Now in his third year at Seton Hall, Kevin Willard has a challenge ahead in returning Pirates to success they enjoyed not just last year, but under Louis Orr and Bobby Gonzalez as well. (Photo courtesy of The Wall Street Journal)
With Big East media day having recently concluded earlier today, our annual tradition of profiling each team in the conference one day at a time continues. As we did last year and the year before, we'll start the series with the 15th-place team in the Daly Dose rankings, which this year is Seton Hall.
After a 21-win season and return to postseason play, the Pirates will seemingly have to rebuild in head coach Kevin Willard's third year after failing to break into the top half of the standings in each of Willard's first two seasons. Gone are the remnants from the Bobby Gonzalez era in all-Big East point guard Jordan Theodore and power forward Herb Pope, each of whom graduated this past May. In their place stands a younger squad who, despite advancing to the second round of the NIT; where they were eliminated by eventual semifinalist UMass, was picked fourteenth out of fifteen in the Big East preseason coaches' poll, their lowest ranking since Gonzalez replaced Louis Orr in 2006 on the heels of the Pirates' last NCAA Tournament appearance. It is also the first time since 2006 that Seton Hall has been picked below the No. 13 spot.
Willard does have talent, but will have to work a little harder to develop the players he returns to South Orange for the 2012-13 campaign, which begins with two exhibition games at Walsh Gym prior to the November 9th season opener. Leading the charge will be swingman Fuquan Edwin, who was recruited by Gonzalez but never ultimately played for him. Now in his junior season, the former Paterson Catholic standout comes off a sophomore year in which he led the nation in steals for most of the season, averaging three thefts per contest and becoming The Hall's third-leading scorer in the process. Joining Edwin up front will be fellow juniors Patrik Auda and Aaron Geramipoor, both of whom come into the coming season following successful jumps in between their freshman and sophomore efforts. While averaging just 24 minutes per game last season, Auda averaged nearly seven points and four rebounds per game, while Geramipoor managed 35 points in just an average of nine minutes per night. In addition to the third-year players, sophomore wing Brandon Mobley returns for a full season looking to make a bigger impact. After missing the beginning of the year due to injury, Mobley averaged over five points and four rebounds per game while shooting 36 percent from three-point range and becoming just as much of a game-changer defensively as he was on the offensive end of the ball. Southern Illinois transfer Gene Teague and 2011 recruit Kevin Johnson will also make their presence known now that each one is eligible.
The backcourt is where the Pirates are deepest despite the fact that they do not have a bona fide point guard. Texas transfer Sterling Gibbs has returned to his home state, but was unable to get a waiver to play right away, leaving Seton Hall short at the point. Even with the slight handicap, Willard will attempt to overcome it with the three-headed monster of sophomores Aaron Cosby and Freddie Wilson, as well as incoming freshman Tom Maayan. Cosby enters his second season in South Orange coming off a rookie campaign where he played primarily off the ball alongside Theodore, shooting 38 percent from beyond the arc, while New Haven native Wilson will be seeing considerably more action than his freshman average of eight minutes per game. Maayan arrives from his native Israel via the Canarias Basketball Academy, where Willard has gone to lure Auda, Geramipoor and swingman Haralds Karlis into South Orange. Speaking of Karlis, the Latvian import will be looking to make the same level impact as Wilson after a freshman season in which he averaged over three points per game in just sixteen minutes. The Pirates welcome two transfers into the backcourt even without Gibbs, former Georgia Tech guard Brian Oliver; who will step into the shooting guard position, where he will share minutes with Kyle Smyth, an Iona transfer who is eligible to play right away after graduating this past May and helping lead the Gaels to an NCAA Tournament alongside Mike Glover and Scott Machado, the latter of which is attempting to open the NBA season with the Houston Rockets as the backup point guard behind former Knick Jeremy Lin. Smyth is also reunited with Willard, for whom he played his first two seasons in New Rochelle before finishing his Iona career under Tim Cluess.
Seton Hall opens the new season with a softer nonconference schedule than in years past, one that; despite giving the Pirates several opportunities to win early in the season, is a schedule that may be perceived as being weaker than the nonconference ledgers Seton Hall played under Bobby Gonzalez. Nonetheless, the Pirates open their year with two exhibition games before their season opener at Walsh Gym against the University of Missouri-Kansas City on November 9th. Three days later, Norfolk State comes to the Prudential Center in an attempt to prove their NCAA Tournament upset of Missouri was no fluke. Following that matchup, the Pirates play two games at Mohegan Sun, the first one coming against Washington before playing either Ohio State or Rhode Island and new coach Dan Hurley on November 17th and 18th.
Seton Hall returns to Newark for contests against Maine and their annual meeting with Saint Peter's before traveling to Baton Rouge to meet LSU in the SEC/Big East Challenge on November 29th, when the Pirates will face first-year Tigers coach Johnny Jones. The Pirates alternate home and road games over their next two, hosting NJIT before invading Wake Forest on December 8th. Home dates against North Carolina A&T and Longwood precede a December 22nd collision with two-time reigning Northeast Conference champion LIU Brooklyn at the Barclays Center before The Hall's final 2012 date, a December 28th tipoff with Stony Brook at the Prudential Center.
Willard and the Pirates ring in 2013 and open their Big East slate on the road, with a Midwest trip to DePaul and Notre Dame serving as the opening act in conference play before a two-game homestand against Louisville (January 9th) and Providence. (January 13th) The Pirates travel to Marquette on January 16th before taking a week off prior to their January 23rd home game against reigning NCAA Tournament participant USF. Four days later, Seton Hall invades Madison Square Garden to play St. John's, their first meeting with the Red Storm at the "World's Most Famous Arena" since Louis Orr was the head coach. The Pirates remain on the road after that, taking on Georgetown from the Verizon Center on January 30th before alternating home and road games with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh to open the month of February.
Seton Hall defeated Connecticut last season, and will have the chance to do so again when new Huskies coach Kevin Ollie leads UConn into the Prudential Center on February 10th before starting the front end of a home-and-home series two days later with in-state rival Rutgers at the RAC. Two home games against Syracuse (February 16th) and the back end of a home-and-home with Marquette (February 19th) await the Pirates before a trip to the Yum! Center to wrap up a two-game series with Rick Pitino and Louisville on February 23rd. Villanova comes into Newark two days later before The Hall wraps up its two final home-and-home series against Providence in Rhode Island on March 5th and against Rutgers on senior night at the Prudential Center March 8th.