Saturday, August 11, 2018

Breaking down Seton Hall's non-conference schedule, Part II

With Seton Hall's senior class having graduated, Myles Powell now moves to forefront as Pirates' leader heading into his junior season. (Photo by Bob Dea/Daly Dose Of Hoops)

Over the course of his first eight years at Seton Hall, Kevin Willard has evolved in many ways, one of which being his tendency to tackle adversity head on in the form of the non-conference schedules he and his staff have been charged with putting together since assuming the reins in South Orange prior to the 2010-11 season.

Willard's latest project, a 12-game slate in which the Pirates will face as many as seven teams whose 2017-18 campaigns ended in postseason appearances, fits right in with his desire to test his young pupils before the rigors of Big East Conference play take up the second half of the year. In fact, this particular ledger -- compiled in the wake of losing four-year stalwarts Khadeen Carrington, Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez and Ismael Sanogo to graduation in May -- may just be the stiffest test The Hall has yet faced under its current head coach's watchful eye, all things considered.

On Thursday, we previewed the November portion of the Seton Hall schedule, offering further insight on the teams taking the floor against the Pirates. The second half of our two-part series continues on with a look at each team taking on Willard's group in the month of December, along with some players and noteworthy nuggets to pay attention to:

Louisville: Saturday, December 1 - Prudential Center
The second half of a two-year agreement between the Pirates and one of their former Big East adversaries began last season, when Desi Rodriguez gave The Hall a pivotal road win in the final seconds against a Louisville team still reeling from the loss of head coach Rick Pitino before the season in the wake of the FBI investigation into corruption and illicit payments related to the recruitment of Brian Bowen. The Cardinals have since undergone a more extreme makeover, deciding to move on from interim coach David Padgett in favor of Chris Mack, the former Xavier head coach who casual fans will notice bears a striking resemblance to both Willard and ESPN's Sean McDonough. Back on the hardwood, though, Mack will have an NCAA Tournament-caliber team ready to compete in Louisville despite its immense youth. With four starters gone, junior wing Jordan King and burgeoning sophomore Jordan Nwora will be featured heavily in an offense where 6-foot-11 big man Malik Williams could be a matchup problem for Seton Hall if Michael Nzei and Taurean Thompson encounter early foul trouble. The inexperience on Louisville's roster has been supplemented in the form of three high-major transfers, as redshirt junior Steven Enoch is eligible again after leaving UConn, while graduate transfers Akoy Agau (SMU) and Khwan Fore (Richmond) will be able to step right in and assert themselves on a team that could inflict its fair share of damage in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

New Hampshire: Tuesday, December 4 - Prudential Center
The Wildcats will make the trip down to New Jersey as a younger unit than what head coach Bill Herrion had been accustomed to over the past several years. Gone is all-America East forward Tanner Leissner, whose offensive numbers will be incredibly difficult to replace right away, as is his front line teammate, Iba Camara. Guards Josh Hopkins and Jordan Reed will be the primary options for UNH, as will sophomore Elijah Jordan.

Kentucky: Saturday, December 8 - Madison Square Garden
In what has become an annual tradition of sorts, Seton Hall will once again attract a quality high-major opponent to what has become its second home court, with John Calipari and Kentucky being the catch this time around. As always, the retooling in Lexington has dominated the offseason, with a quartet of highly-touted freshmen in Ashton Hagans, Tyler Herro, Keldon Johnson and Immanuel Quickley expected to become household names early and often alongside an experienced core returning for Calipari. Quade Green, Nick Richards and P.J. Washington are all back for their sophomore seasons to form another Wildcat team with national championship potential, but the biggest addition may be the one with the most experience, that being fifth-year senior Reid Travis, a graduate transfer from Stanford.

Rutgers: Saturday, December 15 - Prudential Center
The Pirates host their bitter in-state rival this season as the Garden State Hardwood Classic trophy seeks a return to the South Orange campus after Rutgers won the hardware for the first time last December since its split from the Big East. Corey Sanders, who was the driving force behind an emotional win before a capacity crowd at the RAC last season, has since turned pro while Mike Williams has graduated, leaving Steve Pikiell to trust his offense to sophomore Geo Baker, whose Big Ten Conference tournament performance suggests a nascent star is on the rise on the banks of the old Raritan. Eugene Omoruyi returns for his junior season in a reprisal of the typical Pikiell glue guy role, a player similar to the Ismael Sanogo mold in that his hustle and willingness to do the little things wins out over the numbers prevalent in the box scores. The inroads Rutgers has made in recruiting will pay off this season as well in the debuts of Montez Mathis and Ron Harper, Jr. Pay close attention to Peter Kiss throughout the season, as the Quinnipiac transfer can score and rebound in bunches with a deceptively strong outside shot. He could be a poor man's version of Tommy Brenton, who starred for Pikiell at Stony Brook in the early part of the decade.

Sacred Heart: Wednesday, December 19 - Prudential Center
The second Northeast Conference team on the schedule will come to Newark, and among other things, a subplot to watch here is that of point guard Quincy McKnight against the program he transferred to Seton Hall from. The Pioneers will have a tall task in replacing the likes of Joe Lopez and Mario Matasovic, but head coach Anthony Latina's cupboard is by no means bare. Sophomore E.J. Anosike, a Paramus Catholic product from a basketball family, could be the next dominant big man in the NEC, and will be the face of the program by year's end.
Did You Know? Sacred Heart guard Sean Hoehn has family ties to the Big East, as the senior is the cousin of former Villanova point guard Ryan Arcidiacono, now an NBA player for the Chicago Bulls.

Maryland: Saturday, December 22 - XFINITY Center, College Park, Md.
The front end of a two-year agreement between the Pirates and Terrapins is the final matchup for The Hall before Big East play begins, and it is a pivotal -- and certainly winnable -- matchup heading into the league season. Maryland will be much improved this year after missing out on the postseason last year, and the return of 6-foot-10 sophomore Bruno Fernando may be the biggest reason why. Look for Fernando to hear his number called early and often against the Pirates down low, especially if point guard Anthony Cowan is able to exploit Seton Hall's backcourt. A pair of freshmen should pay immediate dividends for Terps head coach Mark Turgeon, as 6-foot-6 guard Aaron Wiggins and 6-foot-10 Jalen Smith, a forward from Mount St. Joseph High School -- best known for producing former New York Yankee Mark Teixeira -- will see mounds of opportunities throughout the year.

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