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Sunday, October 08, 2006


October 8, 2006

Seton Hall, just like their Jersey counterpart in the Big East Rutgers, also embarks on an exciting new era in their program with the hiring of Boby Gonzalez as their new head coach. Unlike Rutgers, however, Louis Orr was not retained despite having success in the Big East, posting a winning conference mark in three of the last four seasons and making the NCAA Tournament in two of the last three years, including last season's surprising run. However, a lack of recruiting confidence, especially among the too metro-area players in the fertile grounds of NYC and NJ, coupled with Rutgers move to promote former SHU assistant Fred Hill as assistant coach likely led to the dismissal of Orr.

Not only do the Pirates have to get used to playing under the different personality of Bobby Gonzalez (completely night and day from Louis Orr), but they also have to do repalce the immense contributons of their senior duo from last season, Kelly Whitney and Donald Copeland.

Not much was expected from the Pirates last year under Orr as the team played under the cloud of questions regarding his future. However, the Pirates perservered and finished 9-7 in the Big East and were invited to the NCAA Tournament. Much credit on the court went to seniors Copeland and Whitney who stepped up their games in a very consistent manner and led the Pirates throughout the Big East. Copeland had a knack for coming up big in clutch situations and Whitney rebounded from a ery disappointing junior season. With the coaching change Marcus Cousins, David palmer and Mike Pilgrim also decided to leave the program, with Cousins and Palmer being players who would have had key roles this season. This leaves the Pirates with just 50% of last year's production returning.


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Despite getting the coaching job in late April, Gonzalez went right to work securing a recruiting class. In a short period of time, coach Gonzalez gave the Pirate faithful the kind of return they hoped as he used his NYC ties to bring in PG Eugene Harvey, SG Larry Davis and G/F Kashif Pratt, all from top programs in the metra area. All three players should be perfect for the aggressive and quick system that Gonzalez likes to utilize and should form a very good backcourt of the future for the Pirates. They will likely take some licks as freshmen in the Big East that, as always, is loaded with good backcourts. In time, this group should also be considered one of the strongest as well. Right now, the Pirates are anxiously awaiting the NCAA Clearinhouse ruling on the eligibility of Harvey. Widely expected to be their starting PG from day one, any delay in him seeing the floor is not good news at all for SHU.

Among the returning players, Jamar Nutter has the most experience and is coming off a very productive season in which he averaged nearly 15 PPG in conference play and emerged as one of th econference's best 3-pt shooters, a trait that many questioned of him when entering college. Nutter will have to deal with some added defensive attention with SHU's lack of offensive potential inside and some inexperienced players around him.

On the SF spot we are looking for Brian Laing to have a strong season. Laing is a player that will always bring his best effort and has been working very hard at improving his perimeter skills to play the wing consistently at the Big East level. Redshirt junior Mani Messy has a reputation of being a good shooter, but we have yet to see him get time to prove it on the court. He could be a shot in the arm for the Pirates if he can emerge as a perimeter threat off the bench and spell Laing.

The Pirate frontcourt is a BIG question mark and makes me very leery of having SHU rated this high in the preseason. Last year, it was Kelly Whithey in the middle and as the season wore on, David Palmer showed some nice potential. Now, both are gone and the Pirates are left scrambling a little bit. The likely starting forward is 6'7 Stan Gaines, a defensive specialist. The former Minnesota Golden Gopher has never been one to add much in terms of scoring, but he emerged as one of the league's better defenders last year. This year, the Pirates will need him to score more, otherwise, the defense will likely pay little attention to the SHU big men as scoring threats. The other starter in the frontcourt will be senior Grant Billmeier, again, not much of a scoring threat, the senior captain is a player that will work hard and try not to do too much. In the past, any offense out of Billmeier was considered a bonus, now they will need him to keep defenses honest.

It was hopeful that this would be the year for John Garcia, a prized recruit out of Long Island that was their heir apparent to Whitney. However, injuries have robbed Garcia of the majority of time the last two seasons and the redshirt freshmen is still a question mark this season. He is more of a lumbering player and the style of play that Bobby Gonzalez prefers is probably not th ebest fit for a 6'9, 260 lb C with sore knees. However, if healthy and in shape, Garcia has the hands and footwork to be an offensive threat in the post.

On a team that will look for offense, they might have one of th ebest sources of instant offense off the bench in the form of sophomore Paul Gause. Last year, Gause showed the ability to score some points in a hurry, despite standing just 5'11, the former football prospect showed some toughness on the court to allow him to be a threat off the ball. This year, look for him to be more comfortable in his role and hit the 3-pt shot at a much better clip. He and Larry Davis could be a pair of dangerous 3rd guards in the Hall line-up and allow Bobby Gonzalez to unleash some of his full court looks that his Manhattan teams were known for. This might cause the Pirates to go quite small, but there might not be much of an alternative this season.

The Pirates have some backcourt depth and the players at the guard and wing positions look to be the kind that should fit well in new coach Bobby Gonzalez's system. However, a razor-thin frontcourt with very little scoring experience or scoring potential worries me greatly. Seton Hall does have the (projected) easiest schedule on paper, so that gives them some hope this year to challenge the .500 mark, but every night is going to be a battle, home and away, to get their wins. They can not afford to let a winnable game go, because they will be vulnerable to a hot hand every night. There will also be nights they are completely over-matched, just like last year, but somehow, they were able to claw their way into the NCAA Tournament. They will give a few games back this year, but they should have enough in guard play to make the Big East tournament and hold there own along the way.

Projected Big East record: 7-9

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