When Seton Hall rolls into Carnesecca Arena today, Bobby Gonzalez should have more on his mind than the shoebox-like, congested arena that he detests.
In fact, the campus gym Bobby G sees as a huge downgrade from the bright lights of Madison Square Garden could eventually serve in Seton Hall's favor.
That is, if Jeremy Hazell develops the hot hand and starts scorching the nets at will, dialing in from a different area code.
Hazell has evolved into one of the nation's elite scorers this year, and the Harlem product is averaging a team-best 22.4 points, shooting 36 percent from the great beyond. Hazell has been smoking the nets like Haze, and he has nailed six or more treys four times this season. He drained 8-of-11 from three-point land in the Hall's 90-87 dub over Notre Dame Feb.11.
Expect the Johnny faithful to be in the ears of both Bobby G--whose complaints about the so-called stuffy, creaky, and bandbox gym are well noted--and Hazell.
And why not?
This is an immense litmus test for the Johnnies, who have shifted their gaze to turning a corner and landing in the Big East's mid-section.
If Justin Burrel, the Johnnies' hyper-athletic freak forward, continues to impose his manpower in the paint, and Hardy manages to match the deep ball prowess of Hazell, SJU could make it their first three-game conference win streak since the 2007-08 campaign.
Hazell's NBA range trey ball is a threat on any stage, but the bouncy 6-foot-5 shootist has shown some Jamal Crawford-like erratic antics this season.
If the Johnnies manage to negate Hazell or daily double-double small forward Herb Pope (11.4 PPG, 11.0 RPG) while simultaneously manufacturing steady offense with Anthony Mason Jr., Dwight "Buckets" Hardy (rained three-pointers all over Notre Dame), Paris Horne, and Malik Boothe once again putting their stamp on the game, this tri-state tangle could belong to SJU.
Last week was an opportune time for Burell's athletic gifts strong finishes to flourish. In the Johnnies signature win over Louisville, Just Blaze had 14 points and tore down eight rebounds against a frontline featuring Samardo Samuels, the former New Jersey prep star.
If the Johnnies can continue this balanced scoring, DJ Kennedy continues to stuff the stat sheet with well-rounded numbers, and Norm Roberts avoids his spotty substitution tendencies, SJU could make it three straight.
Both teams have tallied 14 wins on the season, albeit Seton Hall (14-9 overall, 5-7 Big East) has been better by a thread in conference play. The Johnnies (14-9, 4-8) could be in luck, as Seton Hall is yet to record a Big East road win.
Nevertheless, this is a considerable barometer game for this junior-laden Johnnies club.