Editor's Note: Eli Hershkovich is a DePaul student and does men's basketball play-by-play for DePaul student radio. Eli will be joining us here at BECB from time to time to write columns about the conference, such as this one. Give Eli a follow on Twitter.
For Big East fans, Isaiah Whitehead represents a household name. For those paying attention to a different conference or waiting to watch college hoops during the Big Dance, he's an unknown commodity. In the NCAA Tournament, though, Whitehead might just put on a spectacle, similar to Kemba Walker's performance in 2011.
Over the past regular season, the sophomore averaged 18.4 points and fives assists per game. However, the concerning statistic hovering over Whitehead was his field goal percentage. He shot 38.9 percent from the field, which almost matched his percentage from the behind the arc at 38.2 percent.
Whitehead pushed the critics aside in the Big East Tournament, though, averaging 23.3 points per contest and shooting a rock-solid 42.9 percent from the field. Thanks to their point guard, Seton Hall knocked off Villanova in the title game, giving the program its first conference tournament trophy since 1993.
Well, where does Kemba Walker fit into this equation?
The Connecticut alumni turned heads five seasons ago, carrying the Huskies to 11 straight victories, including five in the conference tournament and six in the Big Dance, culminating in a win over Butler in the national title game. Moreover, on the biggest stage in college basketball, Walker responded, averaging 23.5 points, six rebounds and 5.6 assists in the NCAA Tournament.
On top of that, Walker's shooting percentage (42.8) in the 2010-11 regular season is nearly identical to Whitehead's in the Big East Tourney.
Now, to Walker's credit, he stands at 6-foot-1 while Whitehead measures in at 6-foot-4. Hence, the current member of the Charlotte Hornets showed an ability to finish at the basket among guards and forwards with more size. Whitehead clearly doesn't shy away from contact, either, finishing a game winning and-one layup against the Wildcats' Kris Jenkins in the Big East Tournament finale.
For Whitehead to match Walker, though, the point guard will need to display his shooting touch from over the weekend at Madison Square Garden. Walker's go-to move was the pull-up jumper. During his junior season, the guard's 47.1 two-point field goal percentage proved former Huskies' head dog Jim Calhoun could trust him from inside the arc consistently. Yet, as long as Whitehead continues to attack the paint, he won't be forced to rely on his midrange jumper as much. Plus, the Brooklyn native's ability to knock down triples at a high rate should allow him to continue to cause havoc all over the floor.
Jumping over to the bracket, the Pirates find themselves slotted into the No. 6 seed of the Midwest Region. One can argue that head coach Kevin Willard's bunch was under-seeded by the committee, as Seton Hall won 12 of their last 14 games.
Even with a budding superstar, Seton Hall's road for a deep tournament run looks rigorous on paper. The Pirates tip-off with Gonzaga on Friday in the first round. The Bulldogs will trot out 6-foot-10 Kyle Wiltjer, a the lethal shooting big man, who could pose problems for the Pirates.
If the Pirates move onto the round of 32, they would take on the winner of No. 3 Utah vs. No. 14 Fresno State. The Utes contain Jakob Poeltl at their arsenal, who destroyed opposing frontcourts this season. No. 2 Michigan State, who's led by Naismith Player of the Year candidate Denzel Valentine, should be lurking in the Sweet 16 if the Pirates reach the second weekend.
Nevertheless, the Huskies were a No. 3 seed in ‘11, as Walker led them past big-name programs like Arizona and Kentucky.
In a season where parity bleeds through the bracket, Whitehead could push Seton Hall past college basketball's elite programs. Viewed as a leader, who tends to stitch his emotions onto the center of his jersey, the sophomore has the resume to recreate the magic from Walker's tourney run.