Team: Seton Hall Pirates
2021-22 Record: 21-11, 11-8 Big East
2021-22 Big East Finish: Tied with Marquette for fifth, but lost a tiebreaker because the Golden Eagles swept the season series.
Final 2021-22 KenPom.com Ranking: #52
Postseason? After barely squeaking past 0-19 Georgetown in the opening round of the Big East tournament, Seton Hall gave up a 12-2 run in the first 10 minutes to Connecticut and never had a chance the rest of the way in the quarterfinals. After that, they gave up a 12-1 run and a 17-3 run to TCU on the way to a 69-42 loss as the #8 seed in the NCAA tournament. Not the kind of ending to a campaign you want when you won your final five regular season games to lock in that tourney bid, that’s for sure.
Key Departures: While there are a total of 10 players on last year’s roster that are not on this coming year’s roster, only four of them had rotation spots last year for the Pirates. The most notable one is Jared Rhoden, who capped off his SHU career with a team high 15.5 points per game to go with 6.7 rebounds, 1.2 assists and 1.2 steals. There’s also Myles Cale, who started nearly every game he played in for the Pirates over the past four seasons. They’re going to lose out on his 9.8 points, 2.1 rebounds, and 2.7 assists a night. Ike Obiagu never turned into much of a scorer in the post for Seton Hall, but he was a wildly effective rebounder, especially on the offensive glass. Over the past two seasons, Obiagu was one of the best shot blockers in the country, averaging three per game and ranking in the top five in the country in block rate per KenPom.com in both campaigns.
The last notable name is Bryce Aiken, who was the only other player on the roster last season not named Jared Rhoden to average more than 10 points a game. He was at 14.5 a night and added 2.1 rebounds and 2.7 assists as well. However, Aiken’s injury-prone status reared its ugly head on him again this past year after he suffered a concussion headbutting Greg Elliott’s arm in mid-January and would not play again for Seton Hall.
The biggest actual departure from the team is head coach Kevin Willard saying “we’ve gone about as far as we can go” to Seton Hall and packing up for Maryland before the engine even cooled off on the bus that brought the team back from the airport after they were eliminated from the NCAA tournament. In fairness to Willard bolting out of town within three days of the season ending, Maryland’s job had been sitting open for months and literally anyone with a pulse and an interest in college basketball thought the Terps were going to hire him.
If you go by consistent NCAA tournament appearances, Willard was the most successful coach in Seton Hall history. He took them to back-to-back NCAA tourneys for the first time since 1993-94 and became the second coach in program history to ever take the Pirates to four straight NCAA tournaments and if not for the cancelation of the 2020 tournament, Willard would have been the first Seton Hall coach to get a team to five straight tourney fields.
Key Returners: Seton Hall returns just five guys total, but they all played a rotation role at the very least last season, so that’s pretty good. Kadary Richmond is, by default, the top returning guy. He’s the leading returning scorer at 8.8 points per game, but he also led the team in assists a year ago at 4.1 a night. That’s a pretty good starting point for assembling, or reassembling as it were, a roster. Richmond had a top 50 assist rate per KenPom last season, and was 2nd best in Big East play. If he can get his turnovers under control (24%, which is a yuck), then you could feel safe expecting big things from him.
If you sort SHU by points per game, they return their 4th through 8th scorers from last season. Alexis Yetna is behind Richmond at 8.1 a night, and his team high 7.6 rebounds per game undersells the fact that he just barely missed ranking in the top 100 in rate on both ends of the court in 21-22. Jamir Harris was one of three guys to appear in all 32 games last season, although all but three of those were bench appearances for him. Still, 22.7 minutes of burn on average is proof he’s a useful dude even if 7.9 points and 1.1 rebounds aren’t lighting the world on fire. Tyrese Samuel had a little bit bigger impact at 7.3 points but 4.2 rebounds per game in 29 appearances. Finally, there’s Tray Jackson, who joins Harris and Richardson as the trio to appear in every game. 6.8 points and 3.5 rebounds while shooting nearly 40% from behind the stripe is a perfectly functional 18 minutes a night in the Big East guy, so he’s got that going for him, which is nice.
Key Additions: Let’s deal with the freshmen first, if for no other reason than to get them out of the way. The Pirates have three fresh out of high school players on their roster this season, and according to 247 Sports, forward Tae Davis (6’9”, 204 lb.) is the most notable one at #148 in the Composite rankings. That’s just barely inside our cutoff of “You don’t see a lot of freshmen outside the top 150 contributing in the Big East, y’know?” Davis is the only one to commit to Seton Hall after the coaching change, so that’s worth keeping an eye on as the season goes along.
Onwards to the transfers, and there are five of them to help paper over the losses from last year’s roster. The most notable one is also the only one of the five who will be on his final year of eligibility this season, and that’s KC Ndefo. The 6’7”, 206 pound forward averaged 10.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, and 2.4 assists a year ago for Saint Peter’s as the Peacocks won the MAAC tournament and became the first #15 seed to advance to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. Ndefo’s most notable contribution to the Peacocks was actually his defense, averaging 1.2 steals and 2.6 blocks in his 118 game career, and he was top 10 in the country in block rate per KenPom.com last season. That’s awesome..... but it’s reasonable to ask whether or not that he was able to do that because he was in the MAAC and if it’s repeatable in the Big East.
The other four guys may or may not be with the Pirates past this season, but they do have the eligibility to do that if they want. None of them are particularly notable stat monsters from the programs they started their careers at, so it’s going to be interesting to see how they fit together on a roster that doesn’t have an immediately obvious “go get us a bucket” guy. Al-Amir Dawes (6’2”, 180 lbs.) has spent three years at Clemson, and averaged 9.9 points and 2.6 rebounds per game in 88 appearances for the Tigers. Abdou Ndiaye (6’9”, 200 lbs.) appeared in 77 games in three seasons at Illinois State, but chipped in just 2.2 points and 2.6 rebounds in his 11.8 minutes per game on average..... and played a career low 9.5 minutes a night this past season for the Huskies.
Those two guys could end up wrapping up their collegiate careers after this season, since that would be four years for them. Dre Davis (6’6”, 212 lbs.) and Femi Odukale (6’6”, 205 lbs.) have each spent two years at their first stops, so they are presumably going to be multi-year SHU players. Davis was at Louisville for the past two seasons, and gave them 7.4 points and 3.1 rebounds while starting in 40 of his 50 appearances. Odukale was a little bit better in the ACC than Davis was, as he has averages of 9.1 points, 3.1 rebounds, and 2.9 assists in 53 games for Pitt.
Of the five transfers, only Dawes (37.2%) is a notable plus-level shooter behind the three-point line. Odukale is almost there at 33.0% in his career, but no one else is north of 27%. That seems like a problem, but maybe the coaching staff has a solution to fix everyone’s shooting.
Speaking of the coaching staff, that brings us to the most notable key addition of all for the Pirates......
Head Coach: Shaheen Holloway takes the reins in South Orange after four years as the head coach at Saint Peter’s. After his pro career wrapped up in 2007, Kevin Willard brought him in as an assistant at Iona and then Holloway followed him when Willard took the SHU job. He stayed there until 2018 when he took the SPU top job for his first ever head coaching job. He has a record of 64-57 as a head coach with a 44-32 mark in MAAC play with the Peacocks, and considering he went 10-22 in his first year and 6-12 in the league, that’s actually really good.
Outlook: I think that Seton Hall is my biggest blind spot team this season.
I’ve never been a gigantic fan of Kevin Willard’s entire deal, mostly because .... well, Seton Hall was just there as a team under his direction. It took him until his sixth season to get the car on the road with a winning record in league play, and then he was good for somewhere between nine and 13 wins and if he was lucky, that means a plus-side seed in the NCAA tournament. But this was the longest extended successful run of Seton Hall basketball since PJ Carlisemo was on the sideline, so that has to count for something.
But now Willard is gone, as are the top four rotation guys. Returning are a bunch of rotation piece guys, which is never a bad thing to have, but is also nothing that inspires a ton of faith of excitement. Replacing the departed guys are Shaheen Holloway, a Willard disciple after serving as his assistant at two different stops including Seton Hall, and a group of transfers that would qualify under the banner of “Guys” in the Guys/Dudes/MFers continuum. We’ll dig into Holloway a little bit more in a second, but there’s nothing in the group of new faces that makes you jump out of your seat in excitement, either.
But then again, that’s been Seton Hall basketball in a nutshell for the past seven seasons: Perfectly competent basketball, but nothing that makes you go “oh, dang, look at everything those guys are accomplishing.” So maybe looking at the whole deal and saying “yeah, and?” is actually par for the course and that’s somehow good news for the Pirates.
Given the lack of anyone on this roster who has a single solitary chance of being named to the preseason all-conference team, I don’t think I’m stepping out onto a limb to say that any kind of success that Seton Hall has this season is going to come as a result of Shaheen Holloway’s direction. I want to make this perfectly clear: I am not banging on Seton Hall hiring him, and I think it’s easily safe to say that he and the Pirates won’t be anywhere near the worst team coached by an alumnus this season.
However, just as much as Kevin Willard’s destination of Maryland seemed determined the second that Mark Turgeon stepped down, it seemed that Holloway was the lock it in guarantee to replace Willard..... and that was before the Peacocks won 10 straight games to jump ever so briefly into the KenPom top 100 before their Elite Eight loss knocked them down to #102 to end the season. This is my point: On the morning of February 25th, Saint Peter’s was 10-6 in MAAC play and #171 in the KenPom rankings. This already would have made them the best SPU team that Holloway had coached, since they finished his first three campaigns at #316, #194, and #222, and it was pretty much already written in the stars that Holloway would be in South Orange at the start of the 2022-23 season instead of in Jersey City.
Holloway didn’t suddenly become a great basketball coach because the Peacocks played like a top 35 team for a month. He was the same coach that coached them into being a barely top 180 team for three months, and that’s kind of what they always were in his first three seasons, too.
The question is whether that means he can coach this collection of guys he has right now into being a top 50 team and in the direction of the NCAA tournament. The answer I have right now is “I have absolutely no idea, and neither do you, and neither does anyone else who’s trying to tell you how these things are going to go.” If you want be optimistic about the Pirates, there’s reasons why you can be. For me, honestly, it’s because Kevin Willard’s not the coach any more. But there’s also reasons to look at it the entire venture and say “I don’t know if this is going to work, at least not this season.”