Outlook: Expectations are extremely high in South Orange as the Pirates are a preseason Top 25 team that looks capable of making a deep postseason run.
Last year: 21-12 (10-8 Big East), NCAA Tournament
Who’s in: Myles Cale (G); Jordan Walker (G); Sandro Mamukelashvili (F); Philip Flory (G/F); Romaro Gill (C); Shavar Reynolds (G); Quincy McKnight (G – transfer from Sacred Heart); Taurean Thompson (F – transfer from Syracuse)
Who’s out: Madison Jones (G); Dalton Soffer (G); Rashed Anthony (F); Manny Anderson (G); Michael Dowdy, Jr. (G)
Key Non-Conference Games: Indiana (Nov. 15); @ Louisville (Dec. 3); VCU (Dec. 9)
It’s hard to fathom how much Seton Hall basketball has changed over the past three seasons. Before the 2015-16 season Kevin Willard had won 20 games just once in a season at Seton Hall. Now he’s done it back-to-back years with a Big East tournament title and two NCAA Tournament appearances to show for it.
It’s all thanks to a stellar senior class that despite losing Isaiah Whitehead early to the NBA draft two seasons ago has continued to battle night in and night out in the Big East. Now it is Whitehead’s recruiting mate Angel Delgado who is showing up on all of the national preseason watch lists. The center averaged 15.2 ppg and 13.1 rpg a season ago and was actually the third leading scorer on the team behind classmates Khadeen Carrington (17.1 ppg) and Desi Rodriguez (15.7 ppg).
Those three, along with forward Ishmael Sanogo, are why things have turned around for the Pirates. Still, there’s something missing. Despite their regular season success these Pirates have never won an NCAA Tournament game. This is the season that is supposed to change.
Seton Hall is ranked 23rd in the preseason AP poll. Some outlets have even hinted at Willard’s squad being a dark horse Final Four contender. On the surface that makes. The Pirates are obviously experienced and talented, but there are still a few issues they’ll have to work out.
One is limiting turnovers. The Pirates gave the ball away on 19.5 percent of their offensive possessions last season, which was 245th in the country. It’s partly because of how many big men are on the court. The way the Seton Hall compensated last season was by just grabbing every offensive rebound in sight (35.8 percent, 18th nationally), but if the big men could also hold onto the ball it could result in the Pirates having many more shots than their opponents on a nightly basis.
And they might need them, because even though Seton Hall has a forward-based attack the shooting struggled at times last season. The Pirates shot 33.8 percent from three-point range, ranking 226th nationally. Carrington, who shot 38.2 percent from deep, was the only regular threat from deep. (Though both Rodriguez—35.5 percent on 141 attempts, and Myles Powell—33.2 percent on 205 attempts, both shot a bunch.) Now in his sophomore season, Powell is a particularly key part of SHU’s development. If he can space the floor by knocking down the three more consistently the Seton Hall offense could be elite.
The Pirates shot well in their charity exhibition against La Salle, going 8-19 from distance in an 87-74 victory. Powell didn’t play in their second exhibition against LIU Post due to a “minor team violation”, but SHU shot just 34.6 percent (9-26) from distance in that game.
The reason the offense offers the biggest opportunity for improvement is because the defense is already excellent. Anchored by Delgado’s 6-foot-10 presence inside the Pirates defend aggressively and limit second-chance points. Because Delgado is focused on boxing out, he doesn’t intimidate too many opponents at the rim, but the off guy (Sanogo or sixth-man Michael Nzei) knows he can help when drivers do come.
It appears the Pirates might be a little deeper this season as well. Willard played his top three freshman Myles Cale (22.5 mpg, 8 ppg), Sandro Mamukelashvili (20.5 mpg, 4.5 ppg, 9 rpg) and Jordan Walker (22 mpg, 6.5 ppg, 2.5 apg), significant minutes during the two exhibitions. Those three, along with two transfers sitting out this season, represent the next wave of Pirates basketball.
The projection systems see these Seton Hall Pirates as the 28th best team in the country. The wildcard is the offense. If SHU finds some shooters to space the offense it could be playing deep into March. If not, this talented senior class could leave South Orange having transformed a program without ever reaching their final goal.