Seton Hall has been here before, overlooked and underrated. Two years ago, it was supposed to take a step back, following the graduations of Angel Delgado, Desi Rodriguez, Khadeen Carrington and Ismael Sanogo.
A rebuild was projected. Instead, Myles Powell developed into a superstar and the Pirates remained one of the best teams in the Northeast, and last season shared the Big East regular-season crown for the first time in 27 years.
Expect that success to continue.
Losing Powell — the Big East Player of the Year and a consensus first-team All-American — won’t be easy to overcome. The same can be said of rim protector Romaro Gill and point guard Quincy McKnight.
But coach Kevin Willard prepared for this, landing one of the best guard transfers on the market in Harvard’s Bryce Aiken. Canisius transfer Takal Molson, a physical, defensive-minded wing, is ready to make an impact after sitting out last season and 6-foot-11 senior Sandro Mamukelashvili, a first-team All-Big East preseason selection, has the talent to be one of the best forwards in the country. They have plenty of help, with returning contributors Jared Rhoden and Myles Cale on the wing, Tyrese Samuel and Ike Obiagu in the paint and former walk-on Shavar Reynolds on the perimeter.
Why Seton Hall will make the NCAA Tournament
The absence of Powell will provide last season’s capable supporting cast the chance to prove the team’s Big East regular-season title was no fluke. Last season, the Pirates were headed to their program-record fifth straight NCAA Tournament berth before it was canceled because of the pandemic. Kevin Willard has become one of the best and most underrated coaches in the country. He has built a program bigger than any player.
Why Seton Hall will miss the NCAA Tournament
The defense suffers from the losses of McKnight and Gill, unable to adequately replace either player on the perimeter or in the paint. Aiken’s career-long injury issues aren’t behind him and he struggles against the Big East’s quicker, longer and more athletic defenders. But most of all, there is nobody who can fill the void left by Powell, either from a leadership or go-to-guy scoring perspective.
Will last season linger?
The Pirates haven’t made the Sweet 16 since 2000. They haven’t reached the Final Four since 1989. Last season, everything was possible, thanks to Powell, one of the best players and leaders in school history. The cancellation of the NCAA Tournament was more crushing for Seton Hall than most schools, but it could be beneficial this season, with the returning players more motivated than ever. It could also create a terrible hangover, magnified by any stretch of poor play.
Can Sandro Mamukelashvili be a star?
In the previous two seasons, Powell carried the Pirates, relegating all teammates to supporting roles. Without the Big East Player of the Year around anymore, Mamukelashvili has the potential to be one of the league’s best players, having been selected unanimously to the preseason Big East first team. The 6-foot-11 matchup problem can score at every level, but the nights of the Georgian native passively taking single-digit shots is no longer an option.
Is anyone else ready for prime time?
Seton Hall didn’t lose just Powell. The departures of McKnight and Gill give the Pirates just two of their top-five scorers back from last season. Can Rhoden make a leap for a second straight season? Can Cale bounce back from a disappointing junior year? Can Samuel and/or Obiagu provide enough support in the paint? Everyone’s job gets harder without an All-American around.
As a junior at Harvard, the 6-foot guard averaged 22.2 points on 39.8 percent 3-point shooting. At full strength, the New Jersey native will provide easy buckets. But Aiken’s health could be an issue all season. After being limited to seven games last season with a foot injury, Aiken recently has been hampered by a knee injury and limited in practices.
Games to Watch
Seton Hall vs. Baylor (Nov. 29)
For the second straight year, one of the premier teams in the country comes to Newark. Last year, it was Michigan State. This year, it’s Baylor and All-American Jared Butler.
Seton Hall at Xavier (Dec. 15)
A trip to Cintas Center won’t be quite as daunting with only a few hundred fans in attendance. And, after trips to Louisville, Penn State and Rhode Island, the Pirates will have already played three times on the road.
Seton Hall vs. Villanova (TBA)
Even in Villanova’s best seasons, Seton Hall has pushed the Wildcats, and this could be one of those years for Jay Wright’s elite program.
Seton Hall at St. John’s (TBA)
The local rivalry has mostly been one-sided in recent years, with Seton Hall winning eight of the last 10 matchups, but that could be changing. St. John’s is improving under Mike Anderson and will feature a promising freshman in point guard Posh Alexander, who picked the Johnnies over the Pirates, among others.
Seton Hall vs. Connecticut (TBA)
On media day, Willard half-jokingly said he was against UConn joining the Big East. UConn coach Dan Hurley, a Seton Hall alum, responded by saying the comment didn’t make much sense to him. It was an early shot in the arm to a potentially heated rivalry.
After COVID-19 forced a two-week pause to the program, expect a slow start, with likely losses to start this season against Louisville and Baylor. When this team eventually finds its footing, Mamukelashvili will be the best forward in the Big East and Molson will develop into a gutty fan favorite and elite defender, sending Seton Hall to another NCAA Tournament, as a seven-seed after finishing fourth in the Big East.
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