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2019-20 Big East Basketball Summer Check-In: Seton Hall Pirates

Are the Pirates actually title favorites this winter?

Big East Tournament - Semifinals

Team: Seton Hall Pirates

2018-19 Record: 20-14, 9-9 Big East

2018-19 Big East Finish: Four-way tie for third place; earned the #3 seed in the conference tournament by way of tiebreakers

Final 2018-19 KenPom Ranking: #60

Postseason? Earned a #10 seed in the NCAA tournament and gave up a 17-0 run in the final five minutes against #7 seed Wofford to lose, 84-68

Key Departures: Michael Nzei was the only senior on the roster, averaging 9.0 points and 5.2 rebounds while starting 30 of 34 games. That’s it.

Key Returners: If you can name someone on Seton Hall’s roster from last year, they’re coming back. The big names are Myles Powell and Myles Cale, as they were the only two guys averaging over 10 points per game. You might specifically remember Myles Powell from clobbering Sacar Anim with an elbow and then starting a fight with Theo John over nothing in the Big East tournament and somehow avoiding ejection. Sandro Mamukelashvili earns mention here, because his 8.9 points and 7.8 rebounds per game is no joke.

Key Additions: The Pirates add two freshmen, both of whom are sub-150 ranked recruits according to 247 Sports. That’s fine, given the state of the rest of the roster. 7’1” center Ike Obiagu has completed his NCAA-mandated redshirt season after transferring from Florida State after one season. He didn’t play a ton, averaging 10.4 minutes while appearing in 34 games with 14 starts. His 2.3 points and 2.6 rebounds weren’t anything to write home about, but 2.1 blocks per game is pretty impressive given his limited minutes. It equates to a block rate of 21.9% per KenPom, and for comparison’s sake, Theo John was one of the 20 best shot blockers in the country with qualifying minutes at 11.1%.

Coach: Kevin Willard, entering his 10th season at Seton Hall and 13th season overall. He has a record of 169-126 with the Pirates and 214-175 overall.

Outlook: Thematically, 2019-20 Seton Hall is 2018-19 Marquette, and arguably, a better version of that theme. Just like the Golden Eagles were for last season, Seton Hall is the team that is staying mostly the same going from one season to the next while a major section of the rest of the conference experiences fairly significant roster turnover.

Marquette lost Andrew Rowsey heading into last season, and I’d wager it’s safe to say that Rowsey was an overall bigger component for the Golden Eagles roster than Michael Nzei was for the Pirates last season. This isn’t a knock on Nzei in the slightest, but Kevin Willard figuring out a way to replace Nzei’s nine points and five rebounds per game as well as his presence on the defensive end should be relatively simple.

It’s definitely a lot easier than figuring out how to replace Myles Powell, a task that the Pirates avoided when Powell removed his name from the NBA Draft. For all of the gripes and grudges that we as Marquette fans currently hold against Powell, the fact of the matter is that heading into the season, Markus Howard has significant competition from Powell for Big East Player of the Year. He averaged 23 points, four rebounds, and three assists last season, while shooting 36% from long range on nearly nine attempts per game. As Powell goes, so do the Pirates. If they think of themselves as title contenders in the Big East in 2019-20 — and they should — then a heavy responsibility for pushing them there will rest on Powell.

With all of that said, there are questions that linger about the Pirates in terms of their attempt to claim the conference crown. Yes, in theory, if they stay essentially the same while everyone else reorganizes to one degree or another, this should mean good things for them. This is still mostly the same Seton Hall roster that lost to Saint Louis at home. It’s still mostly the same roster that got swept by DePaul. They opened up Big East play 3-5, which included a schedule opening win over St. John’s that the Big East admitted that the referees mishandled the final seconds of regulation to give Shavar Reynolds a chance to win it for the Pirates. A late three game slide in league play put them in position where they had to beat Marquette and Villanova back-to-back at home to close the season in order to 1) finish at 9-9 and 2) keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive.

Yeah, they did it, and more power to the Pirates for pulling it off. But there’s very little about how the other 28 games of the season that would have made you 100% confident that they could accomplish this.

That’s also the story of the last four seasons of Kevin Willard basketball in South Orange, though.

2016 — suffered losses to Long Beach State and George Washington, started out league play 3-4...... finished 12-6 and won the Big East tournament

2017 — started out Big East play 3-6, finished up at 10-8

2018 — suffered a horrible collapse to lose at Rutgers, started out Big East play 6-3 only to fall to 6-7 before finishing 10-8

You’d like to think that it wouldn’t happen again. Not with a cohesive core returning, not with most of the rest of the league having big questions to answer.

But it’s Seton Hall and it’s Kevin Willard. Part of me just can’t help but wonder if 2019-20 is just going to be more of the same from the Pirates.