It always helps to have your full roster of players when facing the No. 3 team in the country.
But Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard won’t have anything close to his full roster when the Pirates (12-2, 1-1 Big East) host Louisville (13-1, 1-0) Wednesday night at the Prudential Center.
Already missing forward Patrik Auda (broken foot) for the season, Seton Hall will also be without forward Brian Oliver (ankle) and likely center Aaron Geramipoor (stress fracture right foot). Center Kevin Johnson is also working his way back from knee surgery.
Louisville, meantime, is without the services of forward Chane Behanan, who will miss up to 10 days with a high left ankle sprain.
“Anytime you play anybody in this league not at full strength, it’s tough,” Willard told SNY.tv Tuesday. “But playing them, the way they pressure, the way they can get up and down it makes it really difficult. They’re as good a team as I’ve seen on film so far this year.”
Since the return of Gorgui Dieng from a fractured wrist, Louisville knocked off defending national champion Kentucky and then pounded Providence by 18 points. New York guard Russ Smith, a Big East Player of the Year candidate, led all scorers with 23 points off the bench in that one.
“Especially with Gorgui back he really changes the way they play and how they are defensively,” Willard said. “I think with him in there, he changes the presence of the game and obviously Russ and Peyton Siva is as good a backcourt as anybody in the country.”
Without his injured bigs, Willard has started Gene Teague and Brandon Mobley up front in games against DePaul and Notre Dame, with Haralds Karlis, a sophomore guard from Latvia, also playing some four.
“The big thing was when we lost Auda, we moved Brian over to power forward spot,” Willard said. “We lost some physicality, but we gained some offense. Once Brian went down, we’ve really struggled to find a backup power forward. And that’s really kind of thrown us for a little bit of a dent in our rotations because it’s tough to just keep moving guys around.
“Until Kevin and Aaron get 100 percent, and really until we get Brian Oliver back, we really gotta be careful with having practice, when we practice, somehow trying to stay in shape because we don’t have a backup power forward right now.”
The good news for Seton Hall is that after games against Providence Sunday and at Marquette Jan. 16, they have a full week off to get guys healthy before resuming against USF Jan. 23.
Willard hopes that time off will pay off.
“If we can get Oliver back within the next week or two and we have a bye the week coming up after Marquette we can still have 13 games with him healthy and a healthy lineup, I think we’re avery good offensive team,” he said.
“Hopefully we can become a good defensive team. If we can start defending a little bit better, we can score the basketball, we just gotta be able to stop teams.”