Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Seton Hall Looks To Retool: 5 Thoughts From Big East Media Day

Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington field questions at Big East media day, where Pirates begin their championship defense picked in fourth-place tie with Georgetown. (Photo by Jerry Carino/Asbury Park Press)

By Jason Guerette (@JPGuerette)

Another year, another Big East Media Day for the Seton Hall Pirates. This one, however, was different in several ways. 

Seton Hall is coming off of a thrilling victory over Villanova in the Big East title game back in March that commissioner Val Ackerman called "one of the all-time classic championship games." Angel Delgado was sporting the Hall's championship ring for all to see, and the Pirates for once could be considered among the top teams in the conference. That, in addition to having the event in Madison Square Garden itself and having a Legends Panel complete with Bill Raftery, P.J. Carlesimo, Jim Calhoun and Chris Mullin, made this year's annual media event seem bigger than in years past.

After speaking with players and head coach Kevin Willard, here are five thoughts as the Pirates look to build off their stellar 2015-16 campaign:

1. The Boys Are Back In Town

My, how time flies. Khadeen Carrington, Delgado and Desi Rodriguez (the former two players honored with a preseason second-team all-league slot) are now juniors, and they carried themselves like they were veterans. All reminisced about the thrilling week from March that put the conference on notice and helped Isaiah Whitehead cement his status as an NBA draft pick, with Carrington joking that his favorite moment of the run was his head coach rolling on the floor in front of the Pirates' bench after one of Whitehead's incredible shots.

But the sentiment was that there is no way that they will rest on their laurels. In fact, it's quite the opposite....

2. Chip On The Ol' Shoulder

Delgado was perhaps the most-outspoken of the group at media day, and he talked about how the Pirates, who lived off of proving doubters wrong both in 2014-15 and last year (they were picked seventh in the league's preseason poll heading into 2015-16), are still looking to do that. With the uber-talented Whitehead now plying his trade for the Brooklyn Nets and locker room presence and super perimeter defender Derrick Gordon no longer in blue and white, Seton Hall is looking to prove to everyone that last year wasn't a flash in the pan in terms of consistently competing at the top of the conference, that they still have the talent and firepower to challenge the Villanovas and Xaviers of the world for Big East bragging rights. 

After watching how the Hall relished so much in their relative underdog role all season long, how it turned an already competitive inner fire into a raging blaze by the time they won it all at MSG, I have little reason to doubt that, barring injury, this is a unit that can make another March run at the World's Most-Famous Arena. To do that, their first order of business is...

3. Follow the Leader(s)

For all that Whitehead and Gordon did on the floor for Seton Hall last year, their leadership was really key in the success of the team. Both players led by example and at times put the team on their backs and willed them to victory. I asked both the players and Kevin Willard about the leadership void, and both echoed that at the moment, there isn't one leader, but several. Willard said that the guys were "all holding each other accountable," led of course by the now-juniors that make up the core of the team. Perhaps a singular leader will emerge, but the Pirates right now are clearly aware of the situation and are already embracing the task at hand.

4. Moneyball

You can't replace what Isaiah Whitehead did on the floor - but just like Brad Pitt as Billy Beane in "Moneyball," the Pirates will try and re-create him in the aggregate. Willard mentioned that what the Pirates need to do in terms of production is "have everyone step up just a little more." Incremental increases in scoring that will come naturally from the fact that everyone will have more shots to go around will help that. While the players opined that this year's team could be better than last year's team, that's not entirely true on paper, but it does speak to a brimming confidence in the locker room that I sensed (Willard, being Willard, when asked about his players' statements, looked down at his coffee cup and joked "Is there Baileys in this?"). 

Willard went on to confirm the confidence theory by stating that this year's team is "more advanced" than they were at this time last year in terms of sheer X's and O's- they have a ton more plays that have been understood and implemented, which is a plus because with the subtraction of Whitehead, you won't see the same offense that Seton Hall ran last year. Now, it's all about translating that onto the floor.

5. Predictions

Seton Hall tied with Georgetown in the preseason poll for fourth place behind basically-unanimous perennial favorite Villanova, Xavier and Creighton. There's a lot to like about this Seton Hall team (lots of buzz was given by both players and Willard to newcomers Madison Jones and Jevon Thomas, the latter of whom will sit out the first semester and was compared defensively to former Pirates perimeter pitbull Paul Gause), and a lot that needs to be proven. But with a now-veteran core and that perennial chip-on-the-shoulder that the players that make up that core possess, don't be surprised to see Seton Hall out-perform that preseason ranking.

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