Looking to build off of their strong showing in the Big East Tournament, Kevin Willard and his Seton Hall Pirates have been locked into higher expectations due to a top-15 recruiting class.
Four key players from Willard's 17-17 (6-12) squad a season ago have graduated and moved on in hard-nosed wing Fuquan Edwin, bruising center Gene Teague, sharpshooting wing Brian Oliver, and the multi-faceted Patrik Auda at forward. Towering back up center Aaron Geramipoor has also graduated, leaving further questions in the paint. In all, Seton Hall loses 67% of both its scoring and rebounding from 2013-14.
Picked sixth in the Big East Preseason Coaches Poll, Seton Hall has raised expectations not just because of the lost expertise of several Big East schools in front of them, but because of their own influx of young talent. Their recruiting class came in second to Georgetown's in the conference and is headlined by top-75 power forward Angel Delgado and All-American guard Isaiah Whitehead, who was named Big East Preseason Rookie of the Year. These two freshmen must spearhead eight new players on the Pirate roster and gel together with returning leaders in Brandon Mobley, Sterling Gibbs, and Jaren Sina.
The Hall's non-conference schedule has been upgraded after their 2013-14 slate left them ranked 344th in strength a year ago. A trip to the Paradise Jam can prove to be quietly tough if the Pirates beat Nevada in the first round, while George Washington and Rutgers will come to town. The key to Seton Hall's early schedule will be road tests for their largely inexperienced team: Georgia, Wichita State, and South Florida will all play host to the Pirates.
Roster subtractions: Fuquan Edwin (14.5 ppg, 2.7 spg), Eugene Teague (11.2 ppg, 7.9 rpg), Brian Oliver (10.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg), Patrik Auda (9.6 ppg, 4.5 rpg, 1.5 apg), Aaron Geramipoor (2.2 ppg, 1.9 rpg)
Returnees to watch: Sterling Gibbs (13.2 ppg, 4.2 apg), Brandon Mobley (7.6 ppg, 4.2 rpg), Jaren Sina (6 ppg, 2.4 apg), Rashed Anthony (redshirt freshman forward)
Key additions: Isaiah Whitehead (McDonald's All-American guard), Angel Delgado (top-100 power forward), Khadeen Carrington (3-star guard), Chier Ajou (7-foot-2 Northwestern transfer)
Projected starting lineup: PG - Sterling Gibbs, SG - Jaren Sina, G - Isaiah Whitehead, PF - Brandon Mobley, PF - Angel Delgado
Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina are expected to assume their more natural positions at guard while 6-foot-4 Isaiah Whitehead plays in a third-guard role in a new look for Kevin Willard. Gibbs and Sina were Willard's only two guards during Big East play last season and should benefit greatly from Whitehead and three-star guard Khadeen Carrington's presence.
Up front is where more questions will be asked of Willard's team. Only Brandon Mobley remains from a four-forward setup that loses Aaron Geramipoor, Gene Teague, and Patrik Auda. Mobley will need to be helped out by redshirt freshman Rashed Anthony and rebounding machine Angel Delgado. Both newcomers project to play more at the 'five' while Mobley preferably resides in a stretch-four role. Beyond these three, combo forward Ismael Sanogo and 7-foot-2 behemoth Chier Ajou are unknown commodities this year. Ish has pleasantly surprised Kevin Willard thus far and could play the three or four while Ajou isn't eligible until December and would provide the only true center's body on the team.
Slight variations to Willard's three or four-guard looks will occur on the wing. Athletic freshman Desi Rodriguez will be a match up problem for teams, especially on offense, and is being pushed more toward a stretch-four role. Senior role players Haralds Karlis and Stephane Manga also factor in here along with Sanogo, who would bring height at the three in a bigger lineup. Rodriguez has the most upside here, especially in an uptempo system, but Karlis and Manga have Division I experience under their belts.
Kevin Willard will ease his guys into a higher tempo look when compared to planned half court post isolations for Gene Teague a season ago that slapped a 204th-quickest tempo on the team. His three or four guard lineups will naturally increase tempo, but Willard has claimed that they will shoot less threes than a year ago, when Seton Hall was 69th in percentage of points from three and 42nd in 3PA/FGA. Brian Oliver and Fuquan Edwin took 340 treys last season, which will be partially absorbed by Jaren Sina, Isaiah Whitehead, and Khadeen Carrington.
Seton Hall will have one of the better backcourts in the conference, but their core of forwards is questionable at best. If Willard can successfully implement a new style of play that masks this deficiency, or unproven guys like Angel Delgado, Rashed Anthony, and Chier Ajou burst on to the scene to help senior Brandon Mobley, raised expectations have a good chance of being met. If not, Seton Hall looks destined to finish similarly to last season in the NIT-bound percentile of the country.