Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard sauntered down the hall towards the home locker room at the famous Madison Square Garden after the bottom-seed Marquette Golden Eagles had upset his struggling Pirates, ending their season. Playing against a team that averages 65.1 points per game and 44% shooting from the field, the Pirates displayed a lackadaisical effort on defense by allowing 78 points on 57% shooting. The ridiculous effort by the Pirates was purely a metaphor for the bottomless slump that had occurred following their statement win over then-undefeated Villanova in early January.
Entering Big East play, Seton Hall was 10-2 with no real quality wins, but also no bad losses. They strutted past St. John's at home by double digits and braced for what had the chance to be a season-changing win against Villanova.
Junior Sterling Gibbs electrified the crowd with 20 points and stifling defense on Villanova star junior, Ryan Arcidiacono, sophomore Jared Sina broke down the Wildcat defense, and Seton Hall prevailed by five points in an extremely physical overtime battle (that included a kick to a head).
The entire nation flocked to South Orange, New Jersey in an attempt to see a team that was presumably on the rise. With talented freshman Isaiah Whitehead coming back from injury in the following weeks, Seton Hall was primed for a breakout season.
Their next game was away at Xavier; a historically difficult arena with passionate fans and an energized atmosphere. A loss away to anyone, especially a formidable foe, is never a mark on anyone’s résumé.
Three more losses followed (including a home loss against DePaul), and Willard was forced to return the ailing Whitehead in a game at home in the second bout against Xavier. In a surprising turn of events, the Pirates put up a whopping 90 points and stood victorious.
Unfortunately for the Pirates, this win was simply an anomaly to the trend of losing, and the misery of Seton Hall basketball continued again.
After a home loss against Georgetown by over 20 points, Jaren Sina decided that it was in his best interest to leave the chemistry-plagued Pirates and find a new home. Seton Hall never recovered from this loss and was scrapped for a true point guard for the remainer of the season.
For junior Sterling Gibbs, the frustration of the season was capped in a mid-February lash out when diving for a loose ball against Villanova guard Ryan Arcidiacono. While fighting for the basketball, the Seton Hall junior punched Arcidiacono in the face and received a one game suspension for his actions.
Late in the regular season, Willard’s group began to show promise, even in losses. They played well for one half against Providence, and made a reasonable comeback away at Georgetown. Although, (just like against Xavier) the signs of a struggling team prevailed over the symbol that Seton Hall was on the upswing. Against the low seeded Marquette, they practically gave up in the first round of the Big East Tournament.
Even as the season concluded, everyone, including Willard, was not sure why the Pirates experienced such a downfall in the last half of the season.
At the conclusion of the Big East tournament, the Seton Hall coach blamed it on the unlucky nature of his team.
"We became very fragile in the second half of the year, which sometimes happens," Willard said,."When shots bank in on you a bunch of times, our fight and grit was still there, we were just not mentally able to get over that hump."
A collapse in sports is never truly due to one factor. Quite possibly, their immaturity showed when pressure and high expectations were added by becoming a top twenty-five team. Also, Whitehead may have been rushed back to play too quickly and was not the same elite player that he had been prior to his injury. Once he did get back to full health, his confidence had been shattered and Seton Hall was left with an offense centered around a slumping star.
In general, a 16-15 record for any team is never a positive, especially if they started off the year 12-2 with wins over St. John's and Villanova. Two players could be perceived as bright spots from this tough year. Freshmen Khadeem Carrington and Angel Delgado continued to thrive throughout the losing spell. Delgado finished the year averaging as close to a double double as one can with 9.3 points and 9.8 rebounds. Carrington was tough on the defensive end and proved that he was a formidable scoring threat without the ball in his hands, which was perceived as his weakness in high school.
The Pirates do have a majority of their players returning next year, including Gibbs, Whitehead, Delgado, and Carrington. If the chemistry issues that were a result of losing near the end of the season can be allayed, then Seton Hall could be a formidable foe in the Big East next year. If that is not the case, then Willard could be facing another tough year and may receive the metaphorical boot from South Orange, New Jersey.
No matter the reason for Seton Hall’s slump, one fact is clear. Kevin Willard will definitely enter next season on a boiling hot seat.