"My rule was I wouldn't recruit a kid if he had grass in front of his house.
That's not my world. My world was a cracked sidewalk." —Al McGuire

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Seton Hall Preview, 2020-21

Seton Hall Pirates

Head Coach: Kevin Willard (236-183 overall, 191-134 at Seton Hall)

3-Year NCAA Rank Average: 34.3

3-Year kenpom Average: 35.3

2020-21 T-Rank Projection: 53

Sandro Mamukelashvili looks to emerge as the next Pirate star

Photo by Jeff Roberson | AP Sports

Projected Starters: PG Bryce Aiken (6'0" RS Sr), SG Myles Cale (6'6" Sr), SF Jared Rhoden (6'6" Jr), PF Sandro Mamukelashvili (6'11" Sr), C Ike Obiagu (7'2" RS Jr)

Seton Hall's start to the season was rough. Despite being a projected top-20 team, they sputtered to a 6-4 start and didn't look like Big East contenders. But then they ran off 10 straight wins, including an 8-0 start to league play, and played like a top-10 team during that stretch. On February 8th, with a 10-1 league record and 3-game lead in the standings, they were the giants of the Big East. A sputtering finish, however, saw they drop 4 of their last 7 as they shared the league title with Villanova and Creighton.

Gone from that team is their surprisingly efficient point guard Quincy McKnight, their defensive eraser Romaro Gill, and inefficient gunner Myles Powell. So who takes the reins? Harvard grad transfer Bryce Aiken is getting a lot of attention, but despite averaging 16.8 ppg for the Crimson over four seasons, he hasn't been fully healthy since 2017. The talent is evident on the court, but the jury is out on how much Aiken will be available. Cale and Rhoden have both flashed talent on the wing, but need to show they can be consistent contributors. Mamukelashvili is the most proven star of the team after averaging 11.9 ppg/6.0 rpg last season, but really turned it on down the stretch, going for 15.1/7.8 over the last 8 games of the season when Powell was struggling to find consistency. Up front, Obiagu brings similar shot blocking as Gill did, but needs to improve his offensive efficiency. Off the bench, guard Shavar Reynolds, transfer wing Takal Molson, and big man Tyrese Samuel provide experienced depth at every position.

To the casual eye, Seton Hall's offense the past two years has basically been "give the ball to Powell and let him go to work." While that was sometimes the case, when they were at their best, Seton Hall was spreading the ball between a number of different shooters and letting Mamu and Gill clean up the offensive glass. I expect them to spread the load more this year and continue to hit the offensive glass. It will depend on Aiken and Molson, both of whom have shown the tendency to mimic the inefficient gunner role Powell played. If Willard can rein them in, they could have a balanced, efficient offense. Defense is where the Pirates should be more consistent. Seton Hall has been tournament-caliber each of the past 5 seasons and averaged a top-40 defense in that time. Their length at almost every position and experience should allow that to continue. They will aggressively force teams into bad shots by denying three-point attempts and smothering teams at the rim. They may take a slight step back without human eraser Gill and lock-down perimeter defender McKnight, but they have the roster pieces to replace even those guys, so by the time the season is in full swing, expect more of the same from the Hall.

This is a really tough team to peg, and I feel their success will be almost entirely based on what the offense does. The pieces are there for the defense to be on par with Willard's routinely solid defenses, but whether Mamu is allowed to be the man or if one of the transfers tries to channel their inner Myles Powell will determine how far this team can go. If it all comes together, they could find themselves as high as second in the Big East. If not, don't be surprised for the Hall to be sweating on the bubble come March.

Marquette Memory: While everyone remembers Marquette's first Big East home game, a 94-79 drubbing of then-#2 UConn, their first Big East road game was a tighter affair but with a similar end result and star. Seton Hall raced out to a 7-1 lead, their largest of the game. Marquette came back to tie it and eventually took an 8-point lead of their own, however the game was within a single basket for 34 minutes and 4 seconds. More than 85% of the game was played within 3 points. Ultimately, it was Steve Novak, who led Marquette with 25 points and 9 rebounds, that gave Marquette the lead for good on a three with 4:07 to play. It was the first of 8 straight wins, and 13 of 14 against the Hall that spanned the Tom Crean and Buzz Williams eras.

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