Game Preview: Seton Hall vs. Niagra

Elsa

Seton Hall will take on MAAC champion Niagra on Saturday night in the first game of the season. It's time for the Pirates to forget about the hype surrounding the 2014 recruiting class and start playing ball.

When: November 9

Time: 6:00 EST

Where: Newark, NJ

How to Watch: Fox Sports 2

The Seton Hall Pirates open up the 2013-14 season against the Purple Eagles of Niagra University (N.Y.) at the Prudential Center in the opening game of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic.

Seton Hall’s outlook

The Hall enters the new season following a 15-18 (13th in the Big East) campaign. However, after routing Caldwell College 67-49 in an exhibition game on November 2nd, it’s clear that fourth-year coach Kevin Willard will be working with a different team.

Senior captain Fuquan Edwin, who did not play against Caldwell, will be joined by two standout guards in redshirt sophomore Sterling Gibbs and freshmen Jaren Sina this season. The young tandem will have to keep the team’s turnovers to an absolute minimum, as the Pirates’ 15.6 cough-ups a night proved to be one of their biggest downfalls in 2012-13.

A product of Seton Hall Prep., Gibbs transferred to Seton Hall after spending his freshmen year at Texas. He dropped 15 points and four assists against Caldwell, and will look to continue his hot start against the Purple Eagles on Saturday night.

Even with Gibbs at the helm, most of the offense will still be run through Edwin. The 6-foot-6 swingman put up 16.5 points per game while shooting over 41 percent from the beyond the arc last season, and has established himself as both a premier player in the Big East but also as an NBA prospect.

Senior Gene Teague scored 13 points (6-8 FG) and grabbed seven rebounds against Caldwell. He'll look to build off of a solid effort of over 11 points and seven rebounds a night in 2012-13.

The pressure will certainly be on Willard to produce, especially with a pair of ESPN Top 100 freshmen -- Isaiah Whitehead and Angel Delgado -- coming in next season. A victory over Niagra would get Willard and the Pirates off to the start they need in order to begin making some noise in the conference.

Niagra’s outlook

Despite their slightly comical mascot, the Purple Eagles are no joke.

Led by senior guards Antoine Mason and Marvin Jordan, Niagra earned a spot in the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) as a seventh seed in 2012-13 after winning the regular season MAAC title, scoring 73.8 points a night along the way.

Forwards Ramone Snowden (freshmen) and Marcus Ware (redshirt senior) contributed 17 points apiece in the team’s final tune-up game against Buffalo State on November 1st, as Niagra’s lead grew as high as 31 in the first half. The Purple Eagles are a deep team, with scoring and defensive ability at every position.

Mason led the team with nearly 19 points per game last season, followed by juniors Juan’ya Green with 16.5 and Ameen Tanksley with 11.3. However, Green and Tanksley transferred to Hofsta University over the summer.

Five players on Niagra averaged more than one steal per game in 2012-13, which could cause some problems for the Pirates’ young backcourt on Saturday. However, Seton Hall will look to exploit them on the boards, as Tanksley was the leading rebounder with an average of only six last season.

Three storylines to watch

1) How will Willard distribute minutes in the backcourt?

2) Can Teague dominate the glass on both ends of the floor?

3) Will Seton Hall’s defense hold true against a pair of high-scoring guards?

Prediction

While the Purple Eagles are certainly no pushover, I’ll take the Pirates on opening night. It won’t be a blowout, but Edwin, Gibbs and Teague will prove to be too skilled for the 2012-13 MAAC champs. Seton Hall should head into its game against Kent State on Wednesday as a 1-0 team.

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