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Saturday / December 4.
  • Seton Hall Adding Players to Undefeated Team; St. Patrick the New No. 1

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    Bobby Gonzalez’s Seton Hall Pirates are a perfect 8-0 heading into Saturday’s tilt with Temple at the Prudential Center.

    That’s the same Temple team that is coming off a 75-65 victory over then-No. 3 Villanova last Sunday, meaning this gives the Pirates a chance at their first signature win of the season.

    The game will also mark the debut for not one, but two Seton Hall players.

    Junior forward Jeff Robinson, a Trenton, N.J. native, told me earlier this year he had circled this date on his calendar because he knew he would be making his first appearance with the Pirates after transferring from Memphis and sitting out a year.

    Junior guard Keon Lawrence of Newark will also take the court for the first time after being reinstated after causing a two-car accident on the Garden State Parkway.

    You have to figure both guys will be pretty keyed up making their debuts in front of friends and family at the Prudential Center.

    “I think Keon and Jeff will really help us from a defensive standpoint right off the bat,” Gonzalez said. “I’m not planning on starting either of them. They’ll come off the bench to give us a spark and some energy. I think they’ll give us a lot in terms of experience. It may take a game or two to get them going, but I don’t think they’ll have as much rust as most would because they’re older.”

    Seton Hall is one of just four undefeated teams in the Big East. Syracuse, West Virginia and Georgetown are the others.

    Make no mistake: the Pirates have the attention of the rest of the league. 

    “Seton Hall’s playing great right now,” said one highly respected Big East assistant coach. “The system that they play, they are fast and aggressive.

     

    “Last year they lacked rebounding. Now Herb Pope is averaging 13 rebounds a game. They’ve got talent at every position.”

    When you add new players to the equation midway through the season — as several teams are doing this weekend — the question always is: How will it impact the team’s chemistry?

    Robinson will add depth and flexibility to the frontcourt because he can play both forward positions.

    “[Robinson] brings another really athletic, tough player who is multiple-position guy,” said UMass coach Derek Kellogg, who recruited Robinson while he was an assistant to John Calipari at Memphis. ”He can play anywhere from the two to the four. He’s a kid who works hard and is going to compete on every possession.

    “He’s a hybrid forward who brings a level of toughness, kind of what Herb Pope brings to them, which is going to be really helfpul in the rugged Big East.”

    Lawrence, meantime, joins a slew of talented guards that includes Eugene Harvey, Jordan Theodore, Robert Mitchell, Jamel Jackson and Jeremy Hazell, the team’s leading scorer at 21.5 points per game.

    Lawrence, known in high school as “The Human Pogo Stick,” averaged 11.0 points, 3.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists in 32 games two seasons ago at Missouri.

    “A lot of people have seen what I can do, that I can play at a high level,” Lawrence said at Seton Hall Media Day, according to Jerry Carino of Gannett New Jersey. “Now with me being back home, people want to see me take it to another level. There might be pressure but I’ve got no problem with that. I’m excited for it. I’m ready.”

    Of course, Lawrence’s minutes will have to come from someplace, meaning one or more of these players will see less court time the more Lawrence plays.

     “Keon is a mother, he’s good,” the Big East assistant said. “He’s talented. On paper, it’s great. He’s going to come in there and give them an extra body.

    “But if he eliminates minutes of a guy who’s already productive that can pose a problem.”

    Still, if you’re Bobby Gonzalez, it’s better to have too many options than too few.

    The Pirates certainly have all the pieces to have a special season. How well they do in the league — and how far they advance in a potential postseason appearance — could well turn on how Gonzalez manages the playing time and expectations of all his star players.

    “It’s going to be a very big challenge for me as the coach,” Gonzalez said at Media Day. “Most people are saying it’s going to come down to jealousy and egos are the guys going to pass the basketball to each other and like each other off the court. I think the challenge will be who fits well together, who’s in the lineup? It’s going to be up to me to figure out the playing time, to make sure we’ve got balance.”

    ST. PATRICK THE NEW NO. 1

    Our condolences go out to Elizabeth (N.J.) St. Patrick coach Kevin Boyle, whose father, Neil, passed away on Wednesday. The wake will be held Friday in Clark, according to The Star-Ledger.

    Kevin buried his older brother, Neil, last February and I wrote this story about him then.

    On the court, St. Patrick entered the week as the No. 2 team in the PrepNation.com poll and No. 1 in the USA Today Super 25.

    With Findlay (Nev.) Prep losing Thursday night to Jared Sullinger and Northland (Ohio), 53-52, St. Patrick figures to ascend to No. 1 in the PrepNation poll.

    “We don’t talk it about much. We only talk about it in terms of trying to get better,’’ Boyle, whose team opens the season Saturday against Gill St. Bernard’s in the Hoop Group Tip-Off Classic, told The Star-Ledger, referring to a possible national championship. “There’s no way if we’re not working to be great that we’re going to go undefeated and win a national championship.’’

    Still, the Celtics are loaded.

    They feature Duke-bound point guard Kyrie Irving, whom Boyle told me would be the best guard ever to come out of New Jersey.

    St. Pat’s also boasts Michael Gilchrist, the No. 1 player in the Class of 2011 and arguably the top prep player in the nation.

    Western Kentucky-bound guard Derrick Gordon and Kevin Boyle Jr. are also skilled guards capable of playing at the highest levels.

    St. Patrick is the defending New Jersey Tournament of Champions winner and has won three of the last four.

    With this loaded team, they will be the favorites to cut down the nets again next March.

    ***Once again the Celtics will play a loaded national schedule including at least a couple on ESPN:

    Jan. 18 — Findlay (Nev.) Prep, Springfield Hoophall Classic, Springfield, Mass. (ESPNU)

    Jan. 23 — St. Benedict’s, Homeless Classic, Elizabeth, N.J.

    Jan. 30 — Memphis (Tenn.) White Station, Newark Invitational, Newark, N.J.

    Feb. 6 – Woodland Hills (Calif.) Taft, Nike Extravaganza, Calif.

    Feb. 12 – Oak Hill (Va.), Primetime Shootout, Kean University, ESPN2

    Feb. 13 – Rice (N.Y.), Primetime Shootout, Trenton



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    Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle. A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.