For fans of the blue and white, the wait is almost over.
On Sunday, Nov. 16 the Seton Hall men’s basketball team, highlighted by the 13th-best recruiting class in the country, according to Rivals.com, will open their season against Mercer at the Prudential Center at 12 p.m.
It has been eight years since the Pirates made the NCAA Tournament and this year hopes in South Orange, N.J. are greater than ever. After bringing in McDonald’s All-American Isaiah Whitehead, along with Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez and Ismael Sanogo, the school has a real chance to make some noise in the college basketball universe.
“It’s been fun to have so many new guys,” fifth-year head coach Kevin Willard said recently at Seton Hall Media Day. “It’s a lot easier integrating six or seven freshman into a system than it is two or three.”
Whitehead, ranked as the 99th-best player in the NCAA by ESPN, will be the center of attention this year, as all eyes will be on him as he starts a college career that is doubling as a showcase for the NBA. The Brooklyn, N.Y. native was already awarded Big East Preseason Freshman of the Year honors, the first Pirate to win the award since Eddie Griffin did in 2000.
“It feels great,” Whitehead said later in an interview. “At the same time, it’s the same goals going into the season as it was before I was chosen for that. Just come in and try to help my teammates and coach out as much as possible. Get as many wins as possible.”
The rest of the class has plenty to offer as well. Rivals ranked Delgado, a 6-foot, 9-inch forward, as the 53rd-best recruit in the nation. Carrington, a guard, was a top-150 player who will provide instant-offense off the bench. Rodriguez, who is listed as a forward but plays with the quickness and offensive skill-set of a guard, was a teammate of Whitehead’s at Abraham Lincoln High School. Sanogo is a work in progress when it comes to scoring, but he has the potential to spell some of his teammates during dry runs and can provide defense and versatility in a reserved role.
The Hall also has a handful of key players returning, namely guards Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina and big men Brandon Mobley and Rashed Anthony.
After some ups and downs last season, Gibbs and Sina will have to take increased offensive responsibilities while at the same time serving as veteran leaders on what is a very young team.
“Continue to be more of a leader,” Sina, a sophomore, said of his goals this season. “I think I’ve really done that this offseason and throughout practices.”
For Gibbs, it is all about team liveliness.
“We don’t have to be playing Villanova,” Gibbs said, referring to his buzzer beater last season that gave the Hall a 64-63 Big East Tournament upset win over the Wildcats, then the nation’s No. 3 team. “We don’t have to be at Madison Square Garden for us to be that up for a game. We want to bring that energy to every single game.”
Mobley will take on a very different role than what he has been accustomed to in the past. A forward, Mobley spent just as much time away from the basket as he did under it last year, stretching the floor with his three-point shot. This year, the 225-pounder will be relied on down low more heavily rather than on the perimeter.
“For us to have success, he’s got to have a big year,” Willard said of Mobley at Media Day.
“I’m planning on approaching it like any other season I have in the past,” Mobley said later. “I trust in my leadership ability, I trust in my skillset, I trust in my teammates and I trust in my coach.”
Anthony, who redshirted last year, will be an important component off the bench. His main job will be to protect the rim and provide solid defense under the basket.
“I’m very excited,” Anthony said about getting on the court. “I’ve waited a whole year for this. My main focus is to get out there and play my role.”
“He’s my guy,” Mobley said, speaking of Anthony, at Media Day. “I just tell him to play with all the energy he can, and to not worry about fouls.”
Rounding out Seton Hall’s roster is defensive wiz Haralds Karlis, senior Stephane Manga, Trevonn Morton, the son of assistant coach Dwayne “Tiny” Morton and 7-foot transfer Chier Ajou, who will not be available until Big East play starts up. There is also another freshman, forward Michael Nzei, though his injury status (wrist) is up in the air.
Offensively, the Pirates are going to have plenty of options. With Whitehead leading the charge, Seton Hall is expected to use a three-guard system at most times, meaning there will be a much faster pace of play than there was last year.
“We have so many different guys that can pass the ball and shoot,” Sina said in an interview. “So many different threats and I think it only makes us more dangerous and it only makes it tougher for a lot of our opponents.”
“I’m a lucky guy, I’ve got four point guards to work with,” Willard said of Gibbs, Sina, Whitehead and Carrington.
Defense is arguably the team’s biggest issue heading into the season.
“I do think our offense is faster along than the defense, but it’s something we’re working on daily,” Willard said at Media Day.
The Pirates struggled mightily last year when it came to fending off their opponents. They were the second-worst team in the Big East defensively, allowing 69.9 points per game. After losing Fuquan Edwin, last year’s Big East Defensive Player of the Year, the Hall will need their starting guards, Anthony and Karlis to step up on defense.
With all the hype surrounding this team comes higher expectations. Higher expectations mean a tougher schedule.
Predicted to finish sixth in the Big East after closing out the year as the league’s eighth seed in 2013-14, the Pirates will play 12 out-of-conference games this season in addition to their 18 games against Big East foes. Among the schedule’s highlights are the U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam tournament, George Washington, Rutgers, Wichita State and Georgia. Big East play starts Dec. 31 when Seton Hall hosts St. John’s.
So is an appearance in the NCAA Tournament a possibility for this club?
“If we settled for anything less than that, then I don’t see the point in this season,” Whitehead said at Big East Media Day. “I truly see this team as an NCAA Tournament group. Seton Hall deserves it.”
With the talent in place and excitement surrounding this team, these players know what they have to do.
“We’re working on the game every day, making sure we’re staying sharp,” Sina said. Sina went on to say that he did not want to make any big predictions about the season, but that did not stop one of his younger teammates.
“My goal for the season is to win every game,” Delgado said. “That’s what I want. I don’t like losing. I want to win every game… We’re going to be good this year.”
Gary Phillips can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @GPhillips2727.
2014-15 Seton Hall Men’s Basketball Roster:
|#/Name:||Pos:||Height: Weight: Year: Hometown (Previous School):|
|0||Carrington, Khadeen||G||6-3||190||FR||Brooklyn, N.Y. (Bishop Loughlin)|
|1||Nzei, Michael||F||6-7||190||FR||Makurdi, Nigeria (Our Savior New American – N.Y.)|
|2||Mobley, Brandon||F||6-9||225||SR||Savannah, Ga. (St. John’s Military Academy – Wis.)|
|4||Gibbs, Sterling||G||6-2||185||JR||Scotch Plains, N.J. (University of Texas)|
|13||Karlis, Haralds||G||6-6||210||SR||Riga, Latvia (Canarias Basketball Academy)|
|14||Sanogo, Ismael||G||6-7||190||FR||Newark, N.J. (East Side High School)|
|15||Whitehead, Isaiah||G||6-4||210||FR||Brooklyn, N.Y. (Abraham Lincoln)|
|20||Rodriguez, Desi||F||6-6||215||FR||Bronx, N.Y. (Abraham Lincoln)|
|22||Morton, Trevonn||G||6-1||185||FR||Brooklyn, N.Y. (Abraham Lincoln)|
|25||Anthony, Rashed||F||6-9||235||RS FR||Orangeburg, S.C. (Flora Macdonald Academy)|
|30||Sina, Jaren||G||6-2||185||SO||Lake Hopatcong, N.J. (Gill St. Bernard’s)|
|31||Delgado, Angel||F||6-9||230||FR||Bajos De Haina, Dominican Rep. (Patrick School – N.J.)|
|42||Ajou, Chier||C||7-1||245||JR||Aweil, South Sudan (Northwestern University)|
|45||Manga, Stephane||F||6-6||220||SR||Orleans, France (Monroe College)|
2014-15 Seton Hall Men’s Basketball Schedule:
|11/16/14||vs. Mercer||Newark, N.J.||12:00 p.m. ET|
|U.S. Virgin Islands Paradise Jam|
|11/21/14||vs. Nevada||St. Thomas, USVI||4:00 p.m. ET|
|11/22/14||Clemson/Gardner Webb||St. Thomas, USVI||TBA|
|11/24/14||TBD||St. Thomas, USVI||TBA|
|11/29/14||vs. George Washington||Newark, N.J.||4:00 p.m. ET|
|12/02/14||vs. Mount St. Mary’s||Newark, N.J.||7:00 p.m. ET|
|12/06/14||vs. Rutgers||Newark, N.J.||12:00 p.m. ET|
|12/09/14||at Wichita State||Wichita, Kan.||7:00 p.m. ET|
|12/14/14||vs. Saint Peter’s||Newark, N.J.||12:00 p.m. ET|
|12/18/14||at USF||Tampa, Fla.||7:00 p.m. ET|
|12/21/14||at Georgia||Athens, Ga.||6:00 p.m. ET|
|12/27/14||vs. Maine||South Orange, N.J.||12:00 p.m. ET|
|12/31/14||vs. St. John’s *||Newark, N.J.||12:00 p.m. ET|
|01/03/15||vs. Villanova *||Newark, N.J.||12:00 p.m. ET|
|01/07/15||at Xavier *||Cincinnati, Ohio||TBA|
|01/10/15||at Creighton *||Omaha, Neb.||2:00 p.m. ET|
|01/13/15||vs. Butler *||Newark, N.J.||7:00 p.m. ET|
|01/22/15||vs. DePaul *||Newark, N.J.||7:00 p.m. ET|
|01/25/15||at Butler *||Indianapolis, Ind.||3:00 p.m. ET|
|01/28/15||at Marquette *||Milwaukee, Wisc.||7:00 p.m. ET|
|01/31/15||vs. Xavier *||Newark, N.J.||12:00 p.m. ET|
|02/03/15||at DePaul *||Rosemont, Ill.||9:00 p.m. ET|
|02/07/15||vs. Marquette *||Newark, N.J.||12:00 p.m. ET|
|02/10/15||vs. Georgetown *||Newark, N.J.||7:00 p.m. ET|
|02/14/15||at Providence *||Providence, R.I.||4:00 p.m. ET|
|02/16/15||at Villanova *||Villanova, Pa.||7:00 p.m. ET|
|02/21/15||at St. John’s *||Queens, N.Y.||2:30 p.m. ET|
|02/28/15||vs. Creighton *||Newark, N.J.||4:00 p.m. ET|
|03/04/15||vs. Providence *||Newark, N.J.||7:00 p.m. ET|
|03/07/15||at Georgetown *||Washington, D.C.||12:00 p.m. ET|
|BIG EAST Championships|
|03/11/15||vs. First Round||New York, N.Y.||TBA|
|03/12/15||vs. Quarterfinal||New York, N.Y.||TBA|
|03/13/15||vs. Semifinal||New York, N.Y.||TBA|
|03/14/15||vs. Championship||New York, N.Y.||TBA|
Gary Phillips, a journalism major at Seton Hall University, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @GPhillips2727.