Seton Hall has everything it needs reach Sweet 16

Seton Hall has everything it needs reach Sweet 16

Twenty-seven years ago, a Seton Hall player was named the Big East preseason player of the year. Nineteen years ago, the Pirates were picked to win the conference, and ranked among the nation’s top 12 teams.

The same can be said about Kevin Willard’s current team, which enters its most anticipated season in nearly two decades. Now, it must match the hype.

The pieces are in place for a season straight out of the P.J. Carlesimo era, led by senior guard Myles Powell — the program’s first AP preseason first team All-American — who is 831 points shy of Terry Dehere’s school scoring record. He’s joined by returning starters Sandro Mamukelashvili, Quincy McKnight and Myles Cale, and a deep and versatile supporting cast.

A daunting non-conference schedule looms and the Big East will be rugged, but this team is expected to reach the second weekend of the tournament. The fan base is thinking even bigger.

Myles Powell
Myles PowellAnthony J. Causi

Why Seton Hall will make the NCAA Tournament
Willard has already tied a program record by leading the Pirates to the dance in four straight years — winning at least 20 games each time — and enters this season with his best team yet. Powell is the scorer — and leader — every program in the country hopes to have, and the senior has plenty of help. Anything short of the team’s first Sweet 16 in 20 years is a failure.

Why Seton Hall won’t make the NCAA Tournament
Expectations don’t always translate into results. The non-conference schedule is brutal, featuring the likes of Michigan State, Oregon and Maryland. Powell gets his points, but he doesn’t receive enough help. Efficient-scoring forward Michael Nzei is missed and the program’s young players don’t make the expected leap.

Games to watch


Seton Hall vs. Michigan State (Nov. 14)

Three games into the season, the Pirates get their toughest test, when the No. 1 team in the nation comes to the Prudential Center for the Gavitt Tip-off Games. All eyes will be on preseason All-Americans Powell and Michigan State point guard Cassius Winston, who led the Spartans to the Final Four last season.

Seton Hall vs. Oregon (Nov. 27)

Another tough non-conference slate features a trip to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis. The Pirates draw another talented Dana Altman team, capable of making a second straight trip to the Sweet 16. With a win, Seton Hall would likely face off with a Final Four contender in Gonzaga.

Seton Hall vs. Maryland (Dec. 19)

The Pirates pulled a 78-74 upset in College Park last year, and get another opportunity at home against the Terps, who open the season ranked in the top 10. The biggest challenge for the Hall’s largely unproven frontline comes in slowing 6-foot-10 Jalen Smith, who is expected to be a top-10 NBA draft pick in the spring.

Seton Hall at St. John’s (Jan. 18)

Powell’s most recent visit to Madison Square Garden saw the guard go on a historic Big East Tournament run. This rivalry game isn’t as evenly matched as last season, but a packed crowd in the best building in the country will produce one of the best atmospheres of the season.

Seton Hall at Villanova (Feb. 8)

The two best teams in the Big East typically play the conference’s best games, including last season’s thrilling conference championship game. Since 2014, the teams have twice gone to overtime, seen three games decided by one point, three games decided by two and another decided by four.

Three key questions

How does Seton Hall handle the hype?
Willard’s program has never been in this position. Usually the Pirates have a chip on their shoulder and a lot to prove. Last year, they were picked eighth by the Big East coaches, which became a rallying cry. This year, they are expected to win the conference, draw large crowds and an unusually heavy media presence to New Jersey. This is all new.

Who can make the offensive leap to help Powell?

Mamukelashvili averaged 8.9 points and 7.8 rebounds last season, but often played out of position at the five. With the addition of Florida State transfer Ike Obiagu, and the progress fellow 7-footer Romaro Gill has made, the 6-foot-11 southpaw will move back to his natural spot at the four, where his versatility, shooting stroke and ball-handling will be an asset.

Seton Hall
Kevin Willard talks to Myles Cale.Getty Images

Are the youngsters ready?
Sophomore wing Jared Rhoden emerged late last season as a valuable reserve, scoring a career-high 15 points in an upset of Villanova. Classmate Anthony Nelson is the prototypical penetrating point guard, but his defense limited his impact last year. Then there is four-star freshmen wing Tyrese Samuel, a 6-foot-10 Canadian with 3-point range who averaged eight points and eight rebounds in two exhibition games.

X factor: Myles Cale
Powell is going to draw countless double-teams. Opponents will attempt to make someone else beat them, and Cale could do it. Powell is in desperate need of a wingman — Cale’s 10.2 points per game last season ranked second on the team — and the 6-foot-6 junior has the talent to fill that role, and take advantage of the attention on Powell.

Prediction

Unlike last season, Seton Hall won’t need a big finish to go dancing, instead cruising into their program-record fifth straight tournament. It stuns Michigan State the second week of the season to make an early statement and lands a four-seed in the tournament. Powell will come close — but not eclipse — Dehere’s scoring record, as the Pirates finish second in the Big East behind Villanova and reach the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2000.

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