Kevin Willard's coaching tenure at Seton Hall hasn't been all sunshine and gumdrops. In fact, it's been the opposite. Like, thunderstorms and candy corn, if we're going to make analogies (OOC: candy corn is terrible, go argue with your pet salamander). Going into the 2015-16 season, Willard's record as the head coach of the Pirates was 82-80, and his conference record was even worse, checking in at 30-60. To say there was pressure on the former Louisville assistant and head coach at Iona was like saying the grass is green and the sky is blue: Obviously he was under fire. The Pirates had only won one-third (!) of their conference games under his direction!
The cool thing about life sometimes is that when you're down on your luck, things even out. And after things even out, the bad luck turns to good luck. That's exactly what happened this year in Newark. Willard and the Pirates, led by the efforts of Isaiah Whitehead, Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, et al, are likely on their way to their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2006.
So here are three reasons why Kevin Willard should be named as BIG EAST Coach of the Year:
1. Surprise, surprise
Love it or not, typically "Coach of the Year" awards are reserved for the coach whose team surprises the most. While many expected Villanova and Xavier to be premier teams in the conference this season, along with Butler as well, Seton Hall was not on many a radar. The turmoil of last year added a bit of weariness to many's thoughts on The Hall and thus they were not expected to do much.
Well, in turn, all the Pirates did was finish third in the BIG EAST, net at least 22 wins for the first time since the early 1990s, and likely will get back to the NCAA Tourney for the first time in a decade. It's not as if they overachieved either. Seton Hall is very talented, but you have to give credit to Willard for helping wipe the slate clean from the disastrous finish they had to their 2014-15 season.
2. Refuse to lose (a lot of times in a row)
As Public Enemy's "Welcome to the Terrordome" might be pulsating through your ear drums, and you're welcome for that (!) it's important to note that Seton Hall seldom lost back-to-back games this year. It only happened twice, and as it's been discussed before, the Pirates had losing streaks of six and three two times during last year's season.
More often this season, the Pirates won games after they lost. Their record following losses was 6-2 as the Pirates bounced back in big ways. In fact, the average point differential in those six wins was 14.5 points. To put it in the words of Chuck D, Seton Hall shut 'em down (shut 'em down, shut 'em, shut 'em down) after losses this year, and Willard coaching his players up likely played a big part in that.
3. His best defensive job yet?
"Shut 'Em Down" might still be in your head here, and we're still talking about defense. Why? This was arguably Kevin's Willard's best defensive team yet. The Pirates had posted top-flight defensive metrics across the board, including the lowest eFG% allowed in Willard's tenure. Additionally, the lowest 2-point field goal percentage in Willard's tenure was had (44.3%) and they kept teams off the perimeter as well, which has become a trademark for most if not all of Kevin Willard's clubs in his coaching tenure anywhere.
We should reward high-caliber defenses, no? If we ought to do that, than perhaps no one's more deserving than Kevin Willard to be the BIG EAST Coach of the Year.