Isaiah Whitehead’s freshman season did not go quite as planned to say the least.
Whitehead came in as the number two ranked shooting guard in the Class of 2014 according to ESPN.com and a McDonald’s All-American. He had played in the Jordan Brand Classic and was named Mr. Basketball in the state of New York after playing at Lincoln High School. Expectations were high, but none of them were even close to being met due to many factors.
The biggest obstacle was a stress fracture in his foot that kept him out for the beginning of the Big East season. But the Pirates were able to weather the storm without him and when Whitehead came back it seemed as if everything would fall into place.
Seton Hall beat Xavier in his return behind a great shooting performance and the Pirates were poised to make an NCAA Tournament appearance. However, Seton Hall would only win one game the rest of the season.
Players would transfer and many reports pinned some of the blame on Whitehead, whether it was true or not. Now, whether fans like it or not, his success is the only way the Pirates can have a good season.
Seton Hall, for lack of a better term, is stuck with their 2014 recruiting class for at least one more season. That is evident by the fact that Coach Willard focused most of his attention of getting veteran players to transfer to the school.
With the departure of Sterling Gibbs and the graduation of Brandon Mobley, this is Whitehead’s team. Last year, for many games, the Pirates went as Gibbs went. Now the burden is on the shoulders of Whitehead who has become the most important player in the program.
Whitehead was named to the Big East All-Rookie team after averaging 12.0 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game in 22 games last season. All of those numbers will need to increase in 2015-16, especially his assists totals.
During the first few months of last season, we saw flashes of what Whitehead could do on the basketball court. Whitehead’s shooting was solid along with his ability to drive into the paint and pass to his teammates.
When Whitehead drove into the lane he was very dangerous and would likely score or draw the foul. However, after returning from that stress fracture injury, Whitehead was not the same player. His three-point shooting dropped from around 38 percent before the injury to 32 percent afterwards.
Whitehead also had most of the offensive touches in certain games, which led to stagnant play overall by The Hall. The Pirates, who went 9-2 with Whitehead in his first stint, went 5-5 without him and then 2-9 to finish the season with him off of the injury.
We saw flashes of Whitehead’s greatest.
In his return from the injury, the 6-foot-5 guard had 19 points, four rebounds and three assists in the win over Xavier before the team imploded. Whitehead would make a memorable save on the baseline in that game and pass the ball to Gibbs who laid the ball in on a fast break.
Whitehead will be expected to make many more of those great plays and carry the scoring load. The sophomore’s passing ability will be vital too in addition to getting his teammates involved on many possessions. Seton Hall needs him to probably average around five assists per game if they want to be respectable in the Big East Conference this season.
Transfers Derrick Gordon and Braeden Anderson along with fellow sophomore Angel Delgado will hopefully be able to carry some of the leadership load so it is not all on Whitehead.
Despite some help, Whitehead’s level of success this season will be what dictates whether the Pirates are a tournament team or mediocre for the third consecutive season.