Handicappers give Seton Hall a good chance to make it through two games at the University of Utah this weekend and to Seattle for the NCAA Regional. The Pirates have the tradition: They were 1989 NCAA runners-up to Michigan by a point in overtime, and the Big East Conference champion rarely exits the tournament early.
The Pirate opponent Thursday at 12:30 p.m. at the Huntsman Center is as unknown as Seton Hall is known."Seton Hall is probably wondering, `Who is Pepperdine?' says Waves Coach Tom Asbury. "We are somewhat of an unknown entity."
He suggests the Pirates merely have to look at their own reflection to get a picture of his team, which is the West Coast Conference champion. "After watching a few tapes, I think the teams are practically mirror images of one another, in terms of style," Asbury says, noting solid defense, rebounding at both ends, one strong man up front (the Hall's Anthony Avent, the Waves' Geoff Lear) and solid backcourt players for both clubs.
Both have league-tournament MVPs - SetonHall senior guard Oliver Taylor (two game-winning shots in preliminary games and 15 points in the championship game against Georgetown) and Pepperdine junior forward Lear (32 points, 14 rebounds in the championship against St. Mary's).
Both teams are 22-8 and come in on hot streaks, Pepperdine with the second-longest win string in the nation, 16 games, and Seton Hall fresh off its win over Georgetown that gave a third-place club in the regular season the Big East's automatic berth to the tourney and the No. 3 seed in the West. The Pirates have won nine of their last 10. It was their first Big East title.
Seton Hall also mirrors its best-ever tournament club in many ways. It has a foreign starter (Arturas Karnishovas of Lithuania; in 1989, it was Andrew Gaze of Australia), it has a Walker (Jerry; in '89 it was Darryl), a bruising center (Avent; '89's was Ramon Ramos) and a top-shooting guard (Terry Dehere; in '89 it was John Morton). "This year's team didn't have as good a regular season, but it had a better Big East tournament," says Coach P.J. Carlesimo.
Seton Hall's strengths are its defense that bottled up Georgetown's Dikembe Mutombo and Alonzo Mourning, a matured Avent (18.3 points, 10.3 rebounds on average, second-team all-Big East) and first-team all-Big East guard Dehere, only the 10th sophomore ever named to the first team (others included Patrick Ewing, Chris Mullin, Derrick Coleman and Billy Owens). Dehere had 16 against Georgetown and averages 19.2.
Pirate problems, says Carlesimo, start with fatigue after the three-game tourney that ended Sunday. He was hoping for a first-round game on Friday to get a day of rest, but he also says, "I like that negative; I like having to deal with it."
Pepperdine's assets are two-time all-WCC Lear (72 points, 40 rebounds in the tourney), WCC Freshman of the Year Dana Jones at small forward, a 12-4 road record and WCC regular-season title and defense that holds opponents to 43 percent shooting.
The biggest deficit is the loss of WCC Player of the Year 6-foot-6 Doug Christie (21.8 ppg) at guard; he suffered knee cartilage damage in the tournament and is out after surgery. That leaves a backcourt of 5-9 Damin Lopez and 6-0 Rick Welch to deal with Seton Hall's 6-0 Taylor and 6-4 Dehere.
NCAA Tournament on TV
KSL Channel 5 broadcast schedule
Thursday, March 14
Duke vs. NE Louisiana
* Seton Hall vs. Pepperdine or
East Tennesee State vs. Iowa
* BYU vs. Virginia or
LSU vs. Connecticut
Indiana vs. Coastal Carolina
Friday, March 15
Arkansas vs. Georgia State
UCLA vs. Penn State
Utah vs. South Alabama
Georgetown vs. Vanderbilt
UNLV vs. Montana