"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

Wednesday, November 02, 2022

Seton Hall Preview, 2022-23

Seton Hall Pirates

Head Coach: Shaheen Holloway (0-0 at Seton Hall, 64-57 overall)

Three-Year NET Average: 40.0

Three-Year kenpom Average: 42.0

Projected 2022-23 T-Rank: 55

Projected Starters: PG Kadary Richmond (6'6" Jr), SG Al-Amir Dawes (6'2" Sr), SF Dre Davis (6'5" Jr), PF Alexis Yetna (6'8" RS Sr), C Tyrese Samuel (6'10" Sr)

Tyrese Samuel looks to fill a massive hole in the middle for the Hall

Photo by Mitchell Layton | Getty Images

Kevin Willard's final season in Newark was quite the Jekyll and Hyde act. The Pirates started off 9-1, including a pair of wins over then top-ten teams Michigan and Texas. Around that time, rumors of Kevin Willard taking the now-vacant Maryland job started, and as Big East play began, they dropped their first two games and began conference play 3-6. The Pirates did rally to go 9-3 down the stretch, largely powered by the excellent play of Jared Rhoden. They made the tournament, but lost their opener, continuing a trend under Willard that saw them never make it out of the opening NCAA weekend as his teams went just 1-5 under the brightest lights. Rhoden left, as did microwave scorer Bryce Aiken, veteran wing Myles Cale, and mammoth shot-swatter Ike Obiagu.

The most notable change was Head Coach Shaheen Holloway, the former Hall star that is fresh off an Elite Eight run with lowly St. Peter's. Everything they do will start with the mercurial Kadary Richmond. At his best, he's a dynamic playmaking guard that can create for others and for himself, using his length on the defensive end to be a disruptor. At his worst, he's a turnover-prone, ball-dominant guard that can get into deep shooting funks. He's joined in the back court by Clemson transfer Al-Amir Dawes, a sharpshooting guard that thrives as a supporting option. Dre Davis joins from Louisville. He has the frame and physicality to compete in the Big East but needs to improve his productivity. Up front, Alexis Yetna and KC Ndefo will battle for one of the two forward spots. Both are more effective on the defensive end. Yetna is bigger and a better rebounder, while Ndefo is considered the favorite for the spot but had miserable (89.9) offensive efficiency in the MAAC and it's hard to see how he competes offensively in the Big East. Tyrese Samuel has had some success as a rotation big, but will have a much bigger role trying to fill the massive shoes previously occupied by Obiagu and Romaro Gill in recent years. If he's not up for it, Tray Jackson is a smooth shooting big but might not be good enough on the defensive end for Holloway, while Jamir Harris returns to battle for minutes after mainly being a three-point threat last year.

Holloway made his name at St. Peter's on the defensive end. That started on the interior, where they were absolutely dominant blocking shots from the get-go, but continued in how they challenged everything and aggressively pursued turnovers, with their national ranking shooting up like a rocket ship during Holloway's tenure. The results speak for themselves:

Year Def Rank eFG% Block Rate TO%
2018-19 252 195 1 153
2019-20 80 32 20 36
2020-21 61 8 2 20
2021-22 25 7 12 53

Ndefo will likely continue to be a great help-side shot-blocker, but this will be harder to replicate in the Big East, at least to start. If Holloway just turns guys like Ndefo, Richmond, and Davis loose in pursuing blocks and steals, they are going to deal with foul trouble (which plagued his St. Peter's teams) that will likely catch up with them. This is going to be a tough defensive team, but it might take a little time for it to translate to the Big East, especially as Holloway's defensive success never produced a MAAC title. Offensively, this team is going to be challenged. Someone will have to emerge as an alpha. The best suited might be Dawes, who probably has the most consistency and steady hand but simply hasn't been that assertive in the past. Historically, Holloway's teams succeed on offense by pounding the glass and getting to the line. And while you can't take their Elite Eight away, it's worth noting that according to Shot Quality, a metric that estimates expected scoring based on what teams would typically do when taking the shots they do, all three St. Peter's wins were Shot Quality upsets, indicating that St. Peter's would typically have lost those games at least 58% of the time (98% of the time for the overtime upset of Kentucky).

So what can we expect from Holloway's first season? The Pirates will have a tough defense that gives them a shot to beat most of the teams they face. But it's hard to see who will be the shot-makers that push them over the edge when a game is tight down the stretch. I've seen some people touting this as a tourney team, but that feels like projection based on last year's improbable St. Peter's run. There just isn't enough offense here to get to the postseason. If they do get there, it's more likely that a grind-it-out four day trek at MSG would be the path they take to go dancing rather than earning it in the regular season. They've probably better than Georgetown and DePaul, but I'm not sure there's anyone else in the league they can confidently project themselves above.

Marquette Memory: Marquette opened Big East play 2-5 in 2010, then rallied to win 5 of 6 and move to 7-6 in league play and within sniffing distance of an NCAA bid. Seeking to punch their ticket to the tournament, they faced a brutal three-game road trip. In Cincinnati, Lazar Hayward hit a pair of clutch threes to force and then seal the victory in overtime. In New York, Jimmy Butler's fadeaway buzzer beater, also in overtime, clinched the second victory. Next up was a trip to Newark. In the last three minutes of regulation, Marquette claimed the lead three times, only for the Pirates to equalize each time. In overtime, they managed to build a 7-point lead before Jeremy Hazell took over. He hit a trio of threes in the final 90 seconds, each getting the Hall a little closer. Down 84-81 in the waning seconds, Hazell tried for a fourth long-range connection, but it bounced in and out, leaving Herb Pope to put the layup back in. It was too little, too late, as Marquette won their third consecutive road game, all in overtime, and barely escaped with the 84-83 win.

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