Seton Hall Basketball in 2015-16 hopes to avoid a repeat of last season’s epic meltdown.
How does a team go from a Top 25 RPI squad that had just defeated #6 Villanova to closing the season 4-13, having its top player suspended for a stiff forearm shot and losing a starting guard midway through the conference season? Kevin Willard would like to know because he is hoping that the slide from last season does not continue into this upcoming season and ultimately cost him his job.
Seton Hall Basketball has been a bit messy after firing Louis Orr, who despite struggling to recruit New York City, Long Island and Newark still was able to make the NCAA Tournament twice. In Orr’s final season (2005-06) , the Seton Hall Pirates made the NCAA Tournament and lost in their first round game to Wichita State by a score of 86-66. Orr left and was replaced by former Manhattan College Coach Bobby Gonzalez. Bobby Gonzalez knew how to recruit the New York City metro area well and had plenty of connections, which meant that he fit the bill for a Seton Hall program that needed a return to back the glory days under P.J. Carlesimo.
Bobby Gonzalez’s run at Seton Hall was rather average and unspectacular with the highlight being a trip to the NIT in 2010. Gonzalez was not viewed as a good example to his players and was viewed as unfit to serve as a mentor and manager. Gonzalez also took some character risks into his program with the hope that they would bolster his lineup, the on the court results were marginally positive. The actions of his players were not befitting of Seton Hall University and their interim Athletics Director was not happy with any of it. From Keon Lawrence’s wrong way assault-by-auto to Robert Mitchell’s criticisms of Gonzalez’s coaching to the comments made by Manhattan College Athletic Director Bob Byrnes, it was clear that Bobby Gonzalez was doing much more harm than good.
Here are a few comments from Byrnes with the New York Times two weeks before his firing:
Sometimes it was like handling a very mature guy who knew what he was doing and where he was going. Sometimes he was like a teenager who could do somethings that a teenager would do and it took some time to get through to him. Because sometimes they know everything.
He could be volatile with people. No question about it. There is a certain amount of truth to the fact that the good ones are a little bit tough to manage, whether as a player or a coach. But I haven’t really watched Seton Hall very much. I had him and he went there and I really said, Good luck. I had him for seven years. I used to have a lot of hair. I’m almost bald now.
The guy who runs the bus company called me and said something to the effect of, ‘I have 131 drivers that drive for us. But we’re down to one guy that will drive for Bobby Gonzalez.’ You know, he’s tough with security guards and people doing their job.
Gonzalez was a bit of a pill, but in his final game at Seton Hall, the pill was too difficult to swallow any further after this incident:
Seton Hall brought in Kevin Willard to turn restore Seton Hall’s reputation and put a quality product on the floor. Willard’s success on the court has been nearly equivalent to his predecessor, but then last season things reverted back to end of the Gonzalez era. The ugliness, discord and failure reappeared after Seton Hall was at its highest point in nearly a decade.
The plight of the major Catholic college basketball programs of the New York metro area has come at the same time as the weakening of High School Basketball in New York City. New York City guards were known for their toughness and talent, but now are a smaller crop than in years past and they are not going to St. John’s and Seton Hall. St. John’s and Seton Hall have two things in common that do not exactly help them, but are perceived to be selling points. Both programs play the majority of their home games in professional arenas and the opportunity to stay in the New York area. Seton Hall plays at the Prudential Center, which hosts the New Jersey Devils of the NHL and St. John’s plays the majority of their games at Madison Square Garden.
Kevin Willard is in a make-or-break season for 2015-16. As mentioned before, Willard is on the hot seat. The team needs to behave, get along, stay together and win or else Willard is replaced. The bad seeds do appear to be gone and two new graduate transfers, Derrick Thomas and Braeden Anderson certainly will bolster the character of the program.
Willard is a Rick Pitino disciple having coached under him for both the Boston Celtics (remember those days?) and at Louisville. Willard took the Head Coach position at Iona after Jeff Ruland and experienced enough success in his third season to justify his hire by a program that was troubled. Willard’s style of play is very similar to Pitino, but his offense may take the signature element of the Billy Donovan offense, which is the ball screen. Willard’s defense is very heavy on the 2-3 matchup zone in the half court and uses 3/4 court traps.
A Quick Look Back at Seton Hall Basketball Last Season
All jokes aside, Seton Hall’s season mirrored the Enron parody ride from The Simpsons. The team rode high suffered a few losses came back to win a few games prompting many to think it was just an aberration and then the wheels came off for the Seton Hall Basketball Team.
Seton Hall’s season had its first problems against Georgia in Stegeman Coliseum. Star Freshman Guard Isaiah Whitehead was saddled with foul trouble in their rough loss against a Georgia team that was undeterred on defense, completely dominant on the glass and clearly enjoying the pace of play. Whitehead’s afternoon went from bad to worse when he suffered a stress fracture in his foot during the second half of play. Whitehead would be out of action for just over a month. Seton Hall would go 5-4 during this stretch.
Whitehead’s return brought optimism and the Seton Hall Pirates defeated Xavier. Then the wheels came off completely as the team would start to play disjointed and eventually there was mutiny and dysfunction. Jaren Sina left the Seton Hall program on February 11 after a third straight conference loss to Georgetown. Six days later, things got worse. The tensions between the vaunted Freshman class and the veterans in the program along with the losing streak sparked frustration.
Sterling Gibbs would be suspended for his brutal forearm shot on Villanova’s Ryan Arcidiacono. Seton Hall would continue to lose games and thankfully for Seton Hall, the season would mercifully end.
Sterling Gibbs would ultimately transfer to Connecticut taking a vacant spot that could have been held by Georgia’s Will Jackson had he chose to keep his commitment to UConn.
Seton Hall Basketball Advanced Metrics
Under Willard, despite the dysfunction the offense had its best season compared to other schools last season. Interestingly, the improved offense came with an increase in tempo from past seasons. The defense was at its worst last season and it is likely a by-product of the lack of chemistry and divisiveness present with the team.
Seton Hall despite the discord was rather average as far as assists and assists per field goal made. Seton Hall’s biggest weaknesses were that they allowed opponents to score at will in the paint. Seton Hall’s effective field goal rate and free throw shooting are subpar. Seton Hall shows the characteristics of a team that is dominated by the scoring interests of backcourt talent.
Whitehead will be the team’s primary ball handler next season, he will look to cut down his turnovers and become more efficient inside the perimeter. Khadeen Carrington is also a low percentage shooter, but perhaps the loss of Jaren Sina may not be so bad as he was an extremely inefficient shooter.
Sterling Gibbs, Haralds Karlis and Jaren Sina were the three worst defenders on the Seton Hall Basketball Team last season. They will not be on the team this upcoming season. Isaiah Whitehead is the top returning scorer on the team and he happens to have a hideous offensive efficiency rating. Angel Delgado is the second highest returning scorer and he is the most offensively efficient player returning to the team.
The matter of Gibbs, Mobley, Sina, Ajou, Karlis and Manga exiting the program due to transfer or graduation should not actually hurt this team. To replace Gibbs and Mobley directly, Derrick Gordon should make an excellent replacement, but Anderson needs to make a major breakthrough to replace Mobley. Seton Hall’s issues are a matter of a team that does not really play like a team.
If Whitehead is surrounded by players he can work with, he may be a very productive and efficient player that does not see the need to do everything himself.
Sensing a theme here?
A Look at the Seton Hall Roster
Note that Jevon Thomas will be sitting out the 2015-16 season as he is a recent transfer.
Top Backcourt Players
Isaiah Whitehead is the star, primary ballhandler and possible ballhog that has been single-handedly making the Seton Hall offense so inefficient. His defense is slightly below average despite 1.4 steals per game. If Whitehead can trust his teammates and feel compelled to take less jump shots, he can take Seton Hall to very bright places.
He should have less discord and his teammates are likely to be much better this season. The recent influx of graduate transfers has a lot to do with it. Whitehead would be wise to get the ball to his teammates Angel Delgado and Derrick Gordon quite a bit, it will even help him get less defensive attention as well.
Carrington is a Sophomore like Whitehead. He’s less heralded, but will be relied upon as either a 3rd guard or as the sixth man of this team. Carrington is a slightly more efficient player than Whitehead, but is not a McDonald’s All-American type of player like Whitehead. Carrington is better suited to slashing than shooting. He was able to get himself points last season, but he was shooting in volume on a team that was really lacking at the 3 spot.
Carrington’s defense needs to improve and even though he held a higher win share last season than Whitehead, it was more due to Whitehead’s absence than anything else. Carrington needs to be a double digit scorer and improve on defense to get Seton Hall back to the tournament.
Derrick Gordon transfers in from UMass. He’s not much of a shooter at all. His game is within the perimeter, but he is not a very strong offensive player even though he averages nearly double digits in scoring. Gordon can win the starting shooting guard spot by simply continuing to be more efficient on offense than Carrington and playing defense as well as he has done over the course of his college career at UMass and Western Kentucky.
Gordon’s biggest improvement has come at the Free Throw Line and if he can continue shooting as well there, he needs to take a more active role with driving to the hoop. Gordon does not foul much, but still is not a strong defender. He averages 1.5 steals per game and if he and Whitehead can play together effectively, their defensive presence in the backcourt will definitely make a big difference. Gordon may have an even better steals per game rate with the 2-3 matchup zone and the 3/4 trap.
Top Frontcourt Players
Delgado is the best player on this team, the recruitniks and pundits will point to Whitehead, but Delgado is the best player on this team. He averages almost a double-double per game and shoot 55.5% from the field, much of which is in the paint. Delgado averaged 1.3 blocks per game and had a defensive efficiency of 98, which puts him well above his backcourt teammates. If one were to take into account all of the statistics and include the efficiency metrics, it is clear Angel Delgado not only did not get enough opportunities, but is this team’s best player. Having the highest returning Win Share also does not hurt either.
What to Expect from the 2015-16 Seton Hall Basketball Team?
This team should play more like a team, which will lift the spirits of Seton Hall alumni. The frontcourt talent is young and will be tested early. A lot of the bad seeds are gone, but there’s not much time to develop this team into a winner. Team chemistry will be the story. There’s talent, some inexperience and hope for this upcoming season.
For many Seton Hall players, the loss to Georgia started a slow motion trainwreck last season. This time, the game is played at the Prudential Center, which is a neutral court masquerading as a home environment. Last year, J.J. Frazier was able to get 11 rebounds against Seton Hall, which was an obvious sign that Georgia was not only fresh, but very hungry to prove something last season. Marcus Thornton and Kenny Gaines had big games, but possibly the most interesting development was how Yante Maten was able to get five blocks and six rebounds against Delgado and Mobley. Angel Delgado was a non-factor and Seton Hall shot 29.6% from the field. Georgia’s stifling defense and Seton Hall’s poor shooting made a recipe for disaster. Can the Pirates get on the same page? Can Georgia neutralize the stars again?
We should have an idea of how good Seton Hall really is in the Charleston Classic, but as hyped as the trio of Whitehead, Carrington and Gordon may be, Georgia has a lot of depth and a lot more efficiency. If there is any time to play Georgia, it is November and that is what makes this particular game extremely dangerous. Georgia fans better hope that this game is not played at the same time as the Georgia Tech football game. Television coverage will likely be on Fox Sports 1 or Fox Sports 2, which will be strange for Dawg fans.
Back to the Seton Hall outlook, they may actually get better as the season goes along. Lots of new faces and the team chemistry will actually build as opposed to last year’s explosions. If there’s an apt comparison to Seton Hall’s internal problems, it could be the 2005-06 Georgia Basketball Team. The following season was a much better season for Georgia given that the negativity was substantially reduced and Georgia made the NIT. Seton Hall could certainly make the NIT or even be an NCAA Tournament bubble team, if they can find their chemistry and play some defense.
Xs and Os and even advanced metrics are not the story for Seton Hall, it is a matter of whether the guys can get along well enough to commit to the same cause.