Tuesday, May 1, 2018

5 Thoughts: Seton Hall offseason notebook

Kevin Willard prepares for life without his senior class as Seton Hall heads into 2018-19 with a mix of veterans, transfers and incoming freshmen. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

The offseason is now a month old as we head into May and a pivotal recruiting period, and for Seton Hall, the infancy of life without Khadeen Carrington, Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez and Ismael Sanogo has taken root in and around South Orange. The quartet of Pirate seniors will graduate in the coming weeks and move on to professional careers shortly thereafter, but what about the program the four leave behind? Here's a refresher on what has gone on inside The Hall since the final nets were cut at the beginning of April:

1) The beginning of the next chapter.
Carrington, Delgado and Rodriguez were all invited to Virginia for the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, a premier showcase for some of the nation's best seniors. The uptick in competition did little to hinder the abilities of the Pirate trio, as Carrington helped lead K&D Rounds Landscaping to an appearance in the tournament championship game, while Delgado was at his usual dominant best for Portsmouth Sports Club, racking up 24 points and 23 rebounds -- ironically, his stat line from his collegiate finale in the NCAA Tournament against Kansas -- over two games. However, it was Rodriguez -- Seton Hall's leading scorer this past season -- who arguably helped himself the most, making the all-tournament team while scoring 53 points in three games for Roger Brown's Restaurant.

"Portsmouth was great," Rodriguez told Adam Zagoria shortly after the tournament concluded and after he met with several NBA scouts. "It was a very exciting experience for me. I was able to sit down in front of a few teams and talk. There's a lot of interest from teams who my coach and agent talked to, and who said good things about me. I was just happy I was able to compete."

Michael Nzei's return gives Seton Hall invaluable experience at power forward spot in wake of Angel Delgado's graduation. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

2) Mike's On...he's ready to go.
Mike Francesa makes his return to the WFAN airwaves Tuesday afternoon, culminating a retirement that lasted all of four-and-a-half months, but the Mike in the minds of Pirate fans is Michael Nzei, who has decided to return to South Orange as a fifth-year senior, putting to rest any speculation that he would leave as a graduate transfer.

The Asbury Park Press' Jerry Carino broke news of Nzei's return in April after he was informed by head coach Kevin Willard that the Nigerian forward -- whose high grade point average enabled him to land and excel in a financial internship last summer -- had no intention of transferring out of the program. 

With Delgado no longer in the picture, Nzei's veteran leadership and stability carries a greater price tag for the Pirates next season, as he will likely pair with Taurean Thompson down low after the former Syracuse recruit regains his eligibility one year removed from sitting out. Romaro Gill, the 7-foot-2 junior college transfer who redshirted last season, also figures to play a role in the Seton Hall front line alongside soon-to-be sophomore Sandro Mamukelashvili. Those four, plus incoming freshman Darnell Brodie and perhaps Valdir Manuel as well, will form a corps of big men with battle-tested experience and upside that should keep the Pirates in contention during Big East Conference play.

3) Goodbye, Farewell, Amen.
While the frontcourt has begun to take shape, the backcourt is in a greater state of retooling after it was announced that both walk-on Philip Flory and backup point guard Eron Gordon will transfer, both of whom declaring their plans within a week of one another.

Flory, the walk-on whose 17 minutes against St. John's with Rodriguez injured and Myles Cale in foul trouble arguably won a pivotal late February game for Seton Hall, reportedly decided to leave in order to transfer closer to home and earn more playing time. CBS Sports college basketball insider Jon Rothstein was first to report the departure, which was later confirmed by former Pirate Sports Network and current Big East Digital Network correspondent John Fanta, who added that Flory is immediately eligible wherever he lands.

Gordon announced his transfer via his Twitter account on Monday afternoon, and in the case of the Indiana native and younger brother of Houston Rockets guard Eric Gordon, he is also seeking an increase in playing time. Willard's recruiting of Anthony Nelson and Jared Rhoden -- both of whom signed national letters of intent during the November signing period -- plus the development and maturation of freshman Jordan Walker, may have also been contributing factors, not to mention Quincy McKnight regaining his eligibility following his transfer from Sacred Heart.

Currently, the Seton Hall depth chart is as follows:
Guards: Quincy McKnight, Myles Powell, Myles Cale, Jordan Walker, Anthony Nelson, Jared Rhoden, Shavar Reynolds (walk-on)
Forwards: Michael Nzei, Taurean Thompson, Sandro Mamukelashvili, Romaro Gill, Darnell Brodie
Potential Newcomers: Valdir Manuel (verbal commitment, has not yet signed NLI)

4) The new kid in town.
Tony Skinn, remembered most for his role on George Mason's Final Four team in 2006 and most recently an assistant on staff at Louisiana Tech, was tapped by Willard to fill the spot vacated by Shaheen Holloway, Willard's long-time right-hand man and top assistant who replaced former Pirate assistant John Dunne as the head coach at Saint Peter's on April 12.

Skinn, 35, will be tasked with developing the Seton Hall guards in much the same vein as Holloway did for his eight years on staff at his alma mater, and is eager to add to the growth of his new group of players on and off the court, as noted by Jerry Carino shortly after the hire became public.

5) Three big non-conference games.
The non-conference schedule continues to be a work in progress, but the Pirates reportedly have three Saturday contests in December that will join an appearance in the Wooden Legacy tournament over the Thanksgiving weekend to form a typically formidable non-league schedule, something Willard has made a point to include as Seton Hall rounds into form heading into the Big East slate.

The Pirates will welcome Louisville and new head coach Chris Mack -- who fans have not forgotten from his time at Xavier -- to Newark on December 1 for the back end of a home-and-home series that Seton Hall won the opening game in last December, defeating the Cardinals on the road behind a then-career-high 29 points from Rodriguez, who also hit the game-winning basket. One week later, The Hall will make the short jaunt to Madison Square Garden, which has become a secondary home court of sorts, to face Kentucky on December 8 in a minor scheduling coup for Willard, who was able to get John Calipari and the Wildcats to come to the Big Apple as opposed to traveling to Rupp Arena as Monmouth will to fulfill the back end of a two-year agreement next season. Finally, the Garden State Hardwood Classic has been extended through 2026, a development reported by Carino Monday morning. Although a date for the annual in-state showdown with Rutgers has not been etched in stone, December 15 has been mentioned as a target for the latest installment of a rivalry that the Scarlet Knights claimed victory in last December for the first time since leaving the Big East at the conclusion of the 2012-13 season.

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