Friar Basketball

Since We Last Saw Seton Hall

Myles Powell NY Post New York Post

When Providence last played Seton Hall, the Pirates looked anything but a team that so many would peg as a potential Final Four contender nine months later.

It was January 30 and Kevin Willard’s group had lost four straight (most recently an 80-52 beatdown at the hands of Villanova after giving up 97 in a loss to DePaul) when Providence traveled to Newark to take them on.

The Friars were 3-4 in conference play, the Hall 3-5, but the two teams went in drastically different directions after the late January tilt.

We’ll get to why so many have such high hopes for Seton Hall in 2019-20, but first here is a look back at the last time Providence and the Hall matched up.

The first 10 minutes of the second half were among Providence’s best of the season. Trailing by seven at the break, PC went on a 15-0 run early, highlighted by a Makai Ashton-Langford 3-pointer and three point plays by David Duke and Alpha Diallo.

 

During this stretch, Diallo and Duke took turns defending Seton Hall star Myles Powell and their length caused him problems. At one point, Fox commentator Jim Spanarkel noted how Duke and Powell were “really getting to know each other.”

That would only last for so long, however, as Powell (31 points on the night) turned it on when the game appeared to be slipping away. The momentum of Powell’s outburst was stemmed by a pair of 3-pointers by Drew Edwards that kept Providence in front.

Powell was simply terrific during this stretch, finishing difficult shots in traffic and burying a pair of contested threes.

 

Then it came down to execution late. The teams combined to score on four straight possessions beginning with a Diallo (21 points) 3 at the 4:23 mark that broke a 56-56 tie. This was followed by a Taurean Thompson layup for the Hall, a Nate Watson hook shot, and a short pull-up by the emerging Myles Cale.

 

On the ensuing possession, PC’s execution went to hell. Up a point with just over three minutes to play, Providence got the ball in the hands of Diallo. He was stripped by one of the league’s best defenders in the Hall’s Quincy McKnight. The result was a three point play on the other end and the final lead change of the game.

Diallo has likely burnt the tape of the closing moments of this one. He dribbled it off of his leg on the next possession on a post-up, and after a PC stop, Diallo then threw a soft pass toward the top of the key that Powell stole and raced away with for a layup at the other end: 65-61 Hall with 1:50 to play.

PC got a pair of free throws from Isaiah Jackson to cut the lead to two, but once again, late game execution killed them. Ashton-Langford traveled on a drive with 22 seconds left, and Jackson was stuffed on a game-tying attempt as the clock expired.

 

Seton Hall would go on to win three of its next four games and closed the regular season with wins against #16 Marquette and #23 Villanova. They would play their way into the Big East Tournament title game, falling 74-72 to Nova.

Like the rest of their Big East counterparts, Seton Hall limped out of the 2019 NCAA tournament with a first round loss to Wofford, 84-68.

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Powell has returned for his senior season, and if he is not on a publication’s All American squad the publication might as well fold. Powell is a superstar and the biggest reason why Seton Hall was able to return to the NCAA tournament last year, despite the losses of Angel Delgado, Khadeen Carrington, and Desi Rodgriguez.

Powell proved in an overtime win over Kentucky last year that he is good enough to shoot the Pirates past anyone, but what makes this year’s version of the Hall so different is their length.

Good luck scoring at the rim against them. Outside of Powell, the biggest buzz surrounds 7’2, 265 pound Florida State transfer Ike Obiagu. Obiagu (seen blocking seven Boston College shots below) started several games for an Elite Eight club prior to his transfer, and he is not the only 7’2 shot blocker on the roster.

 

Romaro Gill (seen above blocking Isaiah Jackson’s attempt at the buzzer) is another talented shot blocker. He was slowed mid-season with an ankle injury, but flashed game-changing defensive ability.

Taurean Thompson stands 6’11 and came to the Hall via transfer from Syracuse. He has not lived up to his lofty high school ranking and fell out of the rotation late last year, but he brings a better offensive arsenal than Gill or Obiagu.

Perhaps the most sure thing in the frontcourt is junior Sandro Mamukelashvili, a 6’10 lefty who averaged nearly nine points and eight boards a game last year. He has upside as an inside/out scoring threat. He should be one of the more versatile big men in the league this year, especially if given the chance to fire away more from deep.

With Powell playing the starring role and the interior length to rival any program in the country, Willard also has upside in the backcourt and on the wing.

The veteran McKnight is one of the best on-ball defenders in the Big East, Cale showed signs of developing into a number two option last year and could conceivably compete for all league honors, while guards Anthony Nelson and Jared Rhoden were both solid as freshmen.

Add it all up, and Willard’s group has the potential to knock Villanova from atop its Big East perch and play deep into March.

It won’t take long before we see just how good this Seton Hall group is. They host (likely #1) Michigan State in mid-November, travel to Iowa State in December, and then take on Maryland at home a week later. There are also potential big-time matchups at the Battle 4 Atlantis, with a field including North Carolina, Michigan, and Gonzaga.

There will be a bit of a prove-it-to-me feel, regardless of the versatility of this roster. The Hall has won just one NCAA tournament game since 2004. Willard’s groups fell in the first round in 2016 (68-52 to Gonzaga when the Pirates were the 6 seed and Zags the 11) and 2017 (77-71 to Arkansas in an 8/9 game). They broke through with a first round win over NC State in 2018 and then fell just short against top seeded Kansas (83-79) in Wichita.

That past won’t matter to this year’s group come March. The Pirates will boast a guard who can carry them offensively, and a defense capable of locking teams down.

In what figures to be an ultra-competitive Big East, Seton Hall is likely the preseason favorite to win the league in 2019-20.

Twitter: Kevin_Farrahar

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