GETTING INSIDE Herb Pope has barely been eligible for half a season, and he's already proven to be irreplaceable to Seton Hall. Unfortunately, all too often, the Pirates have had to try to do just that.
Pope averages a double-double, with 12.4 points and 11.4 rebounds a game following the team's loss to Georgetown last week. But in the last three Seton Hall losses, he's only been able to play limited minutes because of foul trouble.
In a Jan. 2 loss to Virginia Tech, Pope fouled out in 18 minutes, leaving him with three points and five rebounds. Four days later, he was limited to 24 minutes against Connecticut and still had a double-double with 10 points and 11 boards. And on Jan. 14 against Georgetown, he fouled out in 22 minutes with six points and 10 rebounds.
It isn't that Pope can claim that officials are favoring veteran players over him. He's an aggressive forward, which is part of the secret to his success, but the price of that is that he sometimes picks up silly fouls. That's become more of an issue in Big East play, where the competition is tougher and the game more physical.
Pope is a good enough player that this is a delicate situation. It won't do him or the team any good if he plays so tentatively to avoid fouls that he loses what makes him great.
But the sophomore also has to learn that sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. In the Georgetown loss, he picked up his second and third fouls in a span of 1:02 late in the opening half, limiting him for the rest of the game. In the Virginia Tech loss, he had two fouls less than three minutes into the game, three fouls with more than nine minutes to go before intermission, and he fouled out with more than eight minutes to play.
Keeping him in the game is something he and the coaching staff have to figure out. He's one player who does so much good for the Pirates on the court that it's imperative to have him waste as little time as possible on the bench.
Seton Hall plays host to Louisville tonight and Pittsburgh Sunday, so it doesn't get any easier for Pope.
--Coach Bobby Gonzalez has had one decision made easier for him. One of his three lead guards, Eugene Harvey, reportedly told the coach that he's more comfortable coming off the bench. As a result, Keon Lawrence has kept his spot in the starting lineup despite some surprisingly ineffective play, with Harvey and sophomore Jordan Theodore playing significant minutes in reserve roles.
--One of the bright spots for Seton Hall against Georgetown was the performance of the bench. Jordan Theodore, Eugene Harvey, John Garcia and Jeff Robinson scored 28 points, while the Hoyas' reserves managed only seven.
ON THE SPOT: Georgetown beat the Pirates with an incredible shooting performance, knocking down more than 68 percent of its shots. Obviously that is an outlier, and the Pirates aren't normally that bad, but this team has several players who tend to lose focus on the defensive end if their offensive game is struggling. That's a good way to lose against quality opponents, and the thing about playing in the Big East is that it is tough to find a foe that doesn't fit that description.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I mean, we haven't had a break. It would help us to play -- and I'm not saying any game in this league is easy -- a DePaul or a South Florida or Rutgers. Just somebody that's a little more normal; it might help us." -- Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez, after his team's brutally tough first five games of the Big East schedule.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SEASON RECAP: Seton Hall dropped its fourth Big East game of the season in an 85-73 loss to Georgetown, with all four coming against Top 20 teams. Five losses in the last six games have erased much of the momentum from what had been an impressive start to the season.
PLAYER ROTATION: Usual Starters -- F Herb Pope, F Robert Mitchell, F Ferrakohn Hall, G Jeremy Hazell, G Keon Lawrence. Key Subs -- Eugene Harvey, G Jordan Theodore, C John Garcia, F Jeff Robinson, G Jamel Jackson.
Connecticut 71, Seton Hall 63
Seton Hall 83, Cincinnati 76
Georgetown 85, Seton Hall 73
vs. Louisville, tonight
vs. Pittsburgh, Sunday
at South Florida, Thursday, Jan. 28
at Villanova, Tuesday, Feb. 2
at Pittsburgh, Saturday, Feb. 6
IN FOCUS: Seton Hall has two home games this week that are critical if the Pirates are to get back into the mix for an NCAA Tournament berth. The bigger of the two is Pittsburgh, since the Panthers are ranked and a victory would give Seton Hall a badly-needed signature win. It's a game in which Bobby Gonzalez may turn up the pressure more than usual to test a Pitt team that has a lot of ball-handlers, but lacks a true point guard.
--F Ferrakohn Hall got his first career start in the loss to Georgetown, replacing John Garcia. The freshman was solid against the tough Hoya frontline, finishing with eight points, three rebounds and one blocked shot.
--G Jamel Jackson, a junior college transfer, was brought in to make a big offensive contribution, but that hasn't happened in Big East play. He has just 12 points in his five conference games, and five in the most recent four contests.
--G Jeremy Hazell finished with 17 points against Georgetown, but it was a deceptive effort. Nine of his points came in the final 1:30, when the game was already over, and the team made its second-half comeback with him on the bench.
While some wondered early this season whether the Pitt men's basketball team would make a ninth…