A new start in a new conference means that the familiar names on the schedule come January and February are no longer there. Instead, Xavier faces a new slate of conference foes, some good, some bad, in their quest to continue building on the groundwork laid over the last 20 years.
Seton Hall stormed in to Big East play at 11-2 last year. When they walked off the court on the 18th of March, they were 15-18 and on their way to playing no postseason basketball for the third straight season (seven straight outside the NCAAs). While the start may have been illusory, something that a one point win over Stony Brook may have hinted at, the utter collapse was not entirely expected. The Pirates enter this season hoping that they don't join DePaul permanently at the bottom of the heap.
Kevin Willard currently coaches Seton Hall, and he like his basketball slow. Willard followed Rick Pitino to the Boston Celtics and then to Louisville before taking over Iona in 2007 and then Seton Hall in 2010. Willard's association with Pitino might make you expect speed and pressure on the ball, but you'd be wrong. The Pirates were slow on offense (229th in tempo and 151st in possession length) and didn't force turnovers at even a national average rate.
Offensively it's a bit difficult to determine exactly what Hall was trying to accomplish, because they turned it over on an astonishing 28.4% of their possessions, good for 333rd in the nation and barely ahead of teams like Grambling and The Citadel. The Pirates were also rejected more often than all but 37 teams, and shot only 66% from the line. Other than that petri dish of awfulness, they weren't so bad offensively, posting a 67th in the nation mark in EFG and making almost 37% of their three pointers.
Defensively, Seton Hall wasn't quite as bad. Teams took 18.9 seconds to find an acceptable shot against the Pirates, a number good for 304th nationally (which is good in this case, in that you don't want teams getting good looks early). That number corresponds with the top 100 46.7% EFG that the Pirates allowed. After that, things go south. Inherent in simply limiting good shots is staying in good position and not getting beat on a gamble. That explains why Seton didn't turn teams over all that much. However, the Pirates got pounded on the glass and allowed teams to shoot above national average from deep. With those warning bells ringing in his ears, Willard loaded up a soft non-con schedule that features Fairleigh Dickinson and NJIT.
The good news, depending on how you look at it, is that Seton Hall will lose only one player to graduation. That player, Kyle Smyth, played 63% of the minutes available and was one of the few Pirates who seemed to display any sense of care for the ball. His 14.2 TO Rate led the team, as did his 116.9 ORtg. Still, Smith only averaged 5.1/2.2/2.1, so he'll be possible to replace.
More difficult to find will be the 12.6 points Aaron Cosby took with him when he left for Illinois. Cosby was the second leader on a team that really struggled to score and he did it with a respectable .426/.400/.752 shooting line. That, and 73% of minutes in the backcourt, create quite a hole for Willard to fill. Kevin Johnson, who averaged 2.5 points and 2.0 rebounds in 21 games last year in the frountcourt, also left via transfer.
Leading the returning players is 6-6 swingman Fuquan Edwin. Edwin went for 16.5/5.8/1.9 to go with 2.4 steals and half a block per game. Fuquan didn't just stuff the stat sheet on volume either, shooting .441/.412/.672. That 44% from the floor is down a bit from career marks, so it could be extrapolated that Edwin's shouldering of the load (he took five more shots per game last year than he ever had before) caused some forcing. If he adjusts to the load, he's even more of a monster.
The second most important returnee is 6-9, 290 pound center Gene Teague. Teague used the second most possessions on the team last year, despite having an ORtg below 100. Teague shoots well (56.8% TS and 56% FG) but turned the ball over nearly of a quarter of the times he touched the ball last year. For a post, even one that averaged 11.2/7.2/1.5, that's a crippling deficiency.
Brian Oliver, a gunning guard/forward who averaged 7.7 points on 35% shooting, Haralds Karlis, a 6-6 Latvian guard who struggles to shoot, Brandon Mobley, a 6-9 big who can defensive rebound at an elite (21.3%) rate when healthy, and Patrik Auda, a 6-9 forward who shot 50% and scored 7.6 points in 25 minutes per game, also figure to join the fight for minutes. They hardly combine to make up the most interesting story off the bench though, as that belongs to Tom Maayan, an Israeli guard.
According to the excellent coverage of Seton Hall over at South Orange Juice Maayan, "has been granted a 3-month leave to return to Seton Hall to continue his academic studies and basketball related activities. Some portions of the article are unclear after using Google Translate, but it clearly indicates that Seton Hall has put forth a lot of effort into getting Maayan back." Back, that means from his stint with the Israeli Defense Forces and brief time in an IDF prison. As that cannot possibly cover everything, feel free to read the whole story here.
The incoming players are where Willard intends to make his hay. Texas transfer guard Sterling Gibbs brings with him a good deal of promise left from his one season with the Longhorns, where he averaged only 7.5 minutes per game but cracked double figures in one game and shot the ball relatively well. Joining him in the backcourt is juco transfer Hakeem Harris. Harris originally committed to Columbia before transferring to Brown before transferring to Connors State College. Not a prolific anything, Harris looks to fit the bill as a solid backup guard.
Freshman Jaren Sina marks the beginning of Willard's efforts to revive a once proud program. In addition to a loaded 2014 class that just keeps getting better, Sina adds some serious offensive firepower to a squad woefully lacking it. At 6-2, 180 Sina isn't large, but he is a scorer. According to ESPNRecruiting "He has an effortless stroke that is virtually automatic when in rhythm from anywhere inside of 25 feet, is equally effective shooting off the catch or the dribble, and can also make tough contested shots late in the shot clock." That's the profile of a late game killer. Just as significant, Sina turned down an offer from Indiana to join the Pirates.
Whip thin freshman center Rashed Anthony bring his 6-8, 180 pound frame to campus as another major recruiting grab. Offers from Boston College, K-State, and Oklahoma weren't enough to keep young man from joining the Pirates. Not an elite prospect, Anthony adds athleticism and rebounding ability right now. As his game progresses, indeed, as he learns the game, he could become an under the radar grab that forms the inside basis for some guard heavy teams in Seton Hall's future.
This year? Probably still not great. This team is talented but raw, and Edwin and Sina will have to gel incredibly well for the Pirates to become an actual threat. On the other hand, there is enough potential here to win some shock games, scare anyone they get in the conference tournament, and maybe, maybe, sneak an NIT bid. 2014 heralds a loaded recruiting class, though, and this team seems to be on the way up.
Closest A10 comp:
Seton Hall was 109th in KenPom last year, just barely any different from the 108th of George Washington.