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Big East Season Preview: Seton Hall Pirates

The 2013-14 season for the Pirates was as mediocre as it can get however, it will be remembered for a buzzer beater on that faithful afternoon at Madison Square Garden. This season, the Hall are after more than just one moment. They want to dance.

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

2013-14 Record: 17-17 (6-12), eighth in the Big East

Coach: Kevin Willard enters his fifth season at the helm in South Orange looking to take the Hall to their first NCAA Tournament under his command and improve on a 66-66 record as the Head Coach. With the most talented team he has had on the job, Willard looks to enjoy his best coaching season ever.

Key Returnees: Sterling Gibbs (13.2 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 4.2 APG, 1.0 SPG, .410 FG%, .724 FT%, .344 3P%),Brandon Mobley (7.6 PPG, 4.2 RPG, 0.8 APG, 0.4 SPG, 0.9 BPG, .418 FG%, .797 FT%, .295 3P%), Jaren Sina (6.0 PPG, 1.4 RPG, 2.4 APG, .374 FG%, .769 FT%, .382 3P%)

Notable Departures: Fuquan Edwin (Graduated; 14.5 PPG, 3.5 RPG, 2.7 SPG, .439 FG%, .781 FT%, .333 3P%), Eugene Teague (Graduated; 11.2 PPG, 7.9 RPG, .621 FG%), Brian Oliver (Graduated; 10.4 PPG, 3.5 RPG, .400 FG%, .800 FT%, .415 3P%), Patrik Auda (Graduated/Chose to play professionally; 9.6 PPG, 4.5 RPG, .536 FG%, .758 FT%, .333 3P%), Aaron Geramipoor (Graduated; 2.2 PPG, 1.9 RPG, .698 FG%).

Additions: Isaiah Whitehead (5-star recruit), Angel Delgado (4-star recruit), Desi Rodriguez (3-star recruit), Khadeen Carrington (3-star recruit), Ismael Sanogo (3-star recruit), Mike Nzei (3-star recruit), Chier Ajou (Transferred from Northwestern), Trevonn Morton (Abraham Lincoln High School)

Projected Opening Day Starting Lineup: Sterling Gibbs, Jaren Sina, Isaiah Whitehead, Angel Delgado, Brandon Mobley

Key Nonconference Matchups: Nov. 19 vs. George Washington (resume builder), Dec. 6 vs. Rutgers (rivalry game), Dec. 9 at Wichita State (top-25 team nationally, tough game, resume builder), Dec. 21 at Georgia (top-5 SEC team, tough game, resume builder)

Last Season at a Glance: The Pirates took advantage of some of the perks that came from being in a watered down Big East, but injuries to Teague, Edwin, Auda and others really hindered the success of this team. Problems at practice, coupled with seniors not making trips to road games provided some problems that Willard and his team had to overcome last season.

However, they had their moments.

Key road wins against Providence in double overtime, Xavier and a sweep of Georgetown were all notable. Some of those wins ended home court winning streaks for their Big East rivals. Despite some success, the Hall struggled in games that were decided by five points or less, losing the majority of them.

When it came time for the Big East Tournament, no one really expected the blue and white to go very far. Especially after holding on for dear life and surviving an Alex Barlow half court heave to escape and finally defeat Butler in the opening round of the conference tournament. The Pirates then met up against the regular season conference champions and the number three team in America, the Villanova Wildcats, in the quarterfinals. In what would turn out to be a classic, the Hall got their marquee win. "Step back" Sterling Gibbs made his legendary shot to send the Pirates to their first Big East semifinal since 2001. In that game they would fall to the eventual champions Providence in a close defeat.

In the end, Seton Hall did not have enough of a resume to even make the NIT and decided to skip out on invitations to other tournaments to rest players who were preparing for draft combines and preparations for professional basketball opportunities. Pirates’ fans are still buzzing about the Gibbs shot and that recruiting class that looks to take the program even further this season.

2014-15 Outlook: The Pirates have the talent and the personnel to compensate for just about all of the players that they lost from last year and then some because of how talented this recruiting class is. There is no doubt that this team will go as far as freshmen guard Isaiah Whitehead will take them. His ability to score in numerous ways, in addition to his to defensive talents will provide excitement and likely more consistency than we saw a year ago from some of the leading scorers. The underrated part of Whitehead is his humble and mature attitude. At the Tip-Off Party and Big East Media Day he was very calm, cool and collected as he focused on the team instead of himself. With that mindset, these atmospheres that he will play in as well as the overall pressure will not get to him.

Speaking of his teammates many of them have been forgotten in the Seton Hall discussion and people who do that will regret it. The rest of this recruiting class is extremely talented. Seton Hall’s compilation of guard play is one of the most talented in the conference. The Hall has Gibbs, Sina, Whitehead, Carrington and Sanogo. At the guard position, it is clear that Coach Willard has options and certainly an abundance of talent. The guard play will clearly be the strength of this team and it will come down to whether or not the frontcourt can follow suit.

Freshmen power forward Angel Delgado will be a force to be reckoned with on the offensive and defensive glasses. He can rebound the basketball at an extremely high level and if he comes into this own could be very scary for other teams in the Big East and across the nation. Other young talents in the frontcourt include Rodriguez, Nzei, and redshirt freshmen Rashed Anthony. Senior forward Brandon Mobley will called upon to be very solid in the early stages of the season for this team and mentor the younger players on and off the court. Which according to my conversation with him at MSG, he is already doing.

Another very big question mark, and when I say big I mean over seven feet of big, is Ajou, the transfer from Northwestern. He could really shine if he can grow as a player. The addition of Ajou could prove to be massive for this team. If the blue and white plug Ajou in at center and count on him for rebounding, as well as blocked shots, it will really facilitate making this a complete team.

Projection: With all of the expectations surrounding this team and the recruiting class, it is hard to really pinpoint where the Pirates will end up. The theme for the Hall is not whether or not they have the talent because they do. It comes down to bringing that talent on to the court against tough competition and proving it. The Pirates are picked to finish sixth in the conference according to the Big East Coaches’ Poll and that is close to where I would have them to start the season. By the end of the year, I could see the Hall getting anywhere between 19 and 25 wins. The closer they get to that mark of 25, the better their chances of reaching the NCAA Tournament are. With that in mind, I will go as far as to say that the Pirates will make the NCAA tournament and finish in the top four of the conference this season. This team loves to be around each other and already looks to already have some chemistry. Coach Willard will be able to find a formula on the court that will make this team extremely difficult to beat. Seton Hall will find itself back on the map this season in college basketball.