Thursday, October 28, 2010

2010-11 Preview -- Seton Hall Pirates

Too Busy for the Details?
Bobby Gonzalez's "high risk, high reward" experiment has been extended (more or less) for another year...minus the chief architect. The new head coach had a scare in his first month as one of his best players, Herb Pope, collapsed after a workout and spent more than a month in the hospital. The silver lining is that Pope seems to have recovered and that incident may have played a small role in bringing the other two NBA Draft defectors (Jeremy Hazell and Jeff Robinson) back into the fold. That reconciliation means the new head coach takes over a program stocked with veteran talent (however temperamental) at nearly every position. Is talent with little discipline enough to win in this conference? If Willard can get this team to work together...the prognosis that follows is too low.  Prognosis -- A 3rd quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance

Herb Pope will return and contribute this season. The junior #4 had declared for the NBA draft (along with teammates Jeff Robinson and Jeremy Hazell) but collapsed during an on campus workout. A hospital stay convinced the transfer that another season might re-establish his value for the draft. In a stroke of luck for coach Kevin Willard, Pope, Hazell and Robinson all decided to return to the South Orange school and try to improve on their 2010 record. If these guys had a high Pythagorean Winning Percentage (PWP) out of last season, the signs would all point toward a much better outcome this season. Of course if they had that PWP, Bobby Gonzalez would probably still be coach.

According to Pomeroy...
BE Eff.Diff-1.810-4.711-5.711
be Off Eff106.010103.110103.310
BE Def Eff107.811107.712109.012
BE OReb%33.21229.51530.814
BE DReb%36.21243.51638.815

One of the more interesting paradoxes of the Pirates under Coach Gonzalez is the lack of progress on offense, despite having one of the best shooters in the conference. The "Future is Now" strategy of 2010 produced a modest uptick on defense. Just enough to get the Hall to the 0.500 plateau in conference play and an NIT bid. Coach Willard has an experienced squad, and if he can get this group to rebound defensively (both boards actually), then the Hall may cross that line that separates the upper and lower halves of the conference.

For the Record...
Big East990.5007110.3897110.389
Post Season?NIT Rnd #1BET Rnd #2BET Rnd #1

The staff upgraded the schedule last season to include A-10 champion (and NCAA #5 seed) Temple along with ACC middle weight Virginia Tech. The Hall still improved their record. A few more schedule upgrades are offered this season (see below). If SHU can step up their record yet again, another post season tournament should come to them.

The Pirates' Nucleus
Coach Willard steps into an ideal situation. He has talent and experience at nearly every position. These Pirates reached the 0.500 mark in conference play last season, so they know they can win in the Big East. Can the staff set the goals and keep them focused?

On Offense
Jeremy Hazell78.0116.026.531.651.73.61.1029.4
Herb Pope73.899.
Jordan Theodore64.5109.519.117.747.53.01.0437.8
Jeff Robinson50.1118.819.120.954.39.21.1435.0
Keon Lawrence35.985.016.216.830.34.10.6916.5
Jamel Jackson25.6114.018.724.553.42.11.0811.4
Ferrakohn Hall23.5114.710.810.359.85.31.1743.1

Keon Lawrence struggled last season, but having a run-in with the law just before the first game of the season and getting suspended (for nearly two months) just days before playing the first "real" game in almost a year can do that. Lawrence seemed a step behind or a second slow all spring. Jeff Robinson, eligible as of last January on the other hand, is poised for a very strong season. He finished as a high-end "Role Player" (see Ken Pomeroy for more details on this classification system). The ceiling for Robinson is somewhere near the border of "Major Player". The question is where the additional possessions will come from (hello Jeremy Hazell). Robinson, Lawrence and bfc Herb Pope were all part of the "High Risk; High Reward" strategy Coach Gonzalez persued as he recruited these transfers to jumpstart the Seton Hall program. Lawrence (a high-volume scorer for his two seasons at Missouri) has brought little since his re-instatement, Pope was generally positive (if you overlook his NIT game versus Texas Tech and the most recent rumor that he signed a pro contract to play in Turkey proved false), while Robinson has a very productive conference season (his eligibility began at the end of the fall 2009 semester). Senior Jeremy Hazell has led the team in scoring virtually since his freshman season. An All-Rookie Teamer, promoted to the All-Conference Second Team last season (his junior year) and named to the preseason All-Conference First Team, the senior can help this team tremendously if he includes his teammates in the offense. His shooting numbers, a 51% eFG%, an offensive rating of 116.0 when taking over 3 in 10 shots when he is logging time is impressive -- until you consider the team's overall offensive rating is only 111.5. Hazell ended 1 in 4 team possesions, but had an assist rate of less than 10%. His numbers on defense (a defensive rebounding rate of 7.8 is low, even for a guard/wing).

On Defense
Jeremy Hazell78.
Herb Pope73.823.711.617.95.71.4
Jordan Theodore64.56.422.416.20.93.2
Jeff Robinson50.
Keon Lawrence35.910.116.716.82.81.5
Jamel Jackson25.
Ferrakohn Hall23.512.43.713.52.11.8

On the defensive side, Jamel Jackson and Ferrakohn Hall are back, and while both had strong offensive numbers that no doubt reflected the "All Eyes on Hazell" offense, they will need to step up their defense (specifically rebounding). The senior has scored 1,789 points over his first three seasons, and is on track to be the third Pirate (first since Terry Dehere in 1993) to score 2,000 points in his collegiate career. If Hazell maintains last season's pace, expect him to get there before Christmas (NJIT? Dayton?). Junior Jordan Theodore has played behind graduated point guard Eugene Harvey for two seasons. While the junior does not have to be a scorer (between Pope, Hazell and Robinson there will be enough on the floor already), he does have to do a better job converting three point attempts. His 2009-10 numbers (27-74, 0.365) suggest he could be even more effective from the perimeter (passing into the low post, or scraping a defender on a high pick) if he can make the step back shot something for a defender to think about. Lawrence will most likely be his backup.

Significant Additions
Fifth year senior transfer (from Mississippi) Enil Polynice logged over 800 minutes for the Rebels in 2009-10, but was another volume shooter/scorer whose efficiency ratings (93.4 per Ken Pomeroy's Team Report) suggest that as a scorer he would be of little benefit to the Pirates. His assist rate (28.0) and playing time (as a percentage of the minutes at his position) give him a profile similar to the departed Harvey (though at 6-5 and 220 pounds, Polynice would fit better on the wing), and he may fill a role similar to Harvey's in the Hall offense. Of the four true freshmen joining the squad, 6-6 205 pound forward Fuquan Edwin out of Paterson Catholic (possibly the last class from that school), NJ, is the best regarded. Ranked by Scout, Inc. as #26 among #3s nationally, Edwin will compete with Jackson and Hall for time on the wing (if Robinson and Pope "slide up" a position), and may provide some needed rebounding. 6-9, 225 pound power forward Patrik Auda, one of two Pirate pickups from the Canarias Basketball Academy (Canary Islands, Spain), will probably see minutes this season as he brings accurate shooting out to the three point line to the table. The lefty is skilled but not athletic, so he may see spot duty next to (rather than in place of...) Pope. Aaron Geramipoor, a 6-11, 225 pound pf is a very long but light project. A year in the weight room and practicing his jumper, when combined with his great length (7-4 wing span...), will give SHU a good rebounder with scoring possibilities. 6-8 Anali Okoloji, a 210 pound prep student from Brooklyn, NY by way of the Impact Basketball Academy is a power forward with a handle. If he can rebound, he will probably see more time next season, playing one spot up from Edwin (at the #4) or one spot down from Hall (at the #3).

Explode If...
1. Coach Willard can persuade Jeremy Hazell to play defense. Good defense. Lacking consistent defense, Pirate games often went to the team that could score more consistently in the last 10 minutes. Keying on Hazell and defending his shot during that period was too easy for too many teams.
2. Jeff Robinson and Jordan Theodore hit the high-end of the efficiency usage band. Both convert possessions into points effectively, but right now they are high-end "Role Player" guys (possession/shot rate around 19%). They need to be high-end "Significant Contributor" guys (possession/shot rate around 24%) Hazell naturally draws defensive attention. Those guys have to get the ball and score enough to give those defenses someone else to think about.
3. Become an average, or just above average rebounding team. Moving up two positions in rebounding within the conference was a large reason for the Pirates' four game swing in conference play. They tend to shoot efficiently and value the ball, but they get relatively fewer second chance opportunities while surrendering relatively more rebounds to their opponents. Pope was a factor last season, someone among Robinson, Hall, Jackson, Edwin or Auda needs to step up and complement Pope.
Implode If...
In the face of enormous and numerous distractions in 2009-10 Seton Hall still managed to win 19 games total with nine coming in conference play. Only after a tumultuous week that included bad press going into the BET, the exceptionally poor handling of Stix Mitchell's press melt down and the (criminal) aftermath did the squad "crack" in the Texas Tech game. How could this season be more distracting and disheartening? Hopefully Coach Willard will not try to install a new offense and defense (ok, maybe not an entirely new offense), but will concentrate on improving what the players do well and developing schemes that amplify their strengths.

Crucial Run/Bellweather Games
The Hall faces an challenging out of conference schedule that starts with a road trip to Philadelphia to close out a home-away agreement with Temple (a consensus Top 20 team). Tilts with Alabama (followed by Iowa or Xavier) at the Paradise Jam, Big East/SEC Challenge opponent Arkansas (at Louisville), Dayton and Richmond, both of whom with contend for the A-10 title and should be in line for NCAA bids translates into the kind of slate SHU will have to play to draw some national attention. 11 or 12 wins going into conference play would be great -- but unrealistic. The numbers to follow will be defense and rebounding, if they show improvement, nine or ten wins is realistic and should give the Pirate faithful hopes for the conference season.

Reviewing SHU's mirror opponents -- Marquette Rutgers and Syracuse -- the Pirates can draw consolation (or confidence) from the knowledge that they should sweep Rutgers and have a solid chance to do no worse than split with Marquette and Syracuse, giving giving them a 4-2 leg up on the rest of their slate. Should they sweep Marquette, a tall order given those two games are backloaded on the schedule, the Pirates will most likely cross over to the upper division. Last season they recorded a 9-9 conference record by dominating at home, 6-3, while putting up an opposite, 3-6 away record. To at least match the nine win result this season, the Pirates would need two wins from an unusually tough road slate -- Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and West Virginia. Cincinnati, Louisville and DePaul are among the first five games they play, so they will have to start their season quickly. A 3-2 conference record going into Pittsburgh on January 15 would track with where the Pirates should be for a 9-9 season. Better than that (4-1?) would be a strong statement for Pirate prospects, as they should expect to collect another two or so wins (Rutgers? Providence?) through the end of January. A record of 2-3 or worse through the first five conference games would spell trouble, or at least that SHU would have to surprise a few folks at the backend of the schedule. The first two weeks of February present the Hall with a crucial four game run, starting with a road trip to Morgantown to face the Mountaineers on the 2/2. They return to the Rock to host UConn, then run down the Jersey Pike to play Rutgers and then home again to host Villanova (on 2/15). A 2-2 record is indicated by the ratings, a 3-1 record could scramble the rankings through the second quartile (especially if Coach Willard's crew sports a 6-4 record going into February...) and put the Hall in the conversation for an NCAA bid. If the Hall is hot, the last four games (two home and two away) would be for BET (and NCAA?) seed.

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