After a chaotic and embarrassing 2009-10 season, it’s no surprise that Seton Hall is doing anything and everything to repair their tarnished image. I don’t think I’ll have to go into too much detail about the specifics considering it’s been well documented and, frankly, beaten to death in local media outlets over the past few months. The ousting of Coach Bobby Gonzalez and Director of Athletics Joe Quinlan signified a period of radical reconstruction on the South Orange campus, something that was not only much needed but much expected.
As the new coach of an underachieving Pirate squad, Kevin Willard’s on court mantra was never up for debate: it’s all about defense. It isn’t like he’s trying to keep it a secret. He had this to say at Seton Hall’s media day…
Our main focus as a team has been to really become a solid defensive team. We’re getting there...These guys can score. It’s just a matter of getting basic defensive principles...You look at the Pittsburghs and UConns and Syracuses, and those teams are up year after year because of their defense. That’s a mentality that’s built in over a number of years. We’re getting there but it doesn’t happen in two weeks.
-Kevin Willard, Seton Hall Media Day
He seems to have a strong grasp on what he expects out of this team on the defensive end which in the long run will be extremely beneficial for an impatient and incredibly undisciplined group of players. Bobby Gonzalez liked a run-and-gun style with fast break after fast break following defensive rebounds and a less than impressive full court press after scoring. Willard seems to support a slower and more defensive approach to the game. Personally, I think he has the right group of players to do it, especially with the return of Jordan Theodore and Jeremy Hazell. He just needs the team to be focused and willing to adapt to his style.
My keys to the season after the jump...Physicality Under the Boards
What the Pirates lack in height, they can make up for with physicality. Herb Pope was the leading rebounder in the Big East last year, averaging close to 11 per contest, and I have no doubt in mind that he can do it again. The key to the team’s play down low starts with Pope’s willingness to bang bodies under the rim and come down with the ball, whether it’s on the defensive end to change possession or on the offensive end to create second chances.
Jeff Robinson may be the most physically intimidating player on the team and as he showed last year, at times, he can be a wrecking ball on the glass. It would take a lot of the slack off Pope’s shoulders if Robinson can help rebound the ball on both ends. Another strength of Robinson’s game is shot selection. He shot a little over 53% from the field last season, creating high percentage shot opportunities around the rim. It never hurts to have two physical guys down low with the ability to rebound and score.
Ferrakhon Hall was a work in progress from day one and it seems as if the pieces are falling nicely into place for the 6-8 power forward. He’s added some muscle in the offseason, something which is much needed if he plans to make an impact down low for a Pirates team that poses no real defensive threat to opposing big men. Ferrakhon’s added bulk will force teams to respect his presence on the boards, whereas last year I can remember multiple instances where he was muscled off the ball with ease.
In a classic case of addition by subtraction, not having John Garcia on the court is a major advantage for Seton Hall. Garcia was always athletically inept and as awkward as they come; and a liability on the court, even if it wasn’t his fault. I understand two bad knees were the direct cause of his demise, but not having him as an option on the bench is an obvious plus.
I've always believed there are two major components to a successful college basketball team: a dominant presence in the post and a point guard with the ability to control the tempo.
Jordan Theodore is the perfect candidate for the latter portion of that belief. Even as a Freshman, he showed incredible court leadership and the ability to make everyone around him better. Two years and several tattoos later, the 6-0, 175 lb. native of Englewood, NJ is ready to take over the controls of a Seton Hall squad looking to pass the ball more efficiently and take better shots.
It's no secret that this team loved to take bad shots. A lot of them actually. Theodore's job is to create better shot opportunities for his teammates and control the tempo of Seton Hall's halfcourt offense. This Pirates team can drive opponent's crazy with their ability to shoot from the perimeter, especially with the addition of Patrik Auda who boasts an impressive lefty stroke; but that can't happen unless Theodore effectively controls the tempo of the game when he has possession of the basketball.
Kevin Willard's Discipline
I always hate to bring negative things into the realm of discussion, but with Seton Hall it's become all too familiar. Just one season removed from the unexpected arrest of Robert Mitchell for armed robbery and kidnapping, as well as the ridiculous arrest of Bobby Gonzalez for stealing a satchel, this is a team looking to rebuild its image. Part of that image can be reconstructed through the discipline of Kevin Willard.
A college coach is not just a mentor on the court, but off the court as well. It is extremely important that Willard avoid the mistakes made by Bobby Gonzalez in regards to keeping his team in check. Already, as mentioned in a previous SOJ report, Keon Lawrence was benched for the Pirates' exhibition game with William Paterson University after reportedly being involved in an incident in Seton Hall's cafeteria when he and Anali Okoloji scuffled. I mean, after Keon's incident last year, you'd expect he wouldn't continue to put himself into these situations.
This is where Kevin Willard steps in, hopefully for the better. Things like this simply cannot happen. A disciplined team will always go farther in college basketball than an undisciplined team, which is a major reason why these players could never succeed under Bobby Gonzalez, in my opinion. One of, if not the biggest key to success for the Pirates this season will be discipline both on and off the court
Probable Starting Lineup: G Jordan Theodore, G Jeremy Hazell, G/F Eniel Polynice, F Jeff Robinson, F Herb Pope
Regular Season Record: 19 - 9
Big East Record: 10 - 8
Postseason: NCAA Tournament
Key Wins: vs. Georgetown (20), at West Virginia, vs. Villanova (6)
Pirate to Watch: Fuquan Edwin (Freshman, Guard)