By John Fanta, @John_Fanta
SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Both winners of eight of their last 10 games, Seton Hall and Arkansas have peaked at the right time heading into the South Region 8-9 showdown in Greenville, SC on Friday.
While the Pirates are coming off a tough 55-53 loss to top-seeded Villanova in the Big East Tournament Semifinals, the level of play from Seton Hall could not have been better on the defensive end. Once 3-6 in conference play, an experienced group has made physicality its calling card. That will once again be important for The Hall against a transition-oriented Razorbacks squad.
Arkansas has fed off forcing turnovers into points. In the Razorbacks’ three SEC Tournament games, Mike Anderson’s squad combined for 59 points off turnovers, 22 of which came against Kentucky in the conference tournament title game on Sunday. With the Razorbacks boasting a trio of 6-foot-3 guards in Dusty Hannahs, Daryl Macon, and Jaylen Barford, who all score in double-figures, Seton Hall will need Madison Jones and Khadeen Carrington to perform at the level that they have as of late to contain that backcourt attack.
The Pirates’ offensive edge could very well come through the red-hot Desi Rodriguez, who enters Friday’s first round game having averaged 18.4 points on 48 percent shooting in the last five games. A match-up nightmare for many, Rodriguez knocked down a three-pointer in all 18 of The Hall’s Big East games. Like he can be for many, Rodriguez could be a match-up nightmare for Arkansas. The Razorbacks really don’t have a scoring small forward that is also lengthy. How the Razorbacks counter the Bronx native is one of the biggest factors in this match-up.
The frontcourt battle features this game’s most fascinating 1-on-1 match-up, as All-Big East First Team selection Angel Delgado squares off with All-SEC Second Team selection Moses Kingsley. Rebounding is the area that Seton Hall has dominated in throughout the campaign, and Delgado, who leads the nation with 13.1 boards per game, has been the consistent force to guide the Pirates to their second straight Big Dance. Also leading the country with 26 double-doubles, the Dominican Republic native has helped The Hall to a +6.9 rebounding margin, good for 19th in the nation. Arkansas sits at a +0.1 margin. Match-up edge for The Hall? It very well could be. Kingsley puts up 11.8 points to go with 7.8 boards a game. It will be interesting to see how Delgado defends him, as Kingsley can stretch the floor as well with a jumper.
1. The Hall must establish a rhythm offensively.
The Pirates will face some pressure from Arkansas, and it’s imperative that Jones manages this game at point. If it’s not him, Carrington is capable of doing just that with Myles Powell alongside him and Rodriguez at the 3. Seton Hall averages over 73 points per game but the Pirates hinge on their defense. Shot selection starts and ends with Delgado, who The Hall must find early to set the tone and win this one.
2. What kind of game will Daryl Macon have?
Macon’s sixth-man presence gives Arkansas a guard that the Razorbacks can bring off the bench to provide an immediate scoring boost. He is a threat to go off in bursts, so how The Hall approaches guarding him will be intriguing to watch. Holding the Razorbacks to perimeter looks is the right idea in this one. Arkansas shot under 25 percent in two of its three SEC Tournament contests and is only averaging 6.5 triples per game as opposed to the 7.4 the Razorbacks are giving up.
3. Ismael. Sanogo.
We’ve gone through a lot of the factors in this one, but a wild card is Ish Sanogo because it’s tough to find many players like him. His defensive prowess is something that Arkansas may have seen some of in SEC play, but guys like Sanogo are hard to prepare for because of how much they fly under the radar. In Friday’s Villanova loss, Sanogo was Josh Hart’s worst nightmare in a few instances. The best news for The Hall is that Sanogo, who has been dealing with an ankle injury, played 27 minutes. When he’s in, he automatically becomes a factor for SHU, especially on the defensive end of the floor.
This will only be the second meeting between Seton Hall and Arkansas, which met on Dec. 8, 2010, in the SEC / Big East Invitational, as the Razorbacks beat the Pirates 71-62. Friday’s contest, the first of the weekend in Greenville, will tip off at 1:30 pm ET and will be televised on TNT. Follow @NCAAHoopsDigest and @John_Fanta for updates.