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2021-22 Big East Basketball Summer Check-In: Seton Hall Pirates

The Pirates have lost their Big East POY forward and their starting point guard.... and might be better off than some teams in the conference?

Xavier v Seton Hall Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Team: Seton Hall Pirates

2020-21 Record: 14-13, 10-9 Big East

2020-21 Big East Finish: Tied for fourth with St. John’s, but ended up with the #5 seed in the conference tournament because they were swept by Villanova in the season series.

Final 2020-21 KenPom Ranking: #54

Postseason? Nope, but that’s the kind of thing that happens when you lose five of your final six games.

Key Departures: It’s never a good thing to lose a Big East Player of the Year, and that’s where Seton Hall is. Sandro Mamukelashvili was one of the three gentlemen who tied for top honors in the league at the end of last season, and for good reason. The 6’11” Georgian led the Pirates in scoring and rebounding in 2020-21 at 17.5 and 7.6 per game respectively, and his 3.2 assists per contest weren’t exactly holding him back. Because he was asked to do a lot more on offense as a senior, Mamukelashvili’s three-point shooting took a dip in accuracy, but when you’re 6’11” and can move like he can, shooting “only” 34% is more than acceptable.

The Pirates lose a second starter from last year’s team in Shavar Reynolds as well. In his first season as a starter and first as a true key part of SHU’s game plan, Reynolds averaged 7.7 points, 2.6 rebounds, and a team high 4.2 assists per game along with nearly two steals, too. On a team full of guys who couldn’t hit a shot (32% from long range as a team), Reynolds was a bright spot at just barely under 38% on threes for the year, but now he’s at Monmouth for a COVID-bonus season.

Takal Molson is the only other rotation player from last year no longer on the roster for Seton Hall. He came off the bench in all but one of his 27 appearances for the Pirates last season as a junior but averaged just short of playing half the game. His 5.3 points and 2.9 rebounds per game aren’t particularly outstanding, especially after the 15/5/2 he averaged in two years at Canisius, but perhaps that’s why he’s at James Madison now.

Key Returners: With just two starters gone, there are obviously three returning. Jared Rhoden and Myles Cale are the co-headliners there with both men averaging over 11 points per game last season. Rhoden was just short of 15 points per game and chipped in a whopping 6.7 rebounds per game as well to challenge Mamukelashvili for the team lead. Cale was good for 3.6 rebounds per game and a steal a night as well. Rhoden did more scoring, but Cale was the better long range shooter, beating out Rhoden 37% to just 30% from behind the arc.

Ike Obiagu is the third returning starter, and his impact on the court can largely be reduced to “is 7’2” tall.” 4.9 points is fine-adjacent, and 4.5 rebounds per game is actually pretty good for a guy only playing 22 minutes a night. The 7’2” thing really came into effect in the defensive department as the big Nigerian swatted 2.9 shots per game and altered who knows how many more merely by existing. At the end of the day, if you rank #4 in block rate per, you’re doing your job right.

Questions abound for Bryce Aiken, who was limited to just 14 games last season. He was an all-Ivy League performer when healthy at Harvard before transferring to South Orange, but the key phrase there is “when healthy.” His knee injury from his Crimson days popped back up, and he added ankle issues and a head injury (that’s usually code for concussion) that ended his season. When in the lineup, he averaged 14 minutes per game and added 5.7 points and 1.5 assists per game. Those numbers probably inch upwards a little bit if you wipe out the three games where he played single digit minutes, two of which proceeded missing games the next time out.

That leaves Tyrese Samuel as the only notable returning Pirates player that we haven’t discussed. He showed that the SHU coaching staff is increasing their trust in him as his minutes went up from freshman to sophomore year. The 6’10” Montreal native came off the bench in all 27 games that Seton Hall played last year, contributing 5.4 points and 3.3 rebounds in 17 minutes of run on average.

Key Additions: With three incoming freshmen, Seton Hall has the #29 recruiting class in the country according to 247 Sports, but unfortunately for them, that’s only sixth best in the Big East. Brandon Weston (6’5”, 195 lbs.) is the top prospect in the class, coming in at #80 in the country. Tyler Powell (6’5”, 120 lbs.) (yes, Seton Hall has another Powell on the roster now, try to contain your emotions, people) is definitely worth mentioning here as he qualifies as a top 150 prospect at #131. We’ll even include Ryan Conway (6’1”, 160 lbs.) because the difference between #150 (an arbitrary cut off point) and #154 (where Conway is ranked) isn’t really that much.

If you’re looking for a newcomer who will have an immediate impact on the Pirates, look no further than grad transfer Jamir Harris as your top candidate. The 6’2” guard from New Jersey averaged 20.5 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 3.5 assists a year ago at American, earning all-Patriot League honors along the way. Harris is a career 40% three-point shooter who hit nearly 44% of his attempts in 2020-21 while attempting nearly nine tries per game.

Joining Harris in the transfer department are Kadary Richmond (6’6”, 200 lbs.) and Alexis Yetna (6’8”, 225 lbs.). Richmond spent last season as a freshman at Syracuse. The Brooklyn native and Brewster Academy product earned regular minutes for the Orange, playing over 21 minutes per game. His production was kind of limited, but averaging 6.3 points, 2.6 rebounds, and 3.1 assists per game as a freshman in the ACC is pretty good, particularly in a place where you have to earn your minutes by being able to play in the 2-3 zone defense. Yetna has had a checkered past at South Florida, missing one season for eligibility reasons and another due to injury. When available, he was great for the Bulls, averaging 11.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per game in 52 career appearances. I think it’s notable that he was able to log heavy minutes at his size, averaging just a tad shy of 30 minutes a game, and he also hit 35% of his three-point attempts, too.

Coach: Kevin Willard, in his 12th season at Seton Hall and 15th overall as a Division 1 head coach. He has a record of 205-149 (94-105 Big East) with the Pirates and 250-197 overall.

Outlook: Can we start this thing off by talking about Shavar Reynolds leaving Seton Hall for a minute? That’s legitimately surprising and veering off in to shocking. Reynolds began his Pirates career as an unrecruited walk-on, and played about as much as you’d expect for a a guy like that. He was planning on leaving Seton Hall because he wasn’t comfortable paying for tuition any more, but Kevin Willard liked him so much that he elevated him to scholarship player AND started giving him regular minutes. He played in all but three games as a sophomore and even started once against Georgetown late in the season. That turned into a core rotation job as a junior, and then he started every single game this past season and led the team in assists and steals per game. As an outsider, it clearly looks like he would have had a big role to play with the Pirates as they absorb the loss of Sandro Mamukelashvili to the NBA Draft, but instead he opted to head to Monmouth for his bonus year of eligibility.

But here’s this from Jerry Carino in the Asbury Park Press:

As a senior this past winter, Reynolds was forced to take on a larger role than expected when presumptive starting point guard Bryce Aiken was beset by injuries. Afterward he met with Willard and decided to play out his final season elsewhere. Seton Hall’s roster is undergoing a transformation, with younger players and newcomers slotted for big roles in the backcourt, and Reynolds’ playing time would have been drastically reduced if he remained on the roster in 2021-22.

I’m sorry, what?

Seton Hall’s backcourt candidates in 2021-22:

  • Myles Cale, returning starter
  • Bryce Aiken, has not played more than seven consecutive games since the end of the 2018-19 season
  • Jahari Long, a sub-255 prospect in 2020 that couldn’t take Reynolds’ minutes last year
  • Jamir Harris, up-transferring from the Patriot League, was unremarkable at Minnesota and A Guy in his sophomore year at American, wasn’t announced as signed until early April
  • Kadary Richmond, was fine in one year at Syracuse, wasn’t announced as signed until mid-April
  • Brandon Weston, Tyler Powell, and Ryan Conway, all of whom are freshman and are thus still kind of question marks in terms of whether they could start and play over 70% of Seton Hall’s minutes like Reynolds did,. If we’re being honest, Weston and Powell are both listed on SHU’s official roster as guard/forwards and thus probably aren’t great candidates to be playing Reynolds’ point guard minutes

Am I missing something here? I get that Willard might have been able to have conversations with Reynolds that were a bit more informed as to the transfer status of Harris and Richmond than what I’m reading off press release dates..... but I’m not seeing anyone that’s clearly and obviously a better option than one final year of Shavar Reynolds here. I mean, sure, Cale, but they played together last season, so that hardly counts. Heck, Carino’s article that I pulled that line from says that Cale was expected to take his extra year elsewhere as well! If anything, at least at the time, you’d think that losing Cale would be an argument to want to keep Reynolds around for continuity!

But instead, Kevin Willard has opted to create more work for himself, and given how last year ended, that’s definitely an interesting choice.

On the morning of February 20th, Seton Hall was 13-8 overall and 10-5 in Big East play. They were about to close the regular season with four games, admittedly three on the road, against teams that they had already beaten once earlier in the season. Their hardest game, Connecticut, would be the lone home game on the schedule. It wouldn’t be simple, sure, but the Pirates looked to be directly on track for a fifth consecutive NCAA tournament bid, and if you give them credit for the #3 seed that they were projected as by when the 2020 tourney was dumped, that would be six straight tourney capable teams.

And then they lost their final four games of the season, including an absolute stinkbomb of a loss at Hinkle Fieldhouse to a bad Butler team. The final margin there was nine but Seton Hall was down 16, 61-45, with two minutes to go. They recovered to win their first game of the Big East tournament, downing a St. John’s team that they had lost to by 10 just five days earlier in overtime, but the next round was a disaster. SHU scored with about two minutes left to tie the game at 57 and then lost to Georgetown by 8, 66-58.

No NCAA tournament for the first time since 2015 for Seton Hall. No NIT appearance either, and I’d wager that the Butler and Georgetown losses had something to do with that if not just the reduced size of the field.

I don’t want to say that expecting things to be better in 2021-22 is out of the picture for Seton Hall, but, uh, it’s definitely looking like that. Miss the NCAA tournament and lose your Best Guy In The Big East caliber power forward to the NBA Draft and a solid rotation guy and you shove your starting point guard out the door with no real obvious great plan to replace him.... and to think things will get better? Yeah, I don’t see it.

Sure, maybe Jared Rhoden can take a step up and be The Man on this team after being Mamu’s second banana last year, and maybe Cale can get a bit better, too. Maybe Ike Obiagu can start playing longer minutes to give the defense a bit more to rely on after finishing seventh in the Big East in efficiency per last year. Maybe Aiken plays a full season for the first time since 2017 and that solves the point guard issue. Maybe Harris and Richmond and Yetna all play big important minutes in the rotation.

Maybe maybe maybe. I’m saying that a lot this year for a lot of teams. Maybe Seton Hall answers just enough of their questions that they look better than some of the teams in the league with much bigger questions, and things do actually end up better than last year.