Normally, I give each game 5 full thoughts in recap. Not this time. This game needs only one.
There's only one word that comes to mind when referring to this game: Embarrassment.
I say this not because of the loss in and of itself. LSU is a Power-6 conference team, albeit one of the lesser teams in the SEC. A regular old loss in the first true road game of the season? That would have been no problem.
I don't even say this because of the blown 16 point lead in and of itself. I have seen the Pirates blow leads like that, albeit not in quite some time. I don't recall one of these in the Kevin Willard era, in fact. If you do, please don't remind me.
I say this because of HOW the lead was blown. The turnovers, yes. But I could have even taken the amount of turnovers and a road loss and have been just peachy. But these were no ordinary turnovers, if turnovers are ever ordinary anyway.
Seton Hall blew it because they seemingly forgot how to play fundamental basketball.
LSU started making some shots in the second half. They threw on their press off those makes, something that didn't happen in the first half because, quite honestly, they weren't making any shots. An adjustment like that, for an up-tempo team, is natural. Surely the coaching staff had warned the Pirates of this in advance. Surely this was part of the game prep this week. I will give them that benefit of the doubt. They're a smart staff.
But the message got lost in translation. Not message-in-a-bottle lost. More like message-sucked-into-a-black-hole-and-sent-to-another-dimension lost.
The mistakes the Pirates made in this game to let LSU back into it were high school mistakes. Not coming to the ball when it's passed your way to avoid a deflection by a defender playing close. Not making good passes into the post. Not catching passes when establishing position down low. Not running offensive sets with conviction and intent, resulting in stagnant ball movement. Lackadaisical "chest" passes against an active, athletic press. Even FOULING JUMP SHOOTERS, for crying out loud.
And all of those pale in comparison to the most egregious offense- PASSING THE BALL INTO TRAP SPOTS. This cannot be emphasized any more than it is right now. There are 4 trap spots on a basketball court for an offensive team to wander into- the two baseline corners in the offensive backcourt, and the 2 corners in the offensive frontcourt between the halfcourt line and the sidelines. On no less than three occasions down the stretch, the Pirates committed these close-to-if-not-cardinal sins of basketball. And each time, it resulted in a turnover.
Two of these were INBOUNDS PASSES. Thrown a foot and a half by the inbounder to a player in the corner. You not only can't beat a press by playing like that, you don't have a shot in heck of even nicking it.
This is NOT how Coach Willard's teams play. We have seen evidence to the contrary for two years. Sometimes shots may not fall. Sometimes, the rebounding may not be on point. But there are almost always good fundamentals, especially on defense. The Pirates never had a chance to get their defense set down the stretch because the ball was turned over at such a high rate. Offensive fundamentals went out the window in the ways I enumerated above.
Before I go any further, I have to reiterate that Coach Willard is the type of coach to not let this kind of thing happen again. I would bet all I have that he will include press-breaking in practice regularly from now on. With two former point guards on the staff, I would also bet that Tom Maayan, who took a lot of the heat on Twitter for what was really a team-wide issue, will learn from this experience and get better from it. Ditto for the guards on the team as a whole.
But what this game revealed is that Seton Hall can't handle a press right now. Last season, Jordan Theodore was so good that the Pirates were rarely inept against a full-court press. Perhaps fans took that for granted a little bit. Until now, we have seen the positives of having no true "point guard" in the sense of having a guy who dominates the ball. We saw the negative on Thursday (not having a guy who could dominate, and therefore control, the ball), and it just so happened that LSU made Seton Hall pay.
The next task for the Pirates is responding to this loss. I think they will, but this one is likely to stick in the minds of fans for a while. There is no substitute for fundamental basketball. Period.