Seton Hall’s struggles last season have been well documented here. Between internal strife and a long losing streak at the end the year, the Pirates evolved into one of college basketball’s most puzzling and ultimately disappointing teams last season.
As such, there is pressure on head coach Kevin Willard to win and win now. Entering his sixth season at Seton Hall, Willard has just one winning season (none in the Big East) and an appearance in the NIT on his resume. He is just 82-80 at the South Orange, New Jersey school.
If you need reminding of what happened last year, Willard looked like he had everything under control early on, as the Pirates won their first seven games and 13 of their first 16. Everything was clicking early on. Seton Hall was one of the few teams to knock off Villanova and they found themselves in the top-25 in the early part of last January.
Then there was the reported clash (per Jerry Carino of the Asbury Park Press) between the upperclassmen of the team in Sterling Gibbs, Jaren Sina and Brandon Mobley with the Hall’s talented freshmen class, which included McDonald’s All-American Isaiah Whitehead and eventual Big East Rookie of the Year Angel Delgado.
To put it simply, things got messy toward the end.
Sina would transfer before the season ended. Gibbs lost his cool in a game against Villanova and was ejected for decking Wildcat’s guard Ryan Arcidiacono in the head. It looked like everyone was out for themselves, and Seton Hall ended their season losing nine out of their last 10, including losing by 22 in its final game against Marquette in the first round of the Big East tournament.
Well, with Gibbs now off to Connecticut, Sina to George Washington and Mobley using up all of his eligibility, Willard has no choice but to rest his hopes on his talented sophomore class. He’ll sink or swim with their success.
But don’t sell this team too short. If Willard can get everyone to buy in and complement the stars of the team in Whitehead and Delgado, there is some upside with this club.
At last week’s Big East media day, the Pirates were picked to finish seventh in the conference. With the past the past, these young Pirates are eager to turn over a new leaf.
That was the sentiment among Whitehead and Delgado.
“Personally I just want to lead these guys as much as I can,” Whitehead said. “We want to make the coach’s job easier. We’re really prepared, just going through (what happened last year). It helped us a lot. The biggest thing we learned from last year was that there are going to be ups and downs. We just have to stay (focused).”
VIDEO: Seton Hall's Isaiah Whitehead discusses upcoming season. pic.twitter.com/hB3kkUXgrR
— Today's U (@TodaysUSports) October 14, 2015
Whitehead is coming off a productive freshman campaign in which he was named to the all-Big East Rookie team after averaging 12 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game. He will no doubt be the focal point of the offense, as he a very skilled basketball player with an assortment of moves.
Look for him to also get more run at point, as Willard has really no true point guard on the roster.
It’s a role Whitehead will embrace.
“Definitely,” Whitehead said when asked if he will play point this season. “I’m trying to be as much a (true) point guard as I can. I think I’ve always been a good passer. It’s just about knowing when to pass and when not to pass; when to shoot, when not to shoot. I think I learned a lot over the summer, watching a lot of tape and seeing my errors.”
Delgado is also ready to take the next step in his game and loves the way the team is coming together.
“We look great,” Delgado said. “I really like how everybody is playing. We’re focused on team (goals) right now. We really want to win. I want this year to be special for us.”
Video: Seton Hall's Angel Delgado discusses season ahead. pic.twitter.com/5hQJUhYoDO
— Today's U (@TodaysUSports) October 14, 2015
The reigning Big East Rookie of the Year is one of the more imposing big men in the Big East. Delgado is always a threat to go for a double-double and is just an animal on the boards. He averaged 9.3 points and 9.8 rebounds per game (which was second in the Big East) in his freshman campaign, while putting everyone on notice that he is one of the conference’s emerging big men.
Whitehead and Delgado have great relationships with Willard, and both expressed the bond they have with their coach while at media day.
“We have a great relationship” Whitehead said. “He trusts me, I trust him. That’s basically what it’s all about: trust.”
“Coach Willard is everything to me” Delgado added. “He helps me with (everything). Every little thing I do wrong, he corrects. I really like the time he spends with me. I appreciate everything he does for me.”
Willard also has some nice complementary players in sophomores Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez as well as UMass grad transfer Derrick Gordon. So, Willard does have some nice pieces to work with. This is not a roster barren with talent.
If the squad buys into a team concept and Whitehead plays with himself and matures, and the team meshes like it did at the start of last season, then the Pirates could surprise a lot of people.
The talent is clearly there. For Seton Hall, it all comes down to chemistry, execution and maturity. If the Pirates overcome all that, then they could knocking on the door of post-season play come March.