In his first season at Seton Hall, Kevin Willard was able to keep the Pirates competitive in the Big East despite an injury to Jeremy Hazell, mid-season transfers, and suspensions due to disciplinary reasons. Willard faces just as daunting a challenge this season with only five players back from last year.
One of those returning players is power forward Herb Pope. Pope's minutes were decreased last season after a scary incident nearly cost him his life in the offseason. Pope's production dipped as a result and he will look to bounce back a bit by anchoring a fairly inexperienced frontcourt.
Likely to join Pope in the starting lineup is sophomore Patrik Auda. Auda improved as his freshman campaign went along and provided some versatility due to his three-point shooting ability. Sophomore Aaron Geramipoor (6-11) played sparingly a year ago and will be asked to take on a bigger role off the bench though Kevin Johnson will push for minutes as well. Brandon Mobley should be in the mix as well although he did dislocate his shoulder in early July and may need surgery, which could cut into his season. This would be a fairly significant blow for a team that is already thin with numbers.
Starting point guard Jordan Theodore will lead an extremely young backcourt that features four freshmen. Theodore is an average talent compared to his Big East counterparts but his experience will be vital for Seton Hall this season. Fellow point guard Aaron Crosby is likely the best of Willard's incoming class and will should start alongside Theodore at guard, giving the Pirates a pair of players capable of handling the basketball and initiating the offense. Newcomers Freddie Wilson, Sean Grennan and Haralds Karlis will compete for playing time behind Theodore and Crosby.
Perhaps the biggest surprise last season was the play of freshman wing Fuquan Edwin. He ended up starting 26 games and brings some needed athleticism to the floor. Edwin was a streaky outside shooter, and if he can show some more consistency from the perimeter, he could end up being Seton Hall's leading scorer this season. He will need to be a major factor for the Pirates since they have very little depth behind him and nobody with his explosiveness at the rim.
Willard did score a pair of key transfers this season in Georgia Tech wing Brian Oliver and Gene Teague, a big man from Southern Illinois. They will both sit out a year due to NCAA transfer rules, but should make their teammates better since they are allowed to practice with the team.
While Willard was able to keep this team afloat a season ago, I doubt he can have the same success this year with such a young, inexperienced team. Expect them to compete with Providence and DePaul as the least of the Big East.
Player to Watch: Herb Pope, PF
As I mentioned earlier, Pope's impact as a junior was the not same as it was during his sophomore season. His minutes were cut a bit as a precautionary measure due to a heart condition that nearly resulted in his death last April. It is hard to predict how effective he will be this season, but if he can return to his sophomore year form and show why he is one of the best rebounders in the conference, it will help Seton Hall's journey in avoiding the cellar of the conference standings.
Key Non-Conference Games:
11/17-20 vs. VCU, LSU, Georgia Tech, Northwestern, St. Joseph?s, Tulsa, Western Kentucky (Charleston Classic)