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2016-17 Big East nonconference schedule analysis: Seton Hall Pirates

With higher expectations after the best season during Kevin Willard’s tenure, the Pirates have scheduled some tougher nonconference opponents to test them this year.

NCAA Basketball: Seton Hall at Rutgers Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Seton Hall finished 10-2 in nonconference play last season. However, that success may be attributed to the rather weak slate of non-Big East opponents. According to KenPom, the Pirates nonconference strength of schedule was ranked 244th. Seton Hall ended up going 25-9 to finish the year, including a Big East Tournament title and a NCAA Tournament appearance.

With higher expectations this time around, the Pirates beefed up their schedule with much tougher opponents. Seton Hall will have another challenge in replacing Isaiah Whitehead, and head coach Kevin Willard will be tested early. Here is a look at what awaits Seton Hall in the first half of its regular season.

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Fairleigh Dickinson (November 11)

The Knights did not have a single senior on their roster last season, and it showed. They had a turbulent 18-15 season, which ended in a Northeast Conference title and an appearance in the NCAA Tournament. They got bounced out of the First Four, but with their core players coming back, they're primed to build on last year. FDU's top three scorers from last season are only juniors--Darian Anderson, Earl Potts Jr., and Marques Townes--so there's plenty of time and room for improvement.

While they have more experience, they are still lacking in size. Malik Miller was the tallest player on FDU's roster last season, standing at 6-foot-9, but he only averaged 9.2 minutes per game. He and freshman Kaleb Bishop (6-8) are the only Knights that are taller than 6-foot-7.

Central Connecticut (November 13)

Donyell Marshall will make his head coaching debut this season. Marshall will look to turn around the Blue Devils after a horrendous 2015-16 season that only featured four wins, finishing in last place in the NCAA along with Chicago State for wins. Prior to arriving at Central Connecticut, he previously held assistant coaching positions at Buffalo, Rider, George Washington, and NBA D-League Maine Red Claws.

Marshall will have to find out how to fix the Blue Devils' scoring woes and will have to do so without one of their top scorers from last season, Brandon Peel (11.7 points per game). Central Connecticut finished in 321st out of 346 teams for points per game (65.1). They ranked slightly better in scoring defense, placing 307th in points allowed per game (78.2).

at Iowa (November 17, Iowa City, Iowa)

The Hawkeyes only had two players score at least 10 points per game last season, current Toronto Raptors forward and All-American Jarrod Uthoff (18.9) and Peter Jok (16.1). Iowa is fortunate to have Jok return, but it will have to find a way to replace Uthoff's production in the post on both ends of the court. This will be the first of a handful of teams that Seton Hall will face that had a NCAA Tournament appearance last season.

Iowa won its Gavitt Games matchup last season, easily taking down Marquette 89-61 on the road. Meanwhile, this will be Seton Hall's first time participating in the series.

Advocare Invitational (Orlando, Fla.)

Florida (November 24)

The Gators are trying to return to NCAA Tournament shape. Last season was a step back in the right direction, as they returned to an above-.500 record after a disappointing 2014-15 season. They weren't in the Big Dance, but they settled for a quarterfinal appearance in the NIT as a consolation prize. Florida doesn't have a big recruiting class, only bringing in three 3-star recruits, so it looks like the veterans will have to save the day. The Gators return four out of five top scorers from last season, losing leading scorer Dorian Finney-Smith, but KeVaughn Allen and John Egbunu look like they can create a great guard-center tag team.

Gonzaga or Quinnipiac (November 25)

Gonzaga: If the Pirates draw Gonzaga, it would be a rematch of last season's opening round of the NCAA Tournament. The 11-seeded Bulldogs pulled off an upset over 6-seed Seton Hall, winning 68-52. The game wasn't even close, as Seton Hall shot an ugly 20-of-62 (32.3 percent) overall and an even worse 4-for-21 (19.0 percent) performance from long range. Although the stakes won't be as high as the Big Dance, the Pirates would definitely love a shot at avenging last year's bitter defeat.

Quinnipiac: The Bobcats are coming off of their worst season during head coach Tom Moore's tenure. Moore, who is entering his 10th season as coach, will try to bring his team back in the right direction after a disappointing 9-24 season. Similar to Seton Hall, the Bobcats have a strong junior class that will be the cornerstone for this upcoming season. They will see an uptick in minutes and more opportunities. Leading the charge will be senior Daniel Harris, who is Quinnipiac's top returning scorer. He averaged 10.2 points per game for a Quinnipiac squad that struggled to score.

Indiana State OR Iowa State OR Stanford OR Miami (November 27)

Indiana State: Brenton Scott is one the best 3-point shooters that the Sycamores have ever seen in the history of the program. He currently ranks sixth all-time in Indiana State history with 135 made 3-pointers. He has been a staple in the Sycamore rotation since he was a redshirt freshman and made a reputation for himself as one of the best players in the Missouri Valley Conference. After back-to-back losing seasons, the Sycamores are hoping to return to above-.500 this season, and possibly even a postseason tournament. With the graduations of Devonte Brown and Khristian Smith, he will certainly get a bulk of the touches. How far can he take them?

Iowa State: Head coach Steve Prohm didn't do so badly in his first year as the Cyclones' head coach. He led his team to a 23-12 record and a Sweet 16 appearance. He's hoping to avoid a sophomore slump of his own, as he will have a greater challenge this time around: replacing Georges Niang. Niang, an All-American and two-time All-Big 12 first teamer, led the Cyclones with 20.5 points per game. Iowa State also said farewell to Jameel McKay and Abdel Nader, both of whom averaged double figures last season. Prohm will have to figure out a way to replace Niang, and his search will probably begin with a loaded class of seven seniors.

Stanford: The Cardinal missed postseason play for the first time in five seasons. An even 15-15 finish put it out of the NIT and the NCAA Tournament. The off-year was somewhat expected, as Stanford graduated and saw a handful of its talented players move onto to play basketball professionally. Josh Huestis and Dwight Powell, who were integral pieces in a run to the Sweet 16 in 2014, are now in the NBA. Anthony Brown is now on the Los Angeles Lakers, and Stefan Nastic plays overseas. Both of them led Stanford to a NIT championship in 2015. According to 247sports, Stanford will be bringing in a pair of 4-star freshmen this season, Kodye Pugh and Trevor Stanback. They may be the key in bringing Stanford back to the postseason, but it make take another year before the Cardinal see it again.

Miami: The Hurricanes graduated three players who played a big part in their run to the Sweet 16: sharpshooter Sheldon McClellan, all-around point guard Angel Rodriguez, and 7-foot big man Tonye Jekiri. Head coach Jim Larranaga did not wait to find their replacements. He's bringing a top-15 recruiting class headlined by a pair of 5-star recruits--Mass. guard Bruce Brown and forward Dewan Huell, who's playing for his hometown school. The 'Canes also have 4-star center Rodney Miller and overseas import Dejan Vasiljevic. With that said, it appears that Miami is destined for another NCAA Tournament appearance, and it's always beneficial to get such a test early in the season.

Columbia (December 1)

The Lions had a strong senior class help them finish 25-10 en route to a CIT championship. Their top three scorers are all graduated, and Luke Petrasek is their top scorer from last season. In fact, he’s the only returning player to average more than at least six points per game (10.2). Columbia has a lot of unproven players and talent. Maybe, the Lions will be able to find some hidden gems, otherwise it’s looking like a rebuilding year.

Fox Sports Pearl Harbor Invitational (Honolulu, Haw.)

Hawaii (December 6)

After making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 14 years and reaching the round of 32 for the first time in program history, the Rainbow Warriors have a high precedent to follow. They’ll have to do it without two key pieces—Stefan Jankovic and Roderick Bobbitt, two of their top three scorers from last season who are now graduated. Another key departure is Quincy Smith, who scored a team-high 19 points in the upset win over California in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. Aaron Valdes, a 6-foot-5 guard, is Hawaii’s top returning scorer. He averaged 14.1 points per game and shot 47.1 percent on the floor. Most of the workload will be placed on his shoulders.

California (December 7)

The Golden Bears were primed for a deep run in the NCAA Tournament until leading scorer Tyrone Wallace shattered his hand just days before their opening round game against Hawaii. While Wallace’s absence wasn’t the final deciding factor, it certainly didn’t help Cal in losing its floor general and do-it-all guard. Wallace and Jaylen Brown are both in the NBA now. The Golden Bears almost lost another player to the NBA Draft in Ivan Rabb, but fortunately for them, he is returning for at least one more year. It’ll help the transitioning process. Rabb, along with now seniors Jordan Matthews and Jabari Bird, will be the focal point of this team. Rabb is an imposing force inside, while Matthews and Bird are perimeter threats who shot over 40 percent from long range last season.

South Carolina (December 12, Madison Square Garden, N.Y.)

It has been 42 years since Seton Hall and South Carolina squared off on the basketball court. It’s only fitting that they will be clashing in the inaugural Under Armour Reunion, which happens to be at Madison Square Garden, the site of the Pirates and Gamecocks’ first and only meeting. Back then, South Carolina beat Seton Hall on Jan. 26, 1974, winning in a thrilling 75-74 contest. The Pirates will have a chance to even the score.

Delaware (December 17)

After spending 13 years as a member of his alma mater’s coaching staff, Martin Inglesby is ready to make the move from an assistant at Notre Dame to head coach of the Delaware Blue Hens. He will have a tall order in store for him: rebuilding the Blue Hens. Since winning the CAA conference title and earning a spot in the 2014 NCAA Tournament, Delaware has regressed each year. Finally, after last year’s 7-23 season, it was time for a coaching change. Inglesby will have to rebuild without Kory Holden, who averaged a team-high 17.7 points per game last season. Holden has since transferred to South Carolina and will sit out the 2016-17 season. Finding his replacement might not necessarily happen this year, but there’s a winding road ahead for Inglesby.

Rutgers (December 23)

Rutgers is also ushering in a new coach, Steve Pikiell, who previously was the head coach at Stony Brook. Last season, he led the Seawolves to their only conference tournament championship and NCAA Tournament appearance. The Scarlet Knights haven’t seen a winning season in over a decade. Seton Hall won last year’s meeting in convincing fashion, now it is gearing up for Rutgers to come knocking on the Pirates’ house. With both schools just 45 minutes apart and within state borders, what else is there to say about two New Jersey schools playing each other?

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Outlook

As talented as Isaiah Whitehead is, his absence will fare better for the Pirates overall. They will have to adjust, but the volume scoring point guard wasn’t all that efficient, shooting just 36.7 percent on the floor. The Pirates will rely on each other as opposed to putting most of the responsibility on one person. They may struggle at times during the nonconference portion of their schedule, but that’s what the beginning of the season is for, to work out the kinks. They still have all of the other members of their junior class that has been the heart of the team. They finished 10-2 last year, and it’s very possible that they do that again—even with the handful of teams that made the 2016 NCAA Tournament. I don’t see the Pirates losing more than three nonconference games this season.