Like death and taxes, and like Bobby Gonzalez saying, "Like death and taxes", Herb Pope has been the premier interior defender and rebounder for the Pirates the past three years. Losing a rebounder like Pope is not easy to replace, but Seton Hall finally has ample depth at the power forward and center positions to offset his departure. I believe the combination of Patrik Auda, Brandon Mobley, Gene Teague, Kevin Johnson, Aaron Geramipoor and ultra-athletic wings Fuquan Edwin and Haralds Karlis will be a formidable group in this regard. It's no secret that Auda loves to occupy the stat sheet’s foul column, so having a multitude of defensive options will be a tremendous benefit for the Pirates and one that's been lacking in South Orange for many, many moons.
Coach Willard will continue to use zone defense at times which will serve a number of purposes. Not only does moving to zone from man-to-man defense show opposing offenses different looks, it will also protect against those players more apt at getting into foul trouble; Willard certainly exploited this benefit to his advantage last year.
Something that has been largely overlooked in Kevin Willard’s time at the helm is the outstanding job he's done decreasing the total number of fouls his players commit. In the Gonzo era (shivers), Seton Hall averaged over 20 fouls per game, while Willard’s teams have averaged 17 1/2. Granted, two years is a relatively small sample from which to draw a definitive conclusion, but Willard's teams have decreased their total team fouls each year, moving from 179th to 142nd in the country, while Gonzo's teams rose from 240th to 280th (out of 324 Division 1 teams). Most importantly, Coach Willard has done a tremendous job of protecting the players he needs on the court by applying sound in-game coaching as well as teaching his players effective ways of guarding against excessive fouling and fouling out. It's concerning that Auda and Mobley, in particular, have a penchant for committing "bad fouls". However, if they improve in this regard, the team will be less exposed defensively while also allowing for two of what I believe to be excellent scoring options to stay on the floor.
At times, Mobley has looked like Gulliver in the ball-pit at Chuck E. Cheese; big like. In his freshman year (that saw him miss over 25% of games to a torn labrum), he showed flashes of greatness and I believe I speak for most Pirate fans when I say I can't wait to see him develop over the next three years. In fact, I spoke with an Assistant Coach at Auburn last year who told me they were "devastated" when Mobley chose Seton Hall over them, saying he would be a "tremendous" collegiate player. I concur, fine sir.
As I See It:
Look for transfer Gene Teague to be the primary presence down low this year. Teague and Pope banged in the paint a lot during practice last year while he was sitting out per NCAA transfer regulations. I've spoken with a few people on the inside of the program who have commented on how valuable this process was for both Pope and Teague, so look for this experience to pay dividends moving forward. On the offensive end, Teague shot a team best 60% from the field in his last year with Southern Illinois University, so the big fella should be productive on both ends of the court.
I wish I could provide insightful analysis on second year freshman Kevin Johnson, but there really is no additional information on him since his senior year of high school. I'm a glass-is-half-full kind of guy, so I'd like to think that another year of physical and emotional development for KJ (due to his lack of eligibility) will prove to be a long term benefit for the Pirates. Johnson, the #24 ranked center in the class of 2011, is a man-child and is said to have some pretty soft hands. If he can be productive alongside the other bigs, Seton Hall may have some very interesting options both offensively and defensively which should translate into more points in the paint then Pirate fans have seen in years.