Back in the days before analytics, before KenPom and Bart Torvik and Hoop Math, before even the first rudimentary Massey Ratings came out there was only one way to know how good your college basketball team was: the polls. The Associated Press and the USA Today take the 353 teams of college ball and determine who the top 15 are. There’s no efficiency numbers, no adjusted tempo, no allowances made for elite loss percentage, just a gut feeling on who is the best. According to those polls, Seton Hall is either the 12th or 13th best team in the nation.
There’s no question that the Pirates bring back some serious talent. Myles Powell, Myles Cale, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Quincy McKnight, Jared Rhoden, Taurean Thompson, and Anthony Nelson all return. You have to drop all the way down to ninth in usage rate to find Michael Nzei, the most used Pirate to depart. Freshman Tyrese Samuels is 6-10, 210 of immense potential, but it’s hard to see where he will find much room at all. These guys come back with basically everything they had last year.
There’s no question that returning players are a big edge, just look how excited Xavier fans are about the Core Four, but does that automatically mean Seton Hall will be good? Last season this collection of players went 20-14, 9-9 in conference, and garnered a ten seed. They beat Villanova but also somehow lost to DePaul twice and got beaten by Saint Louis. The analytics weren’t impressed, with KenPom ranking them 60th and the T-Rank leaving them at 65th.
So what has both major polls placing so much faith in Kevin Willard’s squad? For starters, Myles Powell is going to get his. Last year he averaged nearly 30% usage and still put up a 111.8 efficiency rating. That is elite, there’s just no other way of saying it. Prefer PRPG? Powell was 24th in the nation, comfortably in the 99.7th percentile. He’s very, very good. Powell’s supporting cast only figures to get better as well. Cale and Mamukelashvili were both sophomores and made big jumps in minutes and production. Quincy McKnight will be a senior who has gotten more efficient each year he’s played and handled the jump up from Sacred Heart with ease. There really isn’t a player that returns that doesn’t project to be at least somewhat better than he was last year.
But leaping from the 60s to the lower teens is an enormous jump. It’s a jump that even the most optimistic of projections (in this case, KenPom) doesn’t see Seton Hall making. Part of this comes from a brutal non-conference schedule featuring Michigan State, Oregon, Iowa State, and Maryland. The rest comes from that fact that even a big leap doesn’t cover all the ground the Pirates need to to land amongst the very best. This team is good, but they have some things to prove before they merit a top 15 ranking.
Why Seton Hall can beat Xavier
Steals. The Pirates were 88th in the country at forcing steals last season. That’s not elite, but until Xavier demonstrates they can care for the ball, there’s no reason to think that elite is required to get them to cough the ball up. Turnovers and Myles Powell would be more than enough to put the Musketeers in serious trouble.
Why Xavier can beat Seton Hall
Offensive rebounding. The Pirates were horrid on the defensive glass last season, and they lost their second tallest player and one of their top defensive rebounders in Nzei. If it isn’t Sandro Mamukelashvili grabbing possession ending boards, there’s a chance it won’t be anyone. Xavier attacks the offensive glass relentlessly. That’s not a recipe for SHU success.