- Matt Cox
Key Returners: Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez, Khadeen Carrington
Key Losses: Madison Jones
Key Newcomers: Myles Cale, Jordan Walker, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Darnell Brodie, Romaro Gill (JUCO)
Postseason Projection: 4 - 6 seed
Outlook: Three summers ago, Kevin Willard’s coaching throne was starting to get a little toasty – the Pirates were fresh off a pedestrian 16-15 season and rumors were starting to surface around some internal locker room tension, which some believe led to the eventual transfers of Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina. But a promising freshman class headlined by Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez and Khadeen Carrington gave Willard a solid leg to stand on and a reason to be optimistic about the program’s near–term future.
Fast forward three years later. The three-headed monster of Delgado, Rodriguez and Carrington are no longer budding stars with oozing potential, but proven performers who will have to carry the burden of justifiably high expectations this season. At this stage in their collegiate basketball careers, the trio’s legacy is somewhat of a conflicting narrative; their individual and regular season accolades are somewhat tainted by back-to-back 1st round exits in the NCAA tournament. But with all three seniors back for one more rodeo, this may be the year they finally breakthrough to the Round of 32 - a place the program hasn't been since 2004.
This offseason, Kevin Willard and the Seton Hall faithful exhaled collectively in a massive sigh of relief when Delgado officially announced he would be returning to school for his senior year. No player in the Big East embodies the persona of their team more accurately than Delgado does for the Pirates. Seton Hall's offense is highly dependent on getting buckets around the rim, whether it be by posting up on the low block or by cleaning up the offensive glass for 2nd chance put backs. According to haslametrics.com, Seton Hall attempted the 3rd most “Near Proximity Field Goals” (defined as all layups, dunks and tip-ins) in the entire country, much of which is attributable to Delgado's damage in the paint. He led the entire Big East in offensive AND defensive rebounding on a per minute basis last season.
The issue is that Delgado's footwork, finishing ability and decision-making in post-up situations is still rather unpolished and opponents don’t mind sending him to the charity stripe where he routinely throws up bricks. Despite generating a ton of close looks around the tin, the Pirates ranked an abysmal 277th in the country in FG% on those near-proximity attempts. This explains why Seton Hall often relies on playing volleyball at the rim to score efficiently, making Delgado and 6’8 junior Michael Nzei's relentless work on the offensive boards invaluable to the Pirates' offense. Nzei will likely split time with Ismael Sanogo at the 4, while 7’2 monster Romaro Gill should spell Delgado at the 5.
In addition to inconsistent finishing inside the arc, spotty ball security has also lowered the Pirates' offensive ceiling in recent years. There should be some addition by subtraction in this department with Madison Jones and his erratic ball handling now out of the picture, but the question is whether or not Carrington can step into a true lead guard role - he must strike the right balance of spreading the wealth for others, while continuing to create open shots for himself. Carrington and Rodriguez can fill it up as quickly as anyone in the conference, but both are born scorers who have played primarily off-the-ball since arriving at Seton Hall. Incoming top-100 freshman Myles Cale brings another score-hungry guard to the mix, who will likely play big minutes off the bench behind the sharpshooting Myles Powell. But unless 3-star freshman Jordan Walker bursts onto the scene right away – the only piece on the roster that fits the prototypical point guard mold – Carrington will have to own the lion's share of the ball handling and facilitating duties without sacrificing too much of his value as a scorer.
Bottom Line: Now in his tenth year as a head coach, Kevin Willard’s tough-nosed, defensive mentality has become engraved into the Seton Hall basketball brand. Dating back to his early head coaching days at Iona, there’s been only one season (2014-15) where a Willard coached team has been more efficient on the offensive end of the floor (refer to the "AdjO" and "AdjD" columns and the national rankings indicated by the grey numbers).
So while the gaudy counting stats of Delgado, Carrington, Rodriguez and Powell, each of whom scored in double figures last year, indicate the Pirates should be able to put a ton of points on the board, the question is can they do so in a more efficient manner this season. If Willard can figure out how to tweak the perimeter rotations to get more consistent ball handling and 3-point shooting, the Pirates will be legitimate Big East title contenders, given the defense night-in and night-out is precisely that... a given.