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Big East 2016-2017 season preview: Seton Hall Pirates

The Pirates lost their star player to the NBA, but still have loads of talent around for this upcoming season.

NCAA Basketball: Big East Conference Tournament-Seton Hall vs Villanova Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports

2016 record: 25-9, 12-6 in the Big East; won Big East Tournament Title; lost in Round of 64 of the 2016 NCAA Tournament to the Gonzaga Bulldogs;

Key Departures: Isaiah Whitehead and Derrick Gordon

Key Returnees: Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado, Ismael Sanogo, Michael Nzei

Key Arrivals: Javon Thomas (transfer from Kansas St.), Eron Gordon, Myles Powell, Madison Jones (transfer from Wake Forest)

When the coveted 2014 recruiting class for Kevin Willard stepped on campus a year ago, the expectation was that Seton Hall was going to return to prominence. For a little while that year, it looked like that was the case. But eventual pitfalls put the Pirates in a familiar place as they were on the outside looking in from the postseason with woes still supplanted on their backs.

In 2015, they sought to rewrite the narrative and put the past behind them. As fate would have it, that’s exactly what would happen. Spearheaded by Isaiah Whitehead, the Pirates shot up the Big East standings, eventually finishing the year in third place. As if that weren’t enough, Seton Hall would go on to scoop up their first Big East Tournament title in 23 years, and earned a berth into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 10 years.

With a semblance of continuity under their belt, Seton Hall enters the 2016-17 roster with a very talented roster. Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington and Desi Rodriguez are all back in the fold, as they look to leave their own mark as they too, like Whitehead, are all part of that aforementioned prized recruiting class.

So why are there doubts about The Hall going into the year? We’ll project that and more here in our season preview for the Pirates.

Three Reasons for Optimism

Continuity: The Pirates return a bulk of their roster from the Big East Tournament title team from a season ago. 72 percent of the minutes, 64.7 percent of the points, and 81.5 percent of the rebounds collected by the 215-16 Pirates are back this season, all extremely high rates across the board. Continuity usually breeds success, so the fact that there will be a sense of chemistry this year will be an added benefit for The Hall this coming season.

Added Depth: Seton Hall didn’t use much of the roster last year thanks to a minimized rotation. This time around, it might be different. Talented freshmen (Eron Gordon, Myles Powell) are in the mix. Freshmen-turned-sophomores are one year older and one year wiser (Veer Singh, Myles Carter). And don’t forget about former Kansas State Wildcat Javon Thomas who will join the team next semester. Kevin Willard intends on using much of the bench this year, and the more pieces, the better.

Desi, Deen and Delgado: The three-headed monster that the Pirates have is one of the best in the conference. Desi Rodriguez, Khadeen Carrington and Angel Delgado will be the focal points this year and each has a chance to build off successful years last year. Desi was one of the most efficient shooters in the conference last year, and fully expects to wow again. Delgado played very much like how he did when he was awarded with the Big East Freshman of the Year award in the 2014-15 season, and there were improvements in Carrington’s game as well. What’ve they got in store in their junior years? Perhaps the best is yet to come.

Three Reasons for Pessimism

The lack of Whitehead: Replacing or replicating the production that Isaiah Whitehead gave the Pirates a year ago is going to be difficult to say the least. He was their ‘go-to’ guy and scoring option (averaged 18.2 PPG in the 2015-16 season) and had the talent to shoot and score from nearly every area of the floor. They have talented players on the team of course, but someone will have to step up. Finding that guy may be a tough task.

How will the inexperienced perform with bigger roles: There are pros and cons to everything, and the aforementioned usage of more players will certainly benefit Seton Hall. How they affect the team in a positive or negative way is the question. The younger players didn’t get much burn, and it’s always tough to rely on freshmen, especially right away. They’ll likely be guarded in those early games in favor of the experienced players, but how they perform going forward will be pivotal. That it’s a question mark offers some, if nothing else, feelings for pessimism.

A rough go from the perimeter: Desi Rodriguez was the team’s leading 3-point shooter with a mark of just 38.6 percent. Isaiah Whitehead didn’t fair much better, and the team on the whole didn’t take too many 3-point attempts (merely 594, which ranked 254th in the country). If Seton Hall’s offense inside can’t get it done, the Pirates may wind up in some trouble from time to time with a lack of solid options for 3-point shooters across the board.

Best Case Scenario

As we outlined above, the Pirates bring a lot back despite losing Whitehead and Gordon. Their ability to play defense, score inside and the improvement from behind the arc should propel the team to similar success to what they had a year ago. The best case scenario is that The Hall finishes in the top three of the Big East during the regular season and makes another run at the Big East Championship. Whether they win the conference tournament again is almost impossible to predict right now, but I think we could the see the Pirates back in the NCAA Tournament regardless. If the committee is kinder than they were last season, we could see the Pirates make a deep run in the Big Dance as well.

Worst Case Scenario

If the Pirates take care of business on the defensive side of the basketball, they should not have any problems. However, if Seton Hall cannot find a consistent point guard on the team it could hurt them this season. Carrington, Jones and Thomas will likely be players that are used at some point unless one of them really shines. Seton Hall will struggle offensively if they can’t find someone to play well at the point. It could drop them to fifth or sixth in the conference and possibly put them on the fringe of making the tournament. That would be the worst case scenario.

Final Prediction

In the nonconference schedule, Seton Hall will have many tough tests. However, they should be able to navigate through it. At worst, the Pirates will lose three or four of those games. In the conference schedule, Seton Hall can really take advantage of their matchups at home and if they win a few on the road will be right back where they were a season ago. We see The Hall finishing 12-6 in the conference again. That should set up nicely for March. With the experience and talent brought back, we expect the Pirates to make the NCAA Tournament once again.