Freshman year at Seton Hall for Isaiah Whitehead was difficult to say the least. After playing well through nonconference play and showing flashes of greatness, Whitehead was sidelined with a stress fracture in his right foot that sidelined him until the ninth game of conference play last season. When Whitehead came back, he was not the same and Seton Hall finished the season in a downward spiral. My, what a difference a year makes.
Whitehead has arrived in the Big East conference and has put together one of the best seasons ever by a Seton Hall Pirate. After being named to the All-BIG EAST Freshmen team last season, Whitehead emerged as the best player in the conference this season.
The sophomore is averaging 17.9 points per game, 3.3 rebounds, 4.9 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.5 blocks per game. In conference play, Whitehead averaged 20 points per game, which is ranked second in the conference. "Z" as his teammates call him, averaged 5.5 assists, 1.7 blocks and a 42.6 percent shooting clip from downtown against conference opponents. Whitehead has Seton Hall at 22-8 (12-6), which is good for third in the conference and all, but locks them in for the program’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 2006.
It is fitting that he was named an All-BIG EAST First teamer and Seton Hall’s seventh player to achieve that honor. The first since Brian Laing back in 2008.
Here are three reasons why Whitehead is the Big East’s top player.
It is the top reason that Seton Hall is an NCAA Tournament team once again and why Whitehead has been so good. Head coach Kevin Willard said after the win over Xavier on senior day that as long as his guards take care of their defensive duties that he is fine with whatever they do on the offensive end. To say the least, Whitehead has done his job.
The sophomore is the only power conference player to rank in the top-3 in his respective league when it comes to scoring and assists to go along with a top-10 ranking in blocks. Whitehead is also one of three players from power conferences that has made at least 50 shots from deep and blocked at least 40 shots. The other two are Duke’s Brandon Ingram, who is one of the top freshmen in America and Iowa’s Jarrod Uthoff who is in the running for National Player of the Year.
One of Whitehead’s signature defensive contributions are those patented chase down blocks. Many players this season were inclined to believe that they had an easy layup at the tin, but little did that know that Whitehead was right behind them waiting to strike. By the time they did it, was too late. The ball had already been pinned against the glass and taken by Seton Hall.
For those who may have forgotten, Whitehead is the point guard for Seton Hall this season. After many discussed during the preseason whether or not he could make that transition, it is safe to say that Whitehead has flourished in his role. Z averaged 5.5 assists during Big East play and wowed the nation with numerous amazing passes. Some were no-look passes. Others made you think he had eyes in the back of his head because he literally threw the ball behind his head to find the open man. That Georgetown assist was nominated for the State Farm Assist of the Year. However, it did not make it to the finals. As you can see from the video, he got robbed.
Whitehead has carried the load on the offensive end of the floor. When the Pirates need a basket, Whitehead can get it for them. If they need him to make a play for someone else, Whitehead can do that too. The super sophomore led the Pirates in scoring for the entire season and in Big East play. He is one of the best scorers in the conference and those 20 a game against conference teams was vital to Seton Hall finishing the season with nine wins in 11 games.
Whitehead can also do it all in isolation situations. He can hit threes, take you to the tin, make a shot around screens and beat you in transition. Whitehead’s offensive game has reminded many of Stephen Curry and this three pointer against Xavier, at the 34 second mark in the video, is probably a reason why.
The last Seton Hall player to win the BIG EAST Player of the Year Award was Lennox Dominique "Terry" Dehere back in 1993. He was also the BIG EAST Tournament MVP that season. Dehere’s number is now retired at Seton Hall.
Whitehead will look to become just the third Pirate ever to win the award. His defense, passing and playmaking ability have led to a tremendous season. Isaiah Whitehead has been the best player in the conference, which is why he will win the BIG EAST Player of the Year Award and bring that hardware back to South Orange for the first time in 23 years.