couple of games, including the Georgetown win, where Seton Hall didn’t play particularly well. Willard touched on it post-Xavier regarding Powell’s shot selection, but that also applies to most of the senior class — which isn’t encouraging at this juncture. 

*** – Finding another outlet. As I wrote post-Xavier, there has to be another source of scoring that gets tapped into. It’s quite common for teams to have mid-season players who emerge for various reasons. Seton Hall needs Mike Nzei to get back into form, or Jordan Walker to eat at some of Carrington’s point guard minutes, or Ish Sanogo to emerge as an offensive threat late in his career. Or all three.

Series history (since 1950): 13-6 SH

KenPom says: No. 36 Seton Hall 75, No, 110 DePaul 72

Projected DePaul starters
G – Eli Cain
G – Brandon Cyrus
G/F – Max Strus
F – Tre’Darius McCallum
F – Marin Maric

Projected Seton Hall starters
PG – Khadeen Carrington
G – Myles Powell
F – Desi Rodriguez
F – Ish Sanogo
F – Angel Delgado

TV: 4pm ET, CBS Sports Network
Radio: AM 970
Opening line: SH -5

Please use this post for all in-game and immediate post-game discussion.