The Seton Hall basketball season is nearly upon us. In just over 24 hours, the Hall (0-0) will play host to the Mercer Bears (1-0) in their season opener at Prudential Center. After winning the Atlantic Sun Tournament and upsetting Duke in the NCAA tournament, head coach Bob Hoffman has lost a lot of talent while the Mercer program has switched to the Southern Conference, where they have been picked fourth in the preseason media poll.
Simply put, these aren't your 2014-NCAA-tournament-upset-of-Duke's Mercer Bears. An instrumental senior class that went seven-deep, including all five of Bob Hoffman's starters, has graduated leaving all sorts of holes to fill in 2014-15. As documented in our Preview Series, this exodus includes guys like Langston Hall and Daniel Coursey, leaving only one player who averaged more than 15 mpg a year ago left on Mercer's roster in guard Ike Nwamu.
Mercer already has one regular season tune up under their belt after beating D-III Piedmont 88-48 last night. I was able to watch the game via ESPN3 to get a better feel of how this brand new Mercer team plays. Most importantly, Nwamu is the Bears' go-to scorer. The strong 6-foot-5 guard is powerful when driving and can beat you from beyond the arc. Alongside Nwamu is quick point guard Phil Leonard and shooting guard Jibri Bryan. In the front court, T.J. Hallice isn't a bull, but he has size, can grab boards, and can also step outside and knock down a three-pointer.
Junior college guard Jestin Lewis was the first guy off of Bob Hoffman's bench last night while freshman Jordan Strawberry will back up Phil Leonard at the point. Mercer will go with a three-guard lineup, a small forward, and a power forward, much like Seton Hall. A freshman from Germany, center Niklas Ney is the first forward off of Hoffman's bench and will see time behind or alongside T.J. Hallice. Mercer isn't quite as a deep as last season, with no one of real impact coming off of the pine.
Three things to look for:
Who will guard Ike Nwamu? At 6-foot-5 and strong, Mercer's top scorer may be a tough task for Jaren Sina or Sterling Gibbs to guard for long stretches of the game. In half court one-on-one situations, freshman Isaiah Whitehead may be asked to match up with Nwamu. Guards Phil Leonard and Jibri Bryan are capable scorers, but appear more suited for Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina to guard on defense, respectively.
Was the first half against Caldwell a fluke? Seton Hall struggled on defense against Caldwell in the first half, specifically in the paint. Mercer doesn't really have a back-to-the-basket threat, so this should help, but it will be interesting to see how Angel Delgado, Rashed Anthony, and Brandon Mobley improve from their first outing. The Hall cranked up the tempo and was able to mask their interior post deficiency in the second half, but Caldwell was also a D-II opponent with little depth.
Rotations. It's a little tough to gauge what Kevin Willard's rotation is going to look like in a close game. All 11 eligible scholarship players logged double digit minutes against Caldwell while no one played more than 26 (Gibbs). I expect Seton Hall to have a deep bench, especially early in the season, with a faster tempo team and a lot of young guys, so it will be interesting to see who earns more time on Sunday and beyond.
Will Desi Rodriguez build upon his solid debut and play ahead of guys like Steph Manga and Haralds Karlis? Willard has said he will play the four behind Brandon Mobley, but his minutes would be eating away at the time seen by those two seniors. At the same time, I don't think we'll see 18 mpg from Khadeen Carrington, at least not yet. Further, I would expect Rashed Anthony to see as much of the court s as possible while Angel Delgado adjusts to playing defense at the college level; Angel picked up four fouls in 17 minutes against Caldwell.
Quotes on Mercer:
Brandon Mobley on focus: "[We need to] Finish our plays. Last year we got too comfortable, we were up 14 or 15 and let them hang around, we basically just hang in there and finish our plays."
Isaiah Whitehead when asked if he anxious to play Mercer: "Not exactly. We see today [against Caldwell] in the first half that we have a lot to work on. Were going to come into these next few practices and try to key into those things that made us only up 2 at half time. Just trying to make everything sharp and everything come together."
Whitehead on what Seton Hall needs to focus on: "Basically defense. I think our offense was sharp, we scored nearly 100 points today. Once we just key in on defense and really start to be a lockdown defending team, the sky's the limit."
KenPom says: No. 85 Seton Hall - 74, No. 169 Mercer - 65 (81%)
Projected Mercer starters:
All stats from 2013-14
PG - Phil Leonard (9 mpg, 4 ppg)
G - Ike Nwamu (18.7 mpg, 8.3 ppg, 2.9 rpg)
G - Jibri Bryan (9.3 mpg, 3.6 ppg)
F - Darius Moten (12.2 mpg, 4.8 ppg, 1.8 rpg)
F - T.J. Hallice (11.5 mpg, 2.8 ppg, 2.4 rpg)
Time: Noon, Sunday
TV: YES Network/FOX Sports Networks (Justin Kutcher, Jim Spanarkel)
Radio: AM 970 (Gary Cohen, Dave Popkin)