Preview: No. 19 Seton Hall can climb polls with VCU win

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Back in the AP Top 25 poll following a one-week hiatus which included wins over ranked Texas Tech and Louisville, No. 19 Seton Hall has a chance to climb higher.

Or fall out once again.

A growing list of schools ahead of the Hall going into this week have dropped games, some against shocking opponents.

Kansas (2) lost to a bad Washington team. Florida (5) to Loyola Chicago. Texas A&M (7) fell in a close one to Arizona. Notre Dame (9) was stunned at the buzzer by Ball State. Gonzaga (11) and Minnesota (14) also lost. There may be more.

Bottom line: the AP poll will be completely re-shuffled come Monday and Seton Hall has another chance to rise closer to the top if they take care of VCU in the Never Forget Tribute Classic at Prudential Center.

In the first matchup of a 9/11 tribute double-header that also includes ranked Cincinnati and Florida, Seton Hall semi-hosts a 5-4 VCU group coming off a close loss to Texas.

While battle-tested, VCU has lost four of five battles with KenPom top-100 opponents having only beaten Old Dominion; in addition to Texas, the Rams have also succumbed to Marquette by 11, Virginia, and Michigan.

With Jordan Walker (thumb ligaments) not quite ready to return yet (Rutgers sounds more likely), Seton Hall is eyeing their second four-game winning streak of the year, though this one would be much more impressive.

A win should result in the Pirates’ highest AP ranking since 2000-01, climbing past the 19th spot which they also held back in 2011-12, coincidentally the only other time they met VCU — in a Charleston Classic clash which finished 69-54 to the good after Herb Pope scored 20 and pulled down 13 boards against Shaka Smart’s team.

Three things to watch

A free-flowing game. VCU ticks at the 74th-quickest tempo in the country, which is faster than any opponent Seton Hall has played except for Fairleigh Dickinson (17th), they are nothing special defensively (130th), and only a dozen schools have conceded less points via free throws than the Rams — stats which all point to a game that will have above average entertainment value. On the other side of the coin, Desi Rodriguez is going for his fourth-straight 20+ point game; Myles Powell has reached double figures in every game this season; Ish Sanogo has picked up at least one steal per game this season to go along with five blocks.

The atmosphere. While this is being played on a familiar court and listed as a “home game” by KenPom, it’s technically a neutral venue. Season ticket holders have been forced to buy tickets (and won’t be in their same seat), media has had to obtain fresh credentials, and there will be varying degrees of three other fan bases — as well as neutrals — in the stands. VCU travels well and if their band makes the trip (one of, if not the best in college hoops), it will be a lot closer to a neutral court. Edit: Looks like the expected 3-5 inches of snow during the game will suppress turnout.

Don’t sleep on VCU. The Rams led both Michigan and Texas (coached by Shaka Smart) within the last five minutes of each game, and trailed Virginia by a possession at the same juncture — they appear better than their 5-4 record and No. 86 KenPom rating indicate. That said, VCU doesn’t have any team stats which jump out at you; lead guard Jonathan Williams (11.7 ppg, 6.7 apg; 36th assist rate) and forward Justin Tillman (16.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg) look to be their one-two punch. Khadeen Carrington and Angel Delgado must be up for the task.

KenPom says: No. 18 Seton Hall 83, No. 86 VCU 71

Projected VCU starters
PG – Jonathan Williams
G – Xavier Jackson
G/F – De’Riante Jenkins
F – Justin Tillman
F – Khris Lane

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

Radio: AM 970
Opening line: Seton Hall -11.5