Seton Hall coach Bobby Gonzalez isn't conceding Tuesday's Big East opener at Syracuse, even though he can't coach the game due to a suspension and the Pirates' top rebounder, John Garcia, won't be able to play for the fourth straight game due to a left knee injury.
But Gonzalez is savvy about what the Pirates must do if they're going to sneak into the NCAA tournament come March: win home games like those against West Virginia and Villanova that follow the Syracuse game.
The Pirates picked up two shelf-life wins in Puerto Rico when they beat USC and Virginia Tech in November. Losing to IUPUI at home by a deuce and then falling to James Madison by six did mean the Pirates took a step back. But Garcia, the Pirates' true interior board man at 8.2 rebounds a game, was out for both games.
"Syracuse loses to Cleveland State, and no one thinks twice," Gonzalez said as the Pirates made their way to Syracuse on the team bus. "Louisville loses to Western Kentucky, and that's OK. But when we have a big win, it's a major deal, and if we have a bad loss it crushes you. Our margin is thin."
But just think if in March a team like Seton Hall finished 8-10 in the Big East and had nonconference wins over teams like USC, Virginia Tech and then conference wins like West Virginia, Villanova. And let's say, for argument's sake, the Pirates are able to steal one at Marquette. Would the Hall be on the bubble?
Well, Seton Hall will get its chance to get noticed since Gonzalez said Garcia should be ready to go for the West Virginia game.
"We can't play without him," Gonzalez said.
The Pirates are also hoping they get a break on the Keon Lawrence decision. The former Missouri guard is due to hear from the NCAA on Jan. 5 on his appeal to play this season without sitting out a full year. Lawrence wasn't eligible in the fall due to academics. But he played in 32 games for the Tigers last season.
Gonzalez is convinced that Lawrence's addition could mean an extra four or five wins this season. The Pirates have Herb Pope sitting out until next season after the New Mexico State transfer wasn't given a waiver to play right away. Like Lawrence, Pope tried to claim extenuating family circumstances was reason enough to play immediately instead of sitting out a year. Gonzalez said if Lawrence is cleared, then he'll play against Villanova on Jan. 6.
Gonzalez is sitting out the game against Syracuse because of his conduct against Rutgers at the end of last season. Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese suspended Gonzalez for the first Big East game of this season. Assistant Dermon Player will coach the team in Gonzalez' absence, but Gonzalez was with the team for Monday night's prep and will be there for Tuesday's shootaround and a team meeting back at the hotel.
Gonzalez can't be in the Carrier Dome, however. He said he would watch the game in his hotel room and jokingly added that he would have a cell phone on an empty chair for the assistants to answer during television timeouts. Garcia will be at the game, but in a suit.
"If we had Garcia, we'd be 10-2 [instead of 9-3] at least right now," Gonzalez said, referencing the two-point home loss to IUPUI.
Gonzalez also isn't thrilled that the Pirates had to return the game at James Madison, something he hopes a Big East program like Seton Hall doesn't have to do in the future.
• Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said he will bring Eric Devendorf off the bench against Seton Hall on Tuesday after he was cleared to participate again Friday. Devendorf completed 40 hours of community service at the Syracuse Rescue Mission, as set forth by a Syracuse judicial panel for his role in a verbal altercation with a female student. Boeheim said he will start Andy Rautins in Devendorf's place. Rautins was 9-of-16 on 3-pointers against Coppin State in Devendorf's place. The Syracuse Post-Standard reported Devendorf would have to do another 40 hours of community service once school is in session. Boeheim said there are additional responsibilities for Devendorf to fulfill as well.
• ABC World News honored IUPUI head coach Ron Hunter as a "person of the year" for his work with Samaritan's Feet last year. Hunter went shoeless and sockless for a game to raise awareness for children around the world who need shoes. He helped raise more than 110,000 shoes for the cause and will take up the cause again on Jan. 17. Hunter deserves all the praise he is receiving.
• Buffalo isn't letting the near-miss against Connecticut go to waste. The Bulls beat Colorado in the Rainbow Classic semifinals and will face Colorado State, which beat Vermont, in the championship game Tuesday. The Bulls are 7-4 and looking like a legit MAC contender.
• Arizona's Jordan Hill sat out the Wildcats' win over Weber State to rest a lower left leg injury, but he is expected back for the Cal and Stanford road swing this weekend.