After catching fire late last season and making a magical run in the Big East Tournament, Kevin Willard and the Seton Hall Pirates will try to sustain that momentum in the 2016-17 season.
Although the Pirates saw their star player, Isaiah Whitehead, leave early to pursue his NBA dreams, Willard is bringing back a solid core of players that should contend for another berth in the NCAA Tournament. With four starters — all juniors —returning, and new four-star freshman Myles Powell aboard the ship, the Pirates should continue their winning ways. Beating Villanova in the championship game of the Big East Tournament might become a starting point for this program, not a crescendo it will fail to build upon.
Here are five questions facing Seton Hall as it enters the 2016-’17 season.
— Seton Hall MBB (@SetonHallMBB) August 25, 2016
5. Is the loss of Whitehead all that bad?
Whitehead was this team’s best player and its heart and soul last season. However, his departure can be overcome.
True, he made some big buckets when Seton Hall needed them, and his absence can not be simply ignored. Yet, the chemistry these Pirates have displayed is encouraging. A junior foursome (Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Ismael Sanogo) that has been through the ups and downs in its three years together can foster tremendous growth and confidence.
Put simply, if there was a team that could absorb the loss of a star, it would be the grizzled Pirates.
4. What will Myles Powell provide?
Although not expected to start, the freshman four-star will nevertheless play a vital role in Willard’s rotation.
Besides Whitehead, guard Derrick Gordon is also gone from last season’s squad. Gordon provided instant offense off the bench while also being Seton Hall’s energy guy. Expect Powell to come in and give the Pirates a similar jolt — albeit with a different skill set.
Noted for his shooting acumen, Powell’s role will be to score off the bench. While defenses try to stopping Carrington, Rodriguez and Delgado, Powell should get some good looks at the basket.
Look for him to thrive in that role before possibly breaking out in his sophomore season.
3. Will the real Desi Rodriguez please stand up?
Rodriguez has had a perplexing career with the Pirates.
Although he averaged a healthy 12.4 points per game last season (up from the 5.6 points per game he averaged his freshman season), he still seemed to disappear at times. Rodriguez also lacked focus, which led Willard to sit him for long stretches in 2015.
Rodriguez is a joy to watch. He effortlessly glides to the hoop and possesses a great wealth of athleticism. Heck, his nickname is “Dunking Desi.” If Seton Hall is to keep up its winning ways, Rodriguez has to be locked in.
Look for him to answer the bell and combine with Carrington to give Willard a strong 1-2 scoring punch.
2. Who will assume the point guard duties?
One aspect where Whitehead will be dearly missed is ball-handling. While we knew Whitehead was a gifted scorer, few realize how well he set up his teammates — he averaged five assists per game, which was good for third in the conference.
The role of point guard will likely go to a transfer, either Madison Jones (Wake Forest) or Jevon Thomas (Kansas Sate). While neither offers a tremendous amount of upside, they are steady players.
With scorers to lean on (Carrington and Rodriguez), the tag team of Jones and Thomas won’t be asked to do much. The two role players just have to play to their strengths and get others involved.
There’s no clear choice to turn to, so whoever impresses most in practice will get the nod. Ultimately, point guard appears to be a committee job for this particular roster.
1. Can Khadeen Carrington step up as a leader?
Whitehead’s departure will give Carrington the chance to become a leader.
Expect him to deliver on his new opportunity.
Isaiah Whitehead was great for Seton Hall last season but Khadeen Carrington was one of the unsung heroes for the Pirates.Quality person.
— Pete Gillen (@Gillenhoops) July 29, 2016
Like Whitehead, Carrington has a certain court savvy and possesses both a style and substance to his game that are hard to describe. To put it another way, Carrington does not lack confidence.
Remember, we’re talking about a player who averaged 14.1 points per game last season. Carrington would only have to make two more buckets a game to match Whitehead in scoring.
Look for Carrington to have a breakout campaign and contend for All-Big East First Team honors.