Even with six of the top eight players back from last season's NCAA tournament team, Seton Hall is going to have a dramatically different look this year. For the first time in five years, Andre Barrett won't be running the show from his point guard spot. That role will fall to any of three players, but it won't be the same.
Barrett, a first-team All-Big East selection, was able to dominate games at 5-foot-8, leading the Pirates in scoring last year while finishing second on the school's career charts in assists and games started. He also logged a school-record 4,296 minutes.
"There's going to be an adjustment period, no doubt about it," said senior swingman John Allen. "But we have good leadership, and the chemistry on this team is good. I think all three guys (vying for the starting point guard job) are talented players."
Junior Donald Copeland, highly touted freshman Justin Cerasoli and sophomore Jamar Nutter, who sat out last year for academic reasons, will compete to be Barrett's successor.
Whoever earns the job will be just the third player to start at the point for the Pirates since 1996. Shaheen Holloway and Barrett were both four-year starters at the position -- and they rank 1-2 on the school's career assist list.
FRONTCOURTAfter emerging as a major factor on the blocks during the regular season, Kelly Whitney hinted at star potential with his 24-point, 14-rebound performance against Arizona in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Though a tad undersized for a center at 6-8, 240, Whitney has developed into a consistent and productive low post presence.
Despite the loss of defensive specialist Marcus Toney-El, Whitney will actually have more help in the frontcourt than he's had at any point in his career. Reliable forward Andre Sweet, a do-everything type, returns to his starting forward spot, and there's promising size in reserve.
Grant Billmeier proved to be a useful backup at center last year. Additional competition will come from freshman Marcus Cousin, a 6-10, 230-pound center from Baltimore.
The Pirates are a bit thin at forward, but the way they play, both Allen and J.R. Morris can handle the small forward spot as well as the shooting guard position. Coach Louis Orr also expects more help from Mani Messy, a sophomore who played in just 11 games a year ago.
BACKCOURTOn talent alone, Cerasoli, a product of the Chicago prep ranks, appears to be the frontrunner to replace Barrett at point guard. And at 6-5, 180, he offers a completely different look than the diminutive Barrett did. Copeland has experience on his side, after serving as Barrett's backup the past two years. Nutter has been in the program for a year.
"All three of them bring something a little different," said Allen. "No matter who is in there, I think it's going to be more of a free-flowing offense, with more guys doing more things. Andre not only had the ball in his hands a lot, he did a lot of scoring."
The responsibility for picking up some of that scoring slack will fall to Allen and super-sub Morris, who will be elevated to a starting role.
Allen, who broke Rip Hamilton's career scoring record at Coatesville (Pa.) High School, has been a steady performer in his three years as a starter. He expects "big things" in his final tour through the Big East.
Morris saw his minutes rise from 12.6 per game as a freshman to 21.3 last year. His scoring went from 4.0 to 10.1, and he scored in double figures 18 times.
Freshman Brian Laing, from New York City prep power St. Raymond's, will spell Allen and Morris at both the shooting guard and small forward spots.
FINAL ANALYSISOrr has the Seton Hall basketball program back on the national map. The Pirates returned to the NCAA tournament last April for the first time since 2000 and just the second time in the past 10 years.
Is a return trip on the horizon? It's quite possible. The Pirates will be as good, or better, at every position except point guard. The other four starting spots will be filled by veterans who have enjoyed success over the past few seasons. If Cerasoli, Copeland or Nutter (or any combination of that trio) can step in and provide quality play at the point, Seton Hall could be a factor in the Big East race.