While the Northeast is enduring freezing weather, Seton Hall is currently soaking up some rays in the balmy U.S. Virgin Islands. The team is game planning on the beach, literally, for an important first round test against the Nevada Wolfpack on Friday afternoon.
It goes without saying that Seton Hall (1-0) needs to win against Nevada (2-0), who were picked 8th in the Mountain West's preseason coaches poll and are ranked 172nd in KenPom. A loss would likely pit Seton Hall against Gardner Webb and Old Dominion/Illinois State/Weber State later in the tournament, which is an RPI/SoS setback that should be avoided, as I wrote here back in early July. No pressure.
David Carter is working without his top three scorers from his 15-17 (10-8) team a year ago in Deonte Burton (NBA draft), Cole Huff (transfer to Creighton) and Jerry Evans Jr. (graduated). So far, his fairly inexperienced team has picked up wins against Cal Poly and Division II Adams State, though the second was just a narrow five-point win. I initially thought Nevada would be a step above Mercer in quality, but now I'm unsure if they will be much better. Nevada also struggled to knock off NAIA opponent Cal State San Marcos in an exhibition.
Carter is going about seven players deep over his first two games with returning players in guards Marqueze Coleman and Michael Perez, wing D.J. Fenner, and forward A.J. West logging big-time minutes. Junior college forward Kaileb Rodriguez has stepped in alongside West in the frontcourt to play the most of any newcomer, though he has only scored two points thus far while collecting nine rebounds. Junior college guard Tyron Criswell and former Arizona commit Eric Cooper have played reserve roles off the bench (10-15 mpg). The only other senior on the team, Ronnie Stevens, is also playing reserve minutes at forward like he did last season.
Three things to look for:
Isaiah Whitehead. There's no way around it: the highly touted freshman guard for Seton Hall didn't have a great or even a good debut in their season opener against Mercer. Now that he has a game in front of fans with high expectations under his belt, how will he do in a more relaxed neutral court environment? Whitehead took a few too many dribbles and forced shots last Sunday, respectively turning the ball over and producing airballs on several occasions. 20+ points shouldn't be expected from him nor should it be needed tomorrow night, but steady improvement is mandatory.
Better transition defense. Kevin Willard wasn't very pleased with how his team defended on the break early on against Mercer, let's see if it improves on Friday. Nevada won't play at a particularly fast tempo, but neither did Mercer and they had a bit of early success against the Hall. If full court pressing and getting out in transition is going to be a staple for this team in 2014-15, a better defensive effort will be required.
Newcomer production on offense. Isaiah Whitehead, Khadeen Carrington, Rashed Anthony, and Angel Delgado went a combined 5-of-26 (2-10 FTs) from the field against Mercer. They all contributed in other areas other than points, but scoring output is going to have to be improved upon -- 10 points on 26 shots is subpar. Brandon Mobley isn't going to go 7-of-9 from the floor every night (most of the shots were tough ones too) and Mercer didn't have any real scorers outside of Ike Nwamu, better teams will have multiple threats.
KenPom says: No. 75 Seton Hall - 69, No. 174 Nevada - 64
Projected Nevada starters:
G - Marqueze Coleman (11 ppg, 2 apg)
G - Michael Perez (11 ppg, 4 rpg, 2.5 apg)
G/F - D.J. Fenner (15 ppg, 5.5 rpg)
F - Kaileb Rodriguez (1 ppg, 4.5 rpg)
F - A.J. West (11.5 ppg, 13 rpg -- 18 rebs vs. Adams State...)
TV: CBS Sports Network
Radio: 970 AM WNYM
Opening line: Seton Hall -5.5.