On a cold and snowy afternoon in early January the Seton Hall Pirates were able to send the 10,000-plus fans at Prudential Center into a frenzy after they had knocked off #6 Villanova. Two days later they would find themselves at the #19 ranking in the AP Poll and Coaches’ Poll. Everyone proclaimed that, "Seton Hall was back." All seemed right with the world in South Orange and the best part was that they were doing it all without injured star freshman Isaiah Whitehead. Now instead of being back, their backs are firmly planted against the wall.
As we know, it is a long season in college basketball and success can be short lived, but no one saw this coming as quickly as it did. The 2001 season has been compared to this one, but this team was going to be different. It was the team that Coach Kevin Willard loved to be around and thought was a great group of kids that loved to play basketball, especially with each other.
However, the Pirates have lost six of their last nine games, including the last three in a row since the upset of Villanova and are 1-3 with Whitehead back in the lineup. Many excuses, from travel accommodations, to getting Whitehead playing his way back, have been used to give this team a pass, but that ship has sailed.
It turns out that what Brandon Mobley said after the Marquette loss about the team not being focused on winning, and paying more attention to their shots did not even scratch the surface of what the real issues were. During the Georgetown game, my colleagues at The Setonian, Seton Hall’s student newspaper, were told that Whitehead and Sterling Gibbs had to be physically separated during a timeout. Then following the game, after Jaren Sina left the court ahead of his teammates and according to sources said a few choice words. Coach Willard would close the locker room to the media.
Sina was gone not even 24 hours later.
The Sina exit, whether Whitehead will admit it or not, then gave certain players with the urge to tweet these out onto social media, as if to ease the minds of Seton Hall fans.
First Whitehead, before he deleted many of his tweets, said, "I AM & ALWAYS WILL BE A SETON HALL PIRATE #SHBB"
Then Angel Delgado.
Pirate till the end— Angel Delgado (@angelluis45) February 11, 2015
And finally Brandon Mobley, who, by the way, is a senior and would be pretty naïve to go anywhere else at this point, but you get the picture.
As Andrew Garda of NJ Advance Media points out, Sterling Gibbs did not show his allegiance through his Twitter, but did send out an Instagram post the morning of Sina, his best friend’s, departure that said, "I made a lot of mistakes but I ask for your forgiveness and for you to continue to be by my side. Everything is a learning experience and you continue to challenge me with different things, but you know that I will come out even stronger. I thank you and I love you. - your son, sterling."
After all of that, the campus of Seton Hall University went back to normal after the rumor-filled day that was Wednesday. Players like Gibbs, Delgado and Ismael Sanogo seemed to be carrying on in their everyday activities.
As I was walking back from delivering newspapers and the Sina news that laid inside of them to WSOU radio on campus Thursday, I saw Gibbs. He was talking to an older gentleman who was dawning Seton Hall clothing. I had just walked past him as he was traveling to his car to head home, but as he stood by his car Gibbs talked with him, shared a few laughs and as he left said, "Say hi to your wife for me." Despite his friend moving on and the team he leads in turmoil, Gibbs took the time to talk to a fan.
Gibbs then walked past me and told a friend of mine he ran into that he was, "just chillin" and walked back into the Richie Reagan Athletic Center.
Like the season of college basketball, life goes on and Gibbs, the leader of this Pirate team, is getting back to work not tomorrow, not later, but today and likely as you read this. It is a reminder that this team still has a chance to turn this season around.
The only question that remains is can the Pirates do it? For me, it comes down to three things.
1) Sterling Gibbs and Angel Delgado continuing solid play
Throughout the good times and the bad, Gibbs and Delgado continue to put in fantastic efforts every night. Gibbs leads the team in scoring almost every night and is continuing his great shooting from the three point line, which currently sits at 46 percent. The Pirates will need his great play to continue in order for The Hall to turn things around.
Delgado’s rebounding has been great all season and he had 15 boards against Georgetown. His persistence on the glass as been consistent all year and the Pirates need it now more than ever.
2) Isaiah Whitehead being unselfish
Whitehead is clearly trying to do too much on the court and reportedly off the court as well. As far as on the hardwood, Whitehead needs to limit his turnovers. In the four games he has played since his return, the freshman has committed 12 turnovers including six against Georgetown. From the field, Whitehead has only made 10 of his 37 shots since his return, which could do with rust, but probably has to do with the fact that he has the ball too much. When Whitehead is passing the ball well, getting others involved and taking good shots the Pirates can beat good teams.
3) Getting minutes out of Karlis, Manga and bench
A player, or players, will need to fill the 32.2 minute per game void that Sina has left. Haralds Karlis, a good friend of Sina’s on the team, has been mentioned along with fellow senior Stephane Manga. One of them will have to provide defense and maybe even a three pointer or two a night for the Pirates to be in good shape. It would also help if a frontcourt player like Rashed Anthony could come off the bench and give The Hall some rebounds when Delgado and Mobley need a break.
In the end, the Pirates need to get back to playing team basketball, sharing the ball and being solid defensively throughout the game. At this point, there is only one ultimate cure and that is winning. Whether Coach Willard can get his team back to doing that is up for discussion. The team will have to move on and fast as their next three games are on the road. It is as good a time as any for this team to come together.