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2023-24 Big East Men’s Basketball Summer Check-In: Seton Hall Pirates

The roster has changed significantly, but what, if anything, will be different about Shaheen Holloway’s second Pirates team?

Villanova v Seton Hall
Did you realize that Al-Amir Dawes led Seton Hall in scoring last season?
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Team: Seton Hall Pirates

2022-23 Record: 17-16, 10-10 Big East

2022-23 Big East Finish: Tied for sixth with Villanova, lost the tiebreaker and ended up with the #7 seed in the conference tournament by way of losing the season series 2-0

Final 2022-23 Ranking: #58, down from their preseason ranking of #46

Final 2022-23 T-Rank Ranking: #58, down from their preseason ranking of #55

Postseason? After getting upset by DePaul on the first day of the Big East tournament, Seton Hall qualified for the NIT, went on the road against Colorado, fell behind 27-18, rallied, took the lead with under a minute to play, and then lost anyway.

Key Departures: When you lose your #2 scorer and top rebounder, that’s probably a big deal. That’s Tyrese Samuel, who paced the Pirates with 5.9 rebounds per game and was one of three guys adding double digit points with 11.0 per night. Femi Odukale is gone as well after finishing the year with the second highest minutes per game average. Odukale averaged 7.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.3 assists, and 1.6 steals per game. That’s not star-level type production, but it is a whole lot of very productive minutes. The Pirates will also be without KC Ndefo, which means they’re losing the only three guys who started at least 31 of their 33 games last season, as Samuel and Odukale are the other two. Ndefo was a grad transfer from Saint Peter’s, so it’s not a shock that his 8.4 points and 5.2 rebounds are out the door. Samuel and Odukale have both transferred, so there is a certain amount of surprise there, even though Samuel is a grad transfer.

Jamir Harris played in all 33 games with 12 starts last season in his fifth season of college hoops. His stats aren’t anything particularly interesting, but he was averaging 22.8 minutes per game, and that’s a strong chunk of minutes for a guy mostly coming off the bench. Tae Davis averaged 13.4 minutes a night in his 32 appearances with two starts, but he’s elected to head to Notre Dame after his freshman year in South Orange. Tray Jackson got 14.6 minutes of burn on average, which was down from his junior year, and that probably helps explains his grad transfer to Michigan.

Key Returners: Well, it certainly sounds like Seton Hall was gutted of most of their rotation. The point of this section is to lean into the definition of the word “most” in that last sentence. The good news for them is that top scorer (12.6/game) and leading minutes per game guy Al-Amir Dawes is back for his fifth and final season of eligibility. With that said, I think that if you gave me three tries to name SHU’s top scorer last season, I probably wouldn’t have come up with Dawes.

Kadary Richmond returns as well after leading Seton Hall in assists at 4.1 a night as well as finishing as one of just three guys to average double digits in scoring (Dawes and Samuel are the others) as well as getting the nod as the leading returning rebounder. Given his statistical rankings on the roster, perhaps it’s not a surprise that the Pirates went 1-5 down the stretch after Richmond left a road game against UConn with a back injury and didn’t play again.

Dre Davis is the only returning bench rotation guy. He appeared in 23 games last season with one start, but averaged over 18 minutes a game. He averaged 9.6 points and 3.3 rebounds, which is pretty good stuff for his playing time.

Key Additions: There are two freshmen on the roster, but only one even gets attention from 247 Sports’ recruiting class page. That’s Isaiah Coleman (6’5”, 180 lb, Guard, Fredericksburg, Virginia), who comes in at #113 in the Composite rankings, and it appears that the Pirates defied the odds of the Crystal Ball going 100% towards College of Charleston. Given everything else going on with this roster, I’m not sure how much playing time I’d expect to see from him, but he is a top 120 prospect and those guys tend to be good enough to play at least a little bit.

That moves us along to the four transfers on the roster, and we should probably start this group with Jaden Bediako (6’10”, 245 lb., Center, Brampton, Ontario). He spent the last four years at Santa Clara, so this will be his only year at Seton Hall since it is his COVID bonus season of eligibility. The Broncos had a pretty good season, going 23-10 to finish third in the WCC and even swept Saint Mary’s and beat Gonzaga, both of whom went to the NCAA tournament. Bediako was a starter for all 33 games, but his impact in 22.6 minutes a night was limited: 6.0 points, 4.9 rebounds, 1.1 assists.

The most notable transfer addition in terms of “oh, I know that guy already” level is Dylan Addae-Wusu (6’4”, 230 lb., Guard, Bronx, New York), who makes the relatively local transfer from St. John’s to South Orange. He was a part time starter for the past two years with the Red Storm, and chipped in 9.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.4 assists in 2022-23. Elijah Hutchins-Everett (6’11”, 255 lb., Center, Orange, New Jersey) makes his way back home after two years at Austin Peay. He was productive right out of the gate for the Governors, starting in all but six of his 60 appearances and scoring in double digits in both of his two years there. He even shot the three a little bit, although he’s only a 31.7% career shooter. Sadraque NgaNga (6’10”, 220 lb., Forward, Luanda, Angola) might be the most intriguing of the transfers. He was a freshman at Boise State last year, appearing in just 17 games, mostly in the first half of the season. Nothing about his starts are terrifically interesting — 2.0 points, 1.5 rebounds, although he did shoot 4-for-11 from long range — but I am greatly interested in the fact that Boise State listed NgaNga as a guard last season. Yes, a 6’10”, 220 pound guard. Seton Hall has him as a forward, so we’ll see what happens.

Coach: Shaheen Holloway, entering his second season at Seton Hall and sixth season as a Division 1 head coach. He has a overall record of 81-73.

Outlook: No one is going to confuse 2022-23 Seton Hall with a great basketball team. They were 16-11 on the year and 9-7 in Big East play up to the moment when Kadary Richmond ended up being lost for the season. That’s #54 in the country to that point of the year per and their magical data sorting tools. Not great, but also not bad, perhaps even right on the edge of being an NCAA tournament team. They never quite got it together long enough to stack quality wins, but they also never really — outside of a loss to Siena at Walt Disney World — took a bad loss to their name.

Their big problem was their offense, which ranked #133 in the country by KenPom’s efficiency metrics. They couldn’t throw the ball in the ocean, and to make matters worse, they struggled to hold onto the ball long enough to think about winding up a throw towards the ocean. That’s how Marquette beat them twice, forcing the Pirates into turnover rates of 23% and 39%. Their best idea on offense was drawing fouls, which they did a ton, but the Pirates couldn’t capitalize on that, shooting just 68% from the free throw line, which ranked #300 in the country. Seton Hall could guard you, that’s for sure, finishing the year at #20 in KP’s defensive metric and #2 in the Big East during regular season contests.

This raises a question: What’s going to change?

We’ve now seen Shaheen Holloway coach five Division 1 teams. This past season was his best offense, far and away. His first four offenses, all at Saint Peter’s, finished somewhere between #231 and #339 in KenPom’s rankings. Holloway’s teams have always been bad at shooting — this past year’s #252 ranking in effective field goal percentage was his career best — and his teams have always been careless with the ball as well, ranking somewhere south of #288 in the country in all five campaigns.

What’s going to change?

Holloway’s always been able to coach defense, I’ll give him credit for that. He had a top 80 defense in each of his last three years at Saint Peter’s, and given the overall rankings for the MAAC, they had to be locking down hard to be able to generate those kinds of adjusted-for-competition numbers. That got them wins in that league, as Holloway went 38-20 in his last three seasons there. But it certainly looks like “we just have to be tougher than those other guys” isn’t going to be enough to win basketball games in the Big East. When it’s working, when you’re winning at a 66% clip, your players will trust you. When you’re winning at a 56% clip? It starts to be a little harder for your players to take you seriously about how they have to just be tougher, because it’s clearly not working.

But maybe this is the nature of Seton Hall basketball. Maybe seeing Kevin Willard assemble six tournament-caliber teams (I’ll give them credit for 2020, when they were projected as a #3 seed) in his last seven seasons in South Orange has polluted the stream as to where this program has been historically. Before Willard took the Pirates to four straight tournaments between 2016 and 2019, Seton Hall hadn’t been to consecutive NCAA tournaments since four straight between 1991 and 1994 and six in seven years after their first ever appearance in 1988.

(Aside: Imagine making the NCAA tournament in 1988 for the first time in 80 years of program history..... and then going to the national championship game the very next season.... and losing by one point! This happened to Seton Hall! Shouts to John Morton.)

Maybe “yeah, they’re fine, just not outstanding” is Seton Hall’s destiny, their true calling in the college basketball universe. There’s nothing about the guys that they bring back that make you say “ah, yes, this guy shall take a big leap forward.” There’s nothing about the incoming transfers that says “this guy solves all of Seton Hall’s problems.” Think about it this way: Dylan Addae-Wusu wasn’t the solution to St. John’s problems last season, what makes you think he’ll fix Seton Hall’s problems this year? Maybe they’ll just be a tough out again this season, the kind of team that goes undefeated against the teams below them in the standings, but just 2-10 against everyone else.