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Xavier v. Seton Hall: Preview

Xavier heads on the road for the final with a chance to beat the Seton Hall Pirates and grab Big East win number 11.

Senior Fuquan Edwin is Seton Hall's driving force.
Senior Fuquan Edwin is Seton Hall's driving force.
Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Take care of business. That is all Xavier has to do, and this season will end much better than last year did. A massive win over Creighton put Xavier at 2-2 against the RPI top 25 and 3-4 against the RPI top 50. The committee is going to love numbers like that, regardless of how good a tool the RPI actually is. What would damage that almost immediately is dropping a very winnable game to Seton Hall. It wouldn't be the first time a Coach Mack led team had eased off the gas a bit. In 2011 a win over #40 Richmond was followed by a loss to #227 Charlotte. In 2012 it was #20 UC followed by a loss to #99 Oral Roberts. Last year a stunning 4-0 conference start was marred by a loss to #128 Charlotte.

While most of those aforementioned teams were playing for something, though, the Pirates are staggering to the end of the Big East slate. I said way back in August that this team felt a year away to me, as long as they made some progress this year. Last year they were 108th in the final KenPom rankings, and currently they stand at 83rd this year, but that doesn't tell the whole story. The Pirates have lost six of seven since beating Xavier seem to be struggling to hang on at this point.

Team fingerprint:

The following team stats will be from conference play only.

Offensively, the Pirates shoot relatively well from the field, posting an effective fg% of 54%. Alarmingly for Xavier, that includes a 38.5% mark from behind the arc. Seton Hall takes nearly 40% of their shots from behind the arc, and scores 34% of their points from there. That could possibly be because they get next to nothing on the offensive glass, where they are worst in the conference, shoot only 69.4% from the free throw line, and compound that by not getting to the line very often. All of that combines to make them the fifth most efficient offense in the Big East with a 105.5 efficiency mark.

Defensively, only Butler and DePaul are worse than the Pirates. That's slightly deceiving though, because Seton Hall's defensive efficiency is only half a point behind Xavier, who sits in sixth. The Pirates steal the ball at a higher rate than any other team in the conference, but only turn opponents over at the fifth best rate (17.6%). The Pirates get out and defend the arc well, only letting teams take 31% of their shots from there and limiting to a conversion rate of 33.5%. Inside the arc, Seton Hall is bad, letting teams make 52.4% of their shots sending them to the line on 41% of attempts.

Starters:

Fuquan Edwin has said he hopes to play against Xavier after missing the loss to Providence with a sprained thumb. That doesn't make the starting lineup much easier to nail down, because it seems in a constant state of flux.

The player: 6-6, 215 senior guard/forward Fuquan Edwin.
The numbers: 15.1/3.7/1.8 on .458/.357/.797 shooting.
More numbers: 26.2% usage rate, 52.7% effective field goal, 5.9% steal rate.
The words: Edwin takes 32% of the team's shots when he is on the floor, so he's definitely the straw stirring the proverbial drink in South Orange. Edwin has scored over 20 in the last four games he's actually played and went for 18/6/3 with three steals the last time he saw Xavier. There are the faintest of rumblings in Twittersphere that Edwin's teammates weren't pleased with him not playing against Providence, so it will be interesting to see how his last home game goes.

The player: 6-2, 185 sophomore guard Sterling Gibbs.
The numbers: 14.1/3.2/4.2 on .424/.365/.741 shooting.
More numbers: 111.7 ORtg, 26.3% usage rate, 29.2% assist rate, 91.8 FTRate
The words: If Edwin tends to take over the scoring, it's Gibbs who keeps the offense ticking over. His assist rate is in the top 100 in the nation and he's content to take only 21% of the shots available to him. Gibbs still has good scoring numbers because he gets to the line more effectively than all but eight other players in the nation.

The player: 6-2, 180 freshman guard Jared Sina.
The numbers: 6.4/1.3/2.4 on .382/.393/.774 shooting.
More numbers: 18.1% assist rate, 107.6 ORtg, 56.5% true shooting percentage.
The words: Sina is supposed to be the future at Seton Hall, but he's really struggling to score effectively this year. Given that is about all he does, it's not been a banner year for Sina. What the young man can do is knock down the outside shots. Only 16% of his shots come at the rim, while he takes 65.4% from behind the arc. If there is someone who could go off and torch a team that struggles with perimeter defense, it's Sina.

The player: 6-9, 235 junior forward Patrik Auda.
The numbers: 9.1/4.5/1.4 on .530/.308/.747 shooting.
More numbers: 115.4 ORtg, 17.3% defensive rebound rate
The words: Auda's minutes and production have dropped a bit from the midpoint of the season, but he's a much better player than his 2/1/1 line the first two times these teams met would indicate. At his best he's a stretch four who can get on the defensive glass well. He's inconsistent at best, though, and the argument behind playing him seems to be the hope of catching a hot streak. There can't be many players out there who can follow up a game of 27/10/0 with a game of 2/3/2 now that Jeff Robinson has finally moved on.

The player: 6-9. 270 senior center Gene Teague.
The numbers: 10.5/7.7/.9 on .616/.000/.632 shooting.
More numbers: 14.6% offensive rebounding rate, 22.4% defensive rebounding rate.
The words: Teague is a very large slice of person and his rebounding rates show his ability to use that bulk inside to get on the glass. The big man only plays slightly over 50% of the minutes though, and not because he fouls at a terribly excessive rate. Not nimble and not terribly fit, he still creates a problem for a traditional post up center.

Reserves:

The Pirates are a deep team, getting the 56th most minutes in the nation from their bench. Brian Oliver (10.8/3.3/1.0) starts on occasion and is an excellent (42%) three point shooter for a forward. Brandon Mobley (7.9/4.4/.7) is a 6-9 backup forward who will see just as much time as the starters. Haralds Karlis is a 6-6 junior guard (1.8/1.6/.7) inexplicably starts on occasion despite having an offensive rating of 86.5. Finally, Stephane Manga (3.3/1.9/.5) will spell the forwards a bit.

Three questions:

- Can Xavier play three point defense? The Musketeers rode their luck heavily and caught Creighton on a cold shooting night. The game before that, St. John's shot the ball like St. John's. If the defense's new efficacy is for real, this will be a great game to tell. Seton Hall beat Xavier earlier this year by stretching the defense out and getting up 22 three pointers. If they hit that number again, X is in trouble.

- Is JMart finally for real? It's hard not to love Justin Martin, and he's finally playing the kind of ball he seems capable of. However, the game before he exploded for 19/16/2 on Creighton, he put up 3/3/1 against St. John's. His game log is filled with impressive performances this year. Two more to close the regular season would be great for this team.

- Can Xavier make some three pointers? Seton Hall clamps down on the outside at the expense of allowing points inside. Xavier went 2-14 from behind the arc the last time these teams met and the Musketeers had their seventh worst offensive game of the year. If they cannot convert from deep, the Pirates will sink deeper, let guards chase shooters, and Xavier will lose again. Anything that leaves the Seton Hall bigs isolated on Jalen Reynolds and Matt Stainbrook is a good thing.

Three Keys:

- No trap game: Xavier really should be into the tournament with that win over Creighton bolstering the resume. It's easy to look ahead to the Villanova game as a chance to cement that place, but losing to Seton Hall would put things mildly back in question again. Even an ugly win here should all but make it a lead pipe lock. A loss isn't the end of the world, but looking ahead to the Wildcats opens up a risk the Musketeers don't need to take.

- Start quickly on the road: You may have noticed this, but I'll remind you anyway: Xavier can be a bit garbage away from home. The Musketeers stayed in the game against St. John's and didn't let the home crowd get into the game enough to overwhelm them. The Pirates have lost three of their last four at home and could be inclined to acquiesce again if X can jump on them quickly.

- Make a statement: This won't be a resume building away win if the Musketeers get it, but it is a chance to show the rest of the Big East that they can get wins away from the Cintas. The St. John's win started the trend, but another win on the road, especially a convincing one, could build a little momentum for the two biggest neutral site tournaments in the game.