Angel Delgado and Seton Hall embark on quality non-conference schedule that will once again prepare Pirates to be a Big East championship contender. (Photo by the Asbury Park Press)
Seton Hall's non-conference schedule, leaked several weeks ago by Jerry Carino; who covers the Pirates for the Asbury Park Press, became public Monday afternoon, featuring 12 games before the soon-to-be-released Big East slate begins for the Pirates.
Led by a four-deep senior class anchored by Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington, Seton Hall begins their latest campaign on November 10 against in-state rival Fairleigh Dickinson before seeing five reigning postseason teams leading up to their final non-league tuneup, which comes at home on December 23 against Manhattan.
With our Seton Hall wingman Jason Guerette currently in the midst of baseball season in his other line of work as the voice of the Southern Illinois Miners, we are honored to fill in for his customary thoughts, offering opinions and insight on the Pirates' first voyages of the 2017-18 season before the ball is tipped for the first time:
1) This may just be Kevin Willard's strongest non-conference schedule yet.
The eighth-year head coach has taken his share of criticism over the years regarding his teams' schedules, particularly in the early stages of his tenure in South Orange. To his credit, he has been up front when defending this topic, and remains so to this day. But as Seton Hall has risen from the middle of the pack in the Big East to their status as an established contender, so too has the quality of the opponents the program has faced, and this season is no exception.
Welcoming Indiana, albeit a retooling Hoosier program under a new coach in Archie Miller, to the Prudential Center for a Gavitt Games matchup on November 15, only underscores this point, and then you have the NIT Preseason Tip-Off matchups against Rhode Island (more on that one later) and either Vanderbilt or Virginia the following day, both of whom were NCAA Tournament participants just five months ago. Add a road trip to Louisville and a home game against a quality mid-major in VCU, and you have marquee matchups that will not only be stern tests on the floor, but largely beneficial to the RPI and computer rankings as the season goes on. All told, six of the Pirates' dozen opponents finished the season with KenPom ratings inside the Top 50.
2) Almost all of the games are commutable.
Jerry Carino touched on this point as well, and with good reason. Aside from the December 3 trek to Louisville, an 11-hour journey door-to-door from the Seton Hall campus to the KFC Yum! Center should you be ambitious enough to drive it, every other game on the early part of the schedule is easily accessible. Besides Louisville, the four other road or neutral-site games are at Barclays Center (Preseason NIT), Madison Square Garden (Under Armour Reunion vs. Texas Tech), or the RAC, which is the site of this year's annual clash with Rutgers in the Garden State Hardwood Classic. The Pirates have always thrived on fan support, and with the Top 25 buzz surrounding the program as we count down to the first days of practice, a good attendance turnout will be all the more critical from opening tip to final buzzer.
3) Saint Peter's is back on the schedule.
The Peacocks did not play Seton Hall last season because the two sides were unable to come to an agreement despite encouragement on the part of Saint Peter's head coach John Dunne to continue the longtime series, marking the first time since 1949 that the two did not match wits on the hardwood. Whatever differences may have gone unresolved last season have obviously been quashed, as the Peacocks will once again face off against the Pirates, this time inside historic Walsh Gymnasium on December 12 in the renewal of a rivalry between two proud New Jersey programs. Defending CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament champions, Saint Peter's will be retooled both in the backcourt and up front, but senior sharpshooter Nick Griffin will still be a force to be reckoned with as the Peacocks look for their second win over The Hall in the last five seasons.
4) All of the subplots.
In particular, four games stand out by having an angle that ties to Seton Hall, but before we delve further into that, take note of the fact that five of the seven other New Jersey programs are playing Seton Hall this season, which further promotes the rich basketball culture of the Garden State. Only Princeton and Rider are not on the ledger.
Back to the storylines, if we may. First, the Thanksgiving night clash with Rhode Island (November 23) pits beloved Pirate Dan Hurley against his alma mater for the first time as head coach. Now in his sixth season at Rhode Island and coming off an Atlantic 10 championship, Hurley will have the Rams firmly positioned to repeat in the A-10, and the senior backcourt trio of E.C. Matthews, Jarvis Garrett and Jared Terrell will be a fun battle against Carrington, Myles Powell and Desi Rodriguez. Secondly, the Louisville game sees Willard square off against his mentor, Rick Pitino, for the first time since the Cardinals left the Big East in 2013. Next, the December 20 meeting with Wagner is significant in the form of Seahawks assistant coach Donald Copeland, who of course led the Pirates to the 2004 and 2006 NCAA Tournaments. Finally, the December 23 non-conference finale against Manhattan reunites Willard with Jaspers head coach and close friend Steve Masiello, with whom he served on Pitino's staff at Louisville before taking over as the head coach at Iona in 2007. If that isn't enough, Masiello was in consideration to replace Willard in New Rochelle before the Gaels decided to hire Tim Cluess in 2010. Bringing it full circle, Willard left Iona for Seton Hall to replace Bobby Gonzalez, who led Manhattan to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, with Masiello as his lead assistant.