Optimistic Pirates hope to make most of new league
SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. (AP) - Seton Hall is expecting big things in the new Big East Conference.
Coming off a 15-18 record and a 3-15 mark in the final season of the power-packed old conference, the Pirates will bring back eight players and a full roster into the new Big East for fourth-year coach Kevin Willard. It's clearly his most talented roster and his deepest.
Pacing the way will be senior guard Fuquan Edwin, who averaged 16.5 points last season in leading the team in scoring for the second straight year.
The difference this year will be the competition. Gone from the Big East are perennial powers Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Louisville, Cincinnati and Connecticut, along with Rutgers and South Florida.
DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's and Villanova remain from the old league, which bolstered its ranks by adding Butler, Xavier and Creighton.
''We lost some great teams and great rivals, but we're playing a true round-robin schedule, so no one gets the shaft,'' Willard said. ''I think that's going to make the conference great and we have some great newcomers coming in. I'm really excited about it.''
Edwin believes Seton Hall has a shot at the new conference crown.
''There's a strong possibility of us winning in this league,'' he said. ''I think we're all looking forward to the Big East the way it is now.''
Willard said the Pirates have good pieces at every position and depth, too. The full roster will allow the team to not only push teams in games, but push themselves in practice.
But Edwin has to be the leader.
''No question, he's going to be an All-Big East player,'' Willard said. ''But it's going to be easier for him to do his job. He started to struggle a little last year when we had some injuries and he had to play out of position. He's not going to have that happen this year. He's a different player this year. He's more explosive.''
The Pirates also welcome back forward Brandon Mobley (9.0 points, 5.5 rebounds), who missed considerable time last year with a shoulder injury, and forward Eugene Teague (11.2, 7.2), who was the team's lone inside presence last year.
The addition of transfer Sterling Gibbs, a local player from Seton Hall Prep who played one year at the University of Texas, also should help. Gibbs has an outstanding touch from the perimeter. Highly touted freshman Jaren Sina will also be counted on from the start.
Here are five things to know about Seton Hall heading into the season:
WHO CAN MAKE A SHOT? Last season, the Pirates shot 43.7 percent from the floor and 36.7 from 3-point range. They would go long stretches without the ability to make a shot from the perimeter. That's where Gibbs and Sina should help. The two have reputations of being able to knock down the long-range shot. If they can, it will open things up for big men like Teague, Mobley and Patrik Auda, who took a redshirt year last season after suffering an ankle injury.
REBOUND, REBOUND: The Pirates were dominated down low in conference games last year, especially after Auda and Mobley were lost for the season due to injuries. Teague is an undersized big man - he is listed at 6-foot-9, but is more like 6-foot-6 - and needs assistance collecting boards. Maybe incoming freshman Rashed Anthony will give Teague some help on the glass.
STAY HEALTHY: Seton Hall was among the most decimated Big East teams last year, with players like Auda, Mobley and small forward Brian Oliver all missing time. At one point last season, the Pirates had only eight healthy bodies and couldn't even practice. With 13 players on the roster this year, it shouldn't be a problem.
WILLARD'S TEAM: Finally, this is a team that is totally constructed by Willard. There are no players left from the Bobby Gonzalez era. Willard recruited these players and it's now on his shoulders to have those players show some marked improvement.
NEW SYSTEM: The Pirates will not walk the ball up the court this season. Willard is counting on returning players like point guard Tom Maayan and Edwin and the newcomer Gibbs to get the ball up the floor as quickly as possible to create easy shots or possibly score in transition. The success of such an approach remains to be seen.