Sterling Gibbs heads into junior season intent on shooting Pirates into upper echelon of Big East just as he did against Villanova in Big East tournament. (Photo courtesy of CSN Philly)
In his first four years at the helm at Seton Hall, Kevin Willard had faced criticism, mildly perceived as unjust by his most ardent of supporters since the 39-year-old was hired to replace Bobby Gonzalez in 2010, of not playing a challenging nonconference schedule as the Pirates adjusted to Big East play later in the year, with lackluster results over the past two seasons following the Hall's National Invitation Tournament appearance in 2012.
This season, however, Willard is intent on responding to his detractors, and took the first step toward doing so with an opening ledger that ranks as arguably the strongest non-league slate he has scheduled in South Orange, befitting of the star-studded recruiting class making its way into the Garden State.
"This is a well-balanced schedule that will challenge us in a variety of settings," Willard stated in a release issued by the university earlier this afternoon. "We believe this mix of opponents will challenge our team early in the season as we look to build towards Big East play."
Seton Hall will christen its 2014-15 season at home on November 16, when the Pirates welcome reigning NCAA Tournament darling Mercer into the Prudential Center to return a home-and-home series started last season. In that first game in November of 2013, the Hall traveled to Georgia and gave Bob Hoffman's Bears all they could handle in a narrow double-overtime loss that set the tone for Mercer during a Cinderella season highlighted by the Atlantic Sun Conference champion's upset of Duke in the Round of 64 four months later.
Following the Mercer opener, the Pirates will play three games in the Virgin Islands as part of the Paradise Jam, their first appearance in that tournament since Willard's first season at the helm in 2010, when he inherited a senior-laden squad from Gonzalez led by all-time program great Jeremy Hazell. Seton Hall will open the Paradise Jam on November 21 against Nevada before facing either Clemson or Gardner-Webb next, with their third and final game in the event coming on November 24 against a team to be determined.
Home games against 2014 NCAA Tournament participants George Washington (November 29) and Mount St. Mary's (December 2) precede the Pirates' annual in-state clash with bitter adversary Rutgers, who comes to the Prudential Center on December 6 for the first time as a member of the Big Ten Conference. Following the clash with the Scarlet Knights, Willard embarks on his most ambitious nonconference opponent when the Hall travels to Kansas on December 9 for a meeting with Gregg Marshall and Wichita State for the front end of a home-and-home series that will see the Shockers come to Newark during the 2015-16 season. Seton Hall returns from the Midwest on December 14 to renew their rivalry with former Pirates assistant coach John Dunne and Saint Peter's, who scored an upset in overtime against the Hall on the same day in 2013, aided by a dramatic display from shooting guard Desi Washington, who returns for his senior season along with forward Marvin Dominique.
The Pirates resume their non-league schedule with road games at South Florida (December 18) and Georgia, (December 21) with the latter being the first half of a home-and-home series with the Bulldogs, before returning to their on-campus home of Walsh Gym for their final tuneup before Big East play, a December 27 tilt against Maine and new head coach Bob Walsh.
2014-15 Seton Hall University Nonconference Schedule (all times TBD)
Sunday, November 16: vs. Mercer
Friday, November 21: vs. Nevada (Paradise Jam)
Saturday, November 22 or Sunday, November 23: vs. Clemson or Gardner-Webb (Paradise Jam)
Monday, November 24: TBD (Paradise Jam)
Saturday, November 29: vs. George Washington
Tuesday, December 2: vs. Mount St. Mary's
Saturday, December 6: vs. Rutgers
Tuesday, December 9: at Wichita State
Sunday, December 14: vs. Saint Peter's
Thursday, December 18: at South Florida
Sunday, December 21: at Georgia
Saturday, December 27: vs. Maine (Walsh Gym)