#18 Seton Hall 2019-20 Preview

-Matt Cox

Key Returners: Myles Powell, Myles Cale, Quincy McKnight, Sandro Mamukelashvili
Key Losses:
Michael Nzei
Key Newcomers:
Ike Obiagu, Tyrese Samuel


Outlook: As the token contrarian amongst the three Weavers, I probably shouldn’t be the one writing this preview. It’s in my DNA to immediately start poking holes at all those who emphatically believe Seton Hall is a surefire top-15 team in 2020, which is a tough case to make when you consider the following factoids:

  • Per bartorvik.com, Seton Hall returns 85% of total minutes played last year, which ranks among the top-25 highest in the nation

  • Per Issac Trotter, an Illini-focused reporter for 247sports.com, Seton Hall ranks 2nd among Power 6 in percentage of scoring returning, 87.7%, which is topped only by Colorado at 94.9%.

I hereby interrupt this preview to plug my colleague Jim’s deep dive on the Seton Hall minutes continuity case study

Of course, it was Myles Powell’s earth-shattering decision to return for his senior season that cranked the Seton Hall hype-meter up to level 11. Powell wasn’t just another breakout star last year – he was transcendent.  
Despite being guarded like this on many possessions…

… Powell still averaged 23 points a game and finished with 20-plus in 23 of the Pirates’ 34 games. Once lazily touted as a catch-and-shoot specialist, Powell finally got a chance to flex his muscles as a fully loaded lead guard last year. His free-throw rate and assist rate ranked among the top-20 in the Big East, which speaks volumes about the expansion of his offensive arsenal.

Once head coach Kevin Willard realized what a devastating weapon he had at his disposal, the offense completely revolved around Powell. Former Sacred Heart transfer Quincy McKnight arrived in Newark as a combo guard, but ended up transforming into a pass-dominant point guard to accommodate Powell’s talents. Seton Hall’s offense ultimately morphed into a steady stream of down screens and staggered screens for Powell, which either freed him up for an open 3 or pulled multiple defenders away from their man for a wide open counter option (the latter is shown in the clip below).

An interesting reporting nugget from the Asbury Park Press this summer hints at the fact that Willard is open to letting Powell initiate the offense more frequently this season:

In order to get there, Willard must carefully balance Powell’s development with the team’s needs. At 6-foot-2, Powell has to evolve from shooting guard into more of a lead guard in order to catch on with the NBA. To that end, the plan is to give him much more of an opportunity to run the Hall’s offense, to have the ball in his hands and do some playmaking.

If this comes to fruition, McKnight and Powell will no longer be pigeonholed into their ‘point guard’ and ‘shooting guard’ position labels, respectively. Rather, look for both to play more interchangeably as ‘co-initiators’, with Powell obviously leading the scoring charge.

Turnovers plagued Knight’s offensive efficiency during his freshman and sophomore seasons at Sacred Heart, so it’s no surprise that those same ball security habits lingered as he stepped up in competition last year. Thus, molding McKnight back into more of a combo guard – his true basketball self – should result in fewer wasted possessions this year, which disrupted the Pirates offensive rhythm on countless occasions last season - for context, Seton Hall’s 20% turnover rate graded out as the worst in the Big East. Still, McKnight can more than hold his own on the other end of the floor, where he’s bloomed into one of the top perimeter defenders in the league.

Rounding out the backcourt is ‘the Other Myles’, Myles Cale, whose sophomore surge last season was partially overshadowed by Powell’s fireworks. Cale was on our radar last year as a prime breakout candidate, but he got everyone’s attention in Seton Hall’s dramatic takedown of Big Blue nation at Madison Square Garden back in early December. Despite a poor shooting night from the floor, Cale delivered the biggest blow of the game with his go-ahead triple, giving the Pirates a one point advantage with just 10 seconds left in overtime. Cale was certainly feeling himself that night – I vividly remember this stunt when he got in Keldon Johnson’s grill after making a free-throw…

In the big picture, that overtime dagger proved to be the launching pad for Cale’s superb sophomore season, as all of his advanced individual statistics improved leaps and bounds from the year prior.

Fellow sophomore Sandro Mamukelashvili joined Cale on that same fast-track development curve last season. The Georgian big man asserted himself as the fulcrum of the Pirates interior defense, playing with an infectious tenacity and physicality up front. While Sandro held his own inside for the most part last season, I personally witnessed Hall get beat up in the post on multiple occasions - the two games against DePaul when Paul Reed and Femo Olujobi manhandled the Pirates’ frontline immediately come to mind. The bouncy Michael Nzei is the lone graduate of the 2019 class, but Willard more than replenished his production with the addition of shot-blocking supremacist Ike Obiagu, formerly of Florida State.

At 7-foot, 250 pounds, Obiagu is a freak of nature, unlike any player Seton Hall has had during Kevin Willard’s decade-long tenure in Newark. Expect Obiagu to be a stop-gate for opposing post-up threats, along with his assumed role as human flyswatter at the backend of the defense. With big things expected from Obiagu, Taurean Thompson likely becomes the odd man out in the front court rotation. Thompson was an enormous disappointment last year after transferring in from Syracuse, but if he buys in and stays healthy, Hall could have a sneaky deep frontline.

Bottom Line: It’s easy to see why Seton Hall is garnering so much buzz this offseason, but I balk at the notion that these Pirates are a surefire top-10 unit. Here’s one way to contextualize it: Two years ago, Hall trotted out three of the most decorated players in program history, Angel Delgago, Desi Rodriguez and Khadeen Carrington, alongside Powell and an All Conference caliber defender in Ismael Sanogo. That group finished 26th overall in kenpom.com’s final rankings after going 10-8 in conference play and bowing out to the top-seeded Kansas Jayhawks in the second round as an 8-seed. It was, by all accounts, a career-defining season for Kevin Willard and Seton Hall basketball, a program that missed the NCAA tournament for 11 straight years from 2006-2016 and hasn’t made a Sweet-16 since 2000.

The point is simple: I have a hard time believing that this year’s rendition is going to outperform that 2017-18 squad, which is probably the best Seton Hall squad of the new millennium. There’s certainly an attainable “best case” scenario where that outcome is achieved, but I’m more inclined to bet on the “most likely” scenario - that is, a moderate improvement from last season, which should put the Pirates in contention for a high single-digit seed (6-seed feels about right) and fifth straight trip to the dance.