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November 15, 2010
The Willard Era Dawns at Seton Hall

by Asher Fusco


NEWARK -- We've all memorized the formula: A new coach means a new scheme and some growing pains as players adjust and the new leader gets settled in. Seton Hall's 92-68 dismantling of Cornell on Sunday offered a reminder that every program handles a coaching change differently, and that a lot of that has to do with plain and simple on-court talent. Cornell and Seton Hall, two teams welcoming new head coaches this season, seem headed in different directions, at least in the near future.

Seton Hall, in its second game under ex-Iona coach Kevin Willard, showed how solid depth and stellar athleticism can shrink the learning curve of a new coach. Just two days removed from shooting less than 30 percent and losing on the road against an outstanding Temple team, the Pirates controlled matters from the start on Sunday.

After the Big Red pulled within one with 17:31 to play in the first half, the Hall went on a 21-3 run over the next six minutes. During that time, Cornell committed a turnover on five of its 13 possessions. That breakneck 87-possessions-per-40-minutes pace didn't continue for the entire game. If it had, Bill Courtney's team would have lost by more than 24 points. The Pirates took advantage of the fact that the Big Red was missing Chris Wroblewski, their lead guard, by applying a stifling zone press. Quick Seton Hall guards Jordan Theodore (three steals) and Keon Lawrence ran amok in the Cornell backcourt, generating a transition-heavy style that resulted in 18 first-half Seton Hall free throw attempts.

When the Big Red slowed the pace down a bit (the game ended up a 78-possession affair), things got a little less ugly. But Cornell was never able to climb back into things, even with Seton Hall forward Herb Pope bound to the bench with two first-half fouls. Picking up the slack in the absence of Pope were Hazell, Theodore and forward Jeff Robinson.

If you came into Sunday's game having never heard The Legend of Jeremy Hazell, in which he spends every game doing nothing but shooting fadeaway 28-footers, you'd never believe the tale after watching him pick apart Cornell's defense. Hazell scored 28 points on 11 field goal attempts, an incredible performance for anyone, let alone the poster boy for high-usage, low-efficiency offense. The 6-5 senior played within the flow of the offense, using less than 22 percent of Seton Hall's possessions, and took only one iffy shot (he drew a foul).

"I think that's something Jeremy's worked hard on, to try to get better quality shots," Willard said. "Being able to score 28 and get to the free throw line a little bit but only take 11, I thought he played terrific."

Hazell also played stellar defense, especially in the team's 2-3 zone. He played at the three on defense, sliding along the baseline and out to the three-point line and using his long arms to play much taller than his listed height of 6-5. Theodore, who has developed a reputation as a workmanlike but offensively shy guard, ratcheted his game up a few notches. The 6-0 point guard used a greater percentage of possessions than any of his teammates, and used them well. Theodore scored 10 points and doled out seven assists, all but one of which came in the first half. Robinson, a burly 6-6 senior forward, quietly put up a 16-10 double-double from the four-spot against the surprisingly lengthy Big Red frontcourt.

Cornell--especially this version of Cornell--isn't a Big East-quality squad, so all common caveats apply to Seton Hall's performance. But if Hazell stays in control while the Pirate defense stays aggressive, there's enough talent in the Prudential Center to improve on last year's 9-9 conference mark. Asked about his team's true level of offensive ability, Willard said he'd expect something between Friday's 56-point "debacle" and Sunday's 92-point romp. Faced with the same question, Theodore was more confident in his team's capabilities. "I think it's 100 points--our offense--every night."

As for the Big Red's new coach, Courtney knows Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale aren't jogging out of the locker room any time soon. This season's team probably isn't bound for another Sweet 16 or a 13-1 Ivy League finish. Without the injured Wroblewski, Cornell was hapless against Seton Hall's press and mishmash of aggressive half-court defenses. The Big Red's best plan of attack on offense was to throw the ball down low to 6-9 forward Aaron Osgood, who managed to rack up 16 free-throw attempts (he made eight) and put Pope in foul trouble. Without Wroblewski, the point guard position was especially troubling. Cornell's four-headed point guard monster scored 14 points on 4-of-22 shooting and committed six turnovers.

"We're really searching for someone who can run the point and that's why we're using so many guys obviously without Chris Wroblewski," Courtney said. "He's such a huge part of our team. He's our leader on the floor and our primary ball-handler."

Cornell won't be bad against Ivy competition, and the defenses Courtney threw at the Pirates were more out-athleted than flat-out beaten, especially late in the first half. Through two games (1-1), Josh Reed's sage prediction in the new College Basketball Prospectus 2010-11 of a fifth-place conference finish looks about right.

From the Notebook
Theodore put the onus of Friday's ugly loss at Temple on his own shoulders: "I did a lot of things wrong. We had a plus-minus scale and I was the last one. I'm the point guard, so I should always be first because the ball is always in my hands."...Although four of Seton Hall's five starting spots are set in stone, Willard seemed to be testing out different players next to Hazell on the wing. Freshman Fuquan Edwin, senior Jamel Jackson and senior Ole Miss transfer Eniel Polynice all played similar roles in their 13-to-15 minutes. Edwin was ineffective on offense and looked lost on defense, Polynice endured a 1-for-6 shooting performance, and Jackson fared the best of the three, scoring six points on 2-for-5 shooting...Cornell's Aaron Osgood never shot more than once in any game last season, but he's taken 14 shots in two contests so far this season. The post is notably diverse in his shooting success, hitting at a 79 percent clip from the field but just 53 percent at the line....Willard is hesitant to give guard Keon Lawrence too much playing time as he deals with a nagging knee injury. Lawrence played 21 solid minutes after a rough season opener....The Prudential Center in Newark felt a bit cavernous with just more than 6,500 in attendance at the Pirates' home opener. Despite the empty seats in the upper level, the Seton Hall student section was loud for the duration.

Asher Fusco is a writer in New York City.

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