BY MIKE VORKUNOV
MID-DAY MONDAY REWIND
Where to start? It sure was an eventful week with records being broken in Newark and rejuvenation in New Brunswick for one big man, but there is no better place to start this week than Philadelphia.
That's where yesterday Temple came up with the win of the weekend. And why is this honor going to the Owls in a column about New Jersey hoops? Because of what it means for this upcoming weekend.
Before Temple's win, their trip to the Rock to take on Seton Hall Saturday already had intrigue. It was going to be the Pirates' best test of the season to date. It would let all see just how much the Hall benefitted from their, let's call it beneficial, early season schedule. And almost as important, show if Seton Hall can win a game on mettle, not just skill as they have been.
Now, well take all that and ramp it up a few notches.
Both teams are ranked or right on the edge of a ranking. This will be a resume win for whoever comes out on top. But the game carries extra currency for Seton Hall because it could well be an indictment of their out-of-conference season.
Win and it's just an affirmation that they were right in scheduling lightly and that they could win the games they had to, the few times they popped up on the schedule.
But if they lose, then the questions come about whether they should have given themselves more chances to prop up their resume if the Big East season doesn't go as planned. Or if playing one cupcake after another could have adequately prepared them to play at a high level.
Yet, outside of all of that, Temple-Seton Hall will be a great matchup in and of itself.
Temple brings the luster having just beaten the third ranked team in the country. Their style of play is the complete opposite of the Pirates. They like to milk the shot clock, beat you and beat you down with their defense. The 75 points they scored against Villanova, was one off their highest total of the season. VMI, they are not. But they are allowing just 54.1 points per game and held the Wildcats to 17 points below their season average.
Seton Hall likes to run, they are deadly offensively with their multitude of options and have a defense that is unpoven. We'll see how the styles matchup.
Relishing the chance: Hamady N'diaye is a slender seven footer, his frame not nearly as impressive as his height. But despite all that, he will now have to hold an entire team on his shoulders for the next month, maybe longer.
With fellow center Gregory Echenique out due to surgery on his eye, N'diaye is the only non-freshman left on the roster that is taller than 6-7. Austin Johnson and Brian Okem are freshmen, and have both played like it. Jonathan Mitchell is much more of a power forward who will have to play out of position. And coach Fred Hill does not want to play Dane Miller at power forward.
That puts a lot of pressure on N'diaye. He is now the x-factor for Rutgers and arguably their most important player considering the circumstances. Before Echenique's injury, his role was simple. Play 15-20 minutes a night, provide his usual energy, block a few shots and hope that he can make one or two big plays that can give the Knights momentum.
Now his minutes will be extended and he will need to score because there is no clear compliment to Mike Rosario.
But after the victory over Monmouth N'daiye seemed to be revelling in all of this. Asked if he was happy to be playing major minutes again, which he hadn't done since the middle of last year due to injuries, he let out a smile and chuckled. As a senior, he is relishing this opportunity.
His ankle and knee injuries, even more debilatating when you are seven feet tall, did not look to be an issue Wednesday night. Neither did his season high in minutes. He put up his best numbers of the season - 22 points, 10 rebounds, eight blocks - played better than he has his since the first month of last season. If N'diaye can play at a level close to that then Rutgers should be OK until Echenique comes back.
Big East Blurb: Here's an eye opener for you: as bad of a summer as Rick Pitino had, this season could be worse for the Louisville coach. The Cardinals have lost their last two games, making it three out of four, and both were blowouts at the hands of Charlotte and Western Carolina. Some gave UL a pass because the loss to Charlotte came without three key players but there were no such excuses for their loss Saturday.
Now Pitino's teams are notorious for their early season lulls, look no further than last year when suffered several upsets and then followed it with a Big East title. But this year is different. The talent level is down at Louisville. There is no dominant player on the roster like Terrence Williams or Earl Clark. Samardo Samuels is not a star player, lacking the elite athleticism. Terrence Jennings has not progressed as expected. And there is more.
But the point is that this may be Pitino's toughest coaching job yet at Louisville. With their style of play and the fact that they do have pieces, this may still end up an NCAA Tournament team, but it won't be easy.
Taking all of that into consideration, the Cardinals' ceiling must be amended. They were a consensus top four Big East team at season's start partly because of the ambiguity of what the conference was going to be like. But taking everything into account now, there seems little chance that they can be a better team than the teams ranked ahead of them - Villanova, West Virginia and Connecticut - and of the teams ranked behind them in the preseason Big East poll Syracuse, Cincinnati, Georgetown, and even St. John's have had better starts to the year.
Best Line: Perhaps this honor should be renamed Seton Hall's Best Line of the Week because for the third straight time a Pirate is taking the distinction. Not that it wasn't close, Hamady N'diaye and Monmouth's Travis Taylor, but when you do what Jamel Jackson did Saturday you have to get some acclaim.
Jackson scored 40 points on 14-17 shooting, 12 of those being three-pointers, and added six assists and four steals in a 134-107 win over VMI. Those shooting numbers are as impressive as you can get, I've seen guys miss more shots during the shootaround.
Jackson wasn't the only one who put up big numbers against the Keydets on a day the Pirates set a record for points in a game. Jeremy Hazell scored 33 points, hitting six from beyond the arc, grabbed 12 boards, had five assists and four steals. Herb Pope grabbed 20 rebounds, nine offensive, and blocked three shots along with 15 points. Even Melvyn Oliver got into it, scoring eight points and blocking two shots.
Taking all of that into account, some of those numbers have to be discounted. But what Jackson did cannot be ignored nonetheless.