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January 10, 2009

Basketball preview: Seton Hall @ No. 13 Notre Dame

No. 13-ranked Notre Dame (11-3, 2-1) shoots for its 45th straight home victory at the Joyce Center Saturday afternoon when the Irish entertain the Seton Hall Pirates (9-6, 0-3).

Tip-off is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET.

A victory would give the Irish their 20th straight Big East home victory, which would tie the conference record set by Pittsburgh from 2001-04.

The Pirates, losers of five of their last six games and all three of their Big East clashes, desperately need a victory. They fell to IUPUI (67-65) and at James Madison (70-64) prior to Christmas before defeating Fairleigh Dickinson.

When they opened Big East play, the Pirates were manhandled twice -at Syracuse (100-76) and against West Virginia (92-66)-before taking Villanova to overtime in an 89-85 loss.

The Pirates are coached by Bobby Gonzalez (Buffalo State '86), who landed the Seton Hall job following a successful seven-year run at Manhattan College, where he fashioned a 48-13 record in back-to-back seasons.

Now in his third season in South Orange, N.J., Gonzales has a 39-37 record with the Pirates, who finished tied for 11th in the Big East last season with a 7-11 mark.

Six-foot-five sophomore Jeremy Hazell paces the Pirates with a 22.9-point scoring average while two seniors and a pair of juniors give them a nucleus capable of halting Notre Dame's home winning skein.

Six-foot-nine, 265-pound senior John Garcia is the enforcer for the Pirates. He is averaging 8.6 points and 7.6 rebounds per game with 15 blocked shots and a 59.3 shooting percentage. Garcia's Achilles heel is his 53.3 percent shooting mark from the free-throw line.

Another senior, 5-foot-11 Paul Gause, averages 8.0 points and 4.2 rebounds per game to go along with 41 steals.

Juniors Robert Mitchell and Eugene Harvey are double-digit scorers. The 6-foot-6 Mitchell is averaging 15.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game while connecting on 80 percent of his free-throw attempts. The 6-foot-0 Harvey is averaging 12.9 points per game and is an 80.3 percent free-throw shooter, although he has connected on just 5-of-31 three-point attempts.

Hazell tossed in 29 points in the one-sided loss to West Virginia, and then scored 26 points in the overtime loss to Villanova. The Pirates shot just 8-of-27 from three-point range against the Wildcats, including a combined 0-for-8 effort by Gause and Harvey.

Seton Hall ranks first in the Big East in steals (9.9 per game) and second in free-throw percentage (75.1), but are deficient in most other areas. The Pirates are 13th in the conference in three-point percentage (29.8), 15th in rebounding, and 16th (last) in scoring defense (72.7), field-goal percentage defense (43.3) and rebounding margin (-2.3).

Meanwhile, the Irish hope to build upon their strengths against the Pirates, all of which come on the offensive end of the floor. Notre Dame ranks first in the Big East in scoring (81.8), three-point shooting (40.6 percent), assists (19.0 per game) and assist-to-turnover margin (2-to-1).

Notre Dame has defeated Seton Hall five straight times and holds a 14-7 advantage in the series. The Pirates have defeated the Irish just once in nine tries at the Joyce Center. Notre Dame claimed a 95-69 victory over the Pirates in Newark last season.

Luke Harangody, who scored 31 points and snagged 11 rebounds in the six-point victory over Georgetown Monday, has reached the 30-point mark five times in his career.

Former Irish great Pat Garrity will be honored at halftime of the Seton Hall game.

Pointspread: Notre Dame by 14
Prister's Prediction: Notre Dame 85, Seton Hall 68
Season record: 10-4 overall; 3-4 vs. points



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