After Monday’s get-right romp over Texas Southern, a 32 point blowout, Kansas comes back to reality to face solid competition again tonight. Under new coach Shaheen Holloway, made famous last year by leading St. Peter’s to an unlikely Elite 8 appearance, the Seton Hall Pirates are 4-3 this year, sitting 57th in KenPom’s rankings. This puts Seton Hall, in KenPom’s view, just about level with where Seton Hall has been the last two years. Two of their three losses so far have been forgivable, coming against good competition in Iowa and Oklahoma. However, the Pirates’ last appearance no doubt left a very bad taste in their mouths, losing an ugly 60-55 affair to Siena in a Thanksgiving tournament.
Through seven games, Seton Hall has been pretty solid defensively (warning!), but hasn’t done much offensively to scare anyone. This will be an especially important game for Dajuan Harris and Joseph Yesufu. Bobby Pettiford is still injured, leaving Kansas without anyone else to run point. Theoretically, Kevin McCullar has the skill set to run point for periods of time, but after being a surprise late scratch Monday with a groin strain, Self has not committed to whether McCullar will even be available for this one. The reason it’s a big game for ball handlers is that Seton Hall, much like Holloway’s teams at St. Peter’s, will focus on creating turnovers. They’ve forced turnovers on 22% of their defensive possessions this year, and given Holloway’s history, it’s a safe bet that their gameplan will focus on pressuring KU’s handful of ball handlers into making mistakes. They’ve also been excellent at pressuring opponents’ shots, with opposition hitting just 45% from two, feeding into a 23rd-nationally 42.7% eFG for the season so far.
Offensively, they just haven’t been much to look at. They’re having trouble getting good looks inside the arc, hitting an abysmal 46.9% from two, and haven’t been able to make up for it from behind the arc, where they’re a mediocre 35.2%. They also aren’t hoisting many threes anyway, with just over a third of their shots coming from there. Given those numbers, the reason their offense is still scoring points is their ability to get to the free throw line. Their free throw rate is 7th nationally at over 51%. This is a team that’s going to try and get into the paint. If Kansas can defend them without fouling, the Pirates have shown they aren’t likely to get a bucket and make them pay. If KU does fall into the same trap Seton Hall’s early opponents have found themselves in, it could lead to a bad situation. Kansas lacks experienced depth at the five, and foul trouble could lead to more minutes for players who haven’t done much to start the year, like Zach Clemence and Zuby Ejiofor.
I would feel better about this game with a healthy Kevin McCullar and Bobby Pettiford, but I don’t think Seton Hall is quite at the level where those injuries will be the difference that allows them to leave Allen Fieldhouse with a victory. Clemson transfer and senior guard Al-Amir Dawes will be a player to keep an eye on, leading the Pirates in scoring (11.9ppg) and three point shooting (17-34, 50%). If really catches fire, it could lead to more points than expected for Seton Hall, and that in combination with increased turnovers due to defensive pressure could turn this into a nailbiter. But Dawes’ shooting is likely to come back to earth a bit, and I trust Self to have a gameplan to limit turnovers, something the Jayhawks haven’t been very susceptible to so far this season.
I’ll take the Jayhaws somewhat comfortably, but not quite in a route.
Kansas 70, Seton Hall 62