Well, the waiting is (almost) over, Pirate fans. Barring the exact opponents in the Charleston Classic, the non-conference schedule for next season has been RELEASED!
Just for reference, here it is (again):
November 12th: St. Francis (NY)
November 17th-20th: Charleston Classic (three neutral site games)
November 22nd: Yale
November 26th: St. Peter's
December 2nd: Auburn (SEC/Big East Challenge)
December 6th: NJIT
December 10th: Wake Forest
December 18th: Mercer
December 21st: @Dayton
December 23rd: @Longwood
The Pirates open up against St. Francis (as they did three seasons ago), and with the Charleston Classic in between, they do not leave the Rock until late December, something that undoubtedly pleases Kevin Willard.
The Terriers were an NEC Tournament team this past season, making it in as the number 5 seed, and falling to Central Connecticut State in the first round. They went 15-15 overall, 10-8 in-conference, and had an overall solid season. They lose their top 2 scorers in the offseason in Ricky Cadell and Akeem Bennett. Bennett also led the team in rebounding, so this will be a team that, under former St. John's assistant Glenn Braica, will be in transition. It should be an easy season-opening win for Seton Hall, and one that will give the young Pirates a chance to stretch their legs a bit in front of the home crowd and show what they can do before shipping off to Charleston.
After their sojourn to South Carolina, the Pirates return home to face Yale, who competed well in a tough Ivy League last season (yeah, I know it's the Ivy League), but were not Princeton or Harvard, so most Pirate fans will never have heard of the Bulldogs basketball-wise until November 22nd. Yale last year went 15-13 overall, including one of the more shocking upsets of the year at Boston College. They also beat their archrivals, the Crimson, late in the season, and lost 4 combined games to Princeton and Penn by no more than 8 points in any one game. Many of their games were close last year, and the Bulldogs return 4 of their top 5 scorers from a year ago. Among these is leading scorer Greg Magano, who is listed at 6'10" and 240 pounds. This has a real chance to be a closer and tougher game than everyone expects, and a nice early test against a team that can clearly play, but isn't quite Big East-level.
After Thanksgiving, the Pirates have their annual game against St. Peter's. The Peacocks, who made the NCAA Tournament a year ago, are a vastly different team, having lost practically their entire rotation to graduation, including Wesley Jenkins, Jeron Belin, Nick Leon and Ryan Bacon. It should be a fairly easy W for the Pirates as they deal with an extremely inexperienced and talent-deficient St. Peter's team. Then again, we thought this against the Peacocks two seasons ago as well, so in this long in-state rivalry, anything goes (within reason).
Auburn was one of the worst power-6 conference teams last year (along with another non-conference opponent this coming season, Wake Forest). But they should be improved under second-year head coach Tony Barbee when they visit the Rock to kick off December. The Tigers return everyone of consequence, plus a solid recruiting class in the mold of Barbee's aggressive style, and despite their position at the cellar of the SEC, they always competed. They are a major conference team that should be taken as such. You don't get upset wins over Florida State at home and at South Carolina for nothing.
NJIT is, well.... NJIT.
The Demon Deacons of Wake Forest visit Prudential Center after that, and this is a team that, like Auburn, was awful last season (losses to Stetson and Presbyterian, anyone?). But they return 3 of their top 5 scorers from last season, including now-Sophomores Travis McKie and J.T. Terrell. Head Coach Jeff Bzdelik also has a pretty good recruiting class on the heels of a 1-15 showing in-conference that should make an immediate impact. Wake is a program that has a long way to go, and when they come to the Rock, expect another tough game because- as with Auburn, this is a major-conference team, even if it was one of the worst such teams last season.
Mercer is the last non-conference home game for the Pirates, and the Bears lose 4 of their top 5 scorers from last season, so they are also a team in transition. It is the calm before the relative storm, as the Pirates next travel to Dayton for the conclusion of a home-and-home with the Flyers. This is undoubtedly the biggest test in the non-conference slate for Seton Hall. Dayton is a tough team with a great fan base, as well as a talented roster with the likes of Chris Johnson, Paul Williams, and Josh Parker. New head coach Archie Miller (brother of Arizona head man Sean) loses Chris Wright and Juwan Staten, but still has plenty of talent left in the program by Brian Gregory. If the Pirates are able to steal this game, I will be thoroughly impressed.
The non-conference slate concludes with a puzzling road game at Longwood (AT Longwood???), which should be a win, although not a laugher because of its road status.
The two things to notice about this preliminary schedule are: 1) this is a cupcake-filled slate, a polar opposite to last year, and 2) a ton of the teams on this schedule are like the Pirates in that they are young teams in transition (SFC-NY, SPC Wake, Auburn, Mercer, and even Dayton). It's nice to have the young Pirates match up against similar teams. That's my initial reaction.
This team participating in the Charleston Classic right off the bat suggests that there will be struggles down in South Carolina, but Dayton will be tougher than many of the potential opponents in that tournament, so it shouldn't be too tough. But like last year, it may feel like the team is thrown in the fire a little bit to start the year. This non-conference slate (at least the early part of it) should help Pirate fans to be patient with the team, and trust me- they will need to be patient.
There are two sides to this schedule- it could help a young team gain confidence heading into Big East play (the hope of the fan base and the coaching staff) or it could get the Pirates into a situation where they will be not as ready for Big East play because of that same schedule (the opposite). I think we have to get at least some preliminary read on what type of team this is before we judge on this point, namely whether the new faces are adaptable at a quick pace or not. This should be evident in the Blue-White scrimmage, the Exhibition game, and the St. Francis game to start the year. So for now, this is all we have. Sit tight, Pirate fans- hopefully your patience will pay off.