Seton Hall 51, Butler 50

It was a rough first game for the first night of the new-look Big East tournament.

The contest came down to the final seconds, and caused a few extra heart beats, but the game was not pretty, the type of play that causes observers to rub their temples, crack their knuckles, and aimlessly scroll Twitter in between possessions. In a game that used 62 possessions, both teams barely cracked 0.80 PPP, and while that might indicate two stout defenses if one didn’t watch the tilt, there were simply a lot of bricks, missed attempts at the basket, and poor perimeter shooting (both teams combined to covert 18% of their threes).

Seton Hall will face Villanova tomorrow, while Butler’s season is likely over — the first time the Bulldogs haven’t reached the postseason since the 2005-06 season — so what are some takeaways from the Pirates win, and will they translate to their game versus the conference’s top seed?

Get the ball to Gene Teague. Even though the senior big was stricken with the flu, and has been sick for some time, Butler had no answer for Teague. The forward had arguably his best game this season, scoring 14 points and grabbing 11 boards. Teague has a tendency to disappear during games, or take himself out of plays by fumbling the ball out of bounds of taking a poor shot, but the Pirates will likely have to depend on their frontcourt senior if the team hopes to win out the tournament. Xavier is the only Big East program with a frontcourt muscular and strong enough to handle the 6’9″, and as he missed time earlier this season, perhaps Teague has now finally become acclimated to opposing Big East defenses.

The power of the Pirates’ zone. While Butler did miss a lot of good looks, it must be noted that Seton Hall’s zone press was effective in completely neutralizing Kellen Dunham and Alex Barlow. The frontcourt was unhinged — the trio of Khyle Marshall, Kameron Woods, and Andrew Chrabascz scored a combined 36 points — but SHU’s 2-3 zone that constantly was aware of the backcourt’s presence greatly contributed to the win. Seton Hall likely isn’t playing on Thursday if the guards don’t shoot three for 21 from the field. Do they go zone again versus Jay Wright’s club? Assistant Shaheen Holloway said he probably will not sleep tonight and try to devise a way to slow down Nova’s offense, which is the conference’s second-most efficient.

Butler should be very talented next year. Though the team will lose Khyle Marshall and Erik Fromm, there are several reasons to believe the Bulldogs will be the conference’s most improved team in 2014-15. Roosevelt Jones’ health should not be a concern, and his presence will firmly push Dunham off the ball, allowing the guard to excel at his strengths, specifically running off copious screens and drawing defensive attention away from his teammates. The emergence of Andrew Chrabascz will also be intriguing; the forward showcased some nifty interior spins against Seton Hall, and while his game is solely in the paint, or using the dribble to beat slower bigs off the bounce, Chrabascz does have an outside touch. If he can develop his perimeter game, coach Brandon Miller will have an offensively exciting core.

One more Big East game for Fuquan Edwin? During the preseason, I thought the senior wing was due for a player of the year-type campaign. It didn’t exactly pan out; while injuries derailed Edwin for stretches, he was still a skilled defender who recently earned the league’s defender of the year award. In the win over Butler, Edwin swiped three steals, and the Pirates will need a breakthrough performance from the wing to defeat Nova. When not in the zone and trying to stymy the Wildcat shooters, Edwin could be matched up Darrun Hilliard, James Bell, or Ryan Arcidiacono.

What happens to Seton Hall’s frontcourt next season? There is a rumor floating around that this will be the final season for Patrik Auda in South Orange. The big is reportedly set to graduate, and some have surmised that recent comments by coach Kevin Willard regarding another recruiting target for 2014-15 means Auda could transfer for his final season. I posed the question on Twitter, and Brendan Prunty of the Newark Star-Ledger was quick to respond that there was no indication the forward wouldn’t return. However, even with Auda, SHU’s interior significantly lacks depth: along with the senior, Angel Delgado and Stephane Manga are the only three Pirates with height.

Jaren Sina and the starting lineup. In late February, Jaren Sina was inserted back into the starting lineup. At the time, Willard described the move, which also shifted Sterling Gibbs to the bench, as one which would help Sina adjust quicker to the game’s pace, and while the team has lost four of the six games Sina started, the freshman guard has individually played well. His assist to turnover ratio is 2:1, and Sina is finally able to showcase his perimeter game, making 45% of his threes while a starter. In Wednesday’s game, Sina posted five points, two assists, and converted a crucial three late in the game.

Pirates emphasizing paint touches. Yes, I used a phrase made famous by Buzz Williams, but this strategy is completely foreign to a Willard-led team. SHU’s three-point attempt rate is ranked third in conference play, and SHU’s prefers point distribution model heavily weighted to perimeter shooting. According to Hoop-March.com, just 19.5% of SHU’s points come from within the arc (and not at the bucket), but SHU needed new low-post plays versus Butler — the squad added four plays to the playbooks, and they wanted to take advantage of size. A similar strategy might be employed versus Nova; the tallest Wildcat who uses a plethora of minutes is Daniel Ochefu (6’11) and it will be fascinating if SHU again tries to get Teague and other Pirates a touch on the interior.

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