Five storylines that will define Seton Hall’s off-season

As much as you may want to be in denial, the Seton Hall hoops off-season is upon us. It’s time to accept that fact and gaze into the future as the coming months will influence how the 2019-20 season plays out.

Look on the bright side: speculation, projections, and rumors is what makes a large portion of the sports world tick.

Case in point, remember when many of us — myself included — pegged Taurean Thompson to be Seton Hall’s starting power forward last spring and summer? More on that below.

Testing the waters, outgoing (and incoming) transfers, and recruiting will all be themes from now ’till the late summer months.

Here’s five of the biggest storylines to follow this off-season.

Myles Powell’s future

The initial news is positive for Seton Hall fans, but not the least bit surprising.

I’d be shocked if Powell didn’t throw his name into the mix and “test the waters” (anyone else tired of this phrase?), it would be a bit naive not to as you get to throw your hat in the mix twice and Powell is a senior next year. So don’t be worried if you see that news break, but keep a close eye on any potential NBA workouts and if particular franchises take a liking to him — all it takes is one to really express interest and we might be having a different discussion.

But on the positive side of things, Powell is a loyal guy, especially to Kevin Willard but also to Seton Hall and Jersey. There are records to set, degrees to earn, and unfinished business to resolve, not to mention some of Powell’s on-court flaws that can be worked upon. There should be nothing to worry about here.

The curious case of Taurean Thompson

Since a one-game suspension on February 9th against Creighton for a “violation of team rules” that Willard quickly dismissed post-game, Thompson registered five DNPs, six if you discredit the one mop-up minute against Wofford. In the five games he did see action, Thompson only logged five minutes per game and scored six total points while Seton Hall went 2-3 including the three-game losing streak that almost doomed them.

The most defining moment for me was against Marquette at the Garden. Riddled with foul trouble, Willard immediately went to freshman stretch-four Jared Rhoden at center late in the game instead of Thompson; Taurean frequently sat at the end of the scholarship player portion of the bench late this season and wasn’t even an afterthought, although it should be said that his attitude on the bench and during warmups seemed positive.

It’s easy to say the big man will transfer, but where to? Assuming he wants to play D-I, Thompson would have to sit out another year and would lose a year of eligibility since you get five years to play four seasons barring injury, which has not been the case here. Thompson has already used three of his five years to play two seasons, so he’d have one season of eligibility left should he transfer.

Technically scholarships are one-year renewed deals, but it’s fairly rare for coaches to just release scholarship players — they are usually pushed out behind closed doors with it looking like the player is opting to transfer.

Maybe some magic can be worked this off-season for a feel-good comeback story, but it seems like Willard has thrown in the towel. Thompson was impressive in random bursts on offense and crashed the defensive glass for a few collective minutes, but was largely erratic in his playing style and fell behind several guys in the pecking order; things won’t get much thinner in the front court next year with sit-out center and block specialist Ike Obiagu joining the fray.

Hopefully there is a resolution that is best for all parties, but it seems the ideal outcome for Seton Hall right now is an open scholarship.

Roster addition (and subtraction) via immediately eligible transfers and junior college players

The college hoops free agency period has already begun with Seton Hall being linked to a graduate transfer, despite technically not having any open scholarships for next season as of today.

You don’t need to be a mathematician capable of predicting the odds of how the Big East’s parity-centric season played out to figure this one out: there will surely be attrition, a fact of pretty much any program’s off-season.

The question that poses more outcomes is what type of instant impact player(s) is Willard and his staff interested in? A pure point guard to tutor Anthony Nelson? An additional outside shooter to assist the Hall’s 269th-ranked three-point percentage (258th in % of points from three)? A power forward to replace Thompson or any outgoing transfers?

Based on the link above, Little Rock’s 6’5 Rayjon Tucker (20.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg) does a little bit of everything (70-166, 42% 3PT) — especially score — in a bit of a veteran Jared Rhoden role. I’m sure we will know more about the staff’s intentions as additional targets surface.

Point guard development

This topic deserved it’s own bullet point. As alluded to above, Willard & Co. need to make a decision about whether the combination of Anthony Nelson, Quincy McKnight, and Myles Powell is enough to run the show after an off-season of development and improvement.

Some are bullish on Nelson’s progress — he dished ten assists to two turnovers over Seton Hall’s last six games while scoring 12 in the Big East final.

While the case can also be made to roll the dice and try to pull a one-and-done transfer with the selling point of complimenting Powell for a big season, this assumes that the transfer market will have some big-time point guards available. Imagine allowing McKnight to shift back to a pure ball-hawk role a la Derrick Gordon where he isn’t forced outside his comfort zone as much and doesn’t have to worry about fouls.

On the flip side, throwing Nelson into the fire full-time can yield massive dividends next year and beyond and perhaps allow McKnight some leeway, but not as much as grad transfer would. A happy medium.

How tough will the non-conference schedule get?

One of my personal favorite things to track during the off-season is the coming year’s non-league schedule and next year’s should be as good as any seen in the Willard era.

We already know that Seton Hall will play in the Bahamas at Battle 4 Atlantis along with Alabama, Gonzaga, Iowa State, Michigan, North Carolina, Oregon, and Southern Miss. for the seemingly annual Thanksgiving week tournament and that Maryland will return to Jersey to complete the home-and-home series. 

The team will travel to Saint Louis to continue that series and of course will play at an improving Rutgers in the annual rivalry game. 

New to the schedule next year is the Big East – Big 12 Challenge and Seton Hall could be drawn in the Gavitt Games again, though that is no guarantee. 

Outside of those seven (or eight) pretty tough games, I wonder if Willard and Shaheen Holloway will renew the Saint Peter’s series and if Fairleigh Dickinson — who made the tournament this year — will be back on the schedule; FDU head coach Greg Herenda has always been very appreciative and classy in post-game interviews when speaking of his former employer. 

That would leave a couple more open slots to play some tough teams — another neutral game at the Garden wouldn’t be surprising — to really take the schedule to the next level. Any requests for opponents?

I’ll leave you with the following quotes from Jacksonville pre-Wofford, which are illuminating regarding Willard’s scheduling strategy. If you have any major topics you think I missed, be sure to mention it in the comments; maybe I’ll write a follow-up piece to cover just that item.

Q. When you constructed the non-conference schedule, how much of it was geared toward this moment, and how did you know that your team was ready to handle that?

KEVIN WILLARD: You know, scheduling has become really difficult, and I didn’t know about the NET when I did my — I was going off the RPI when I did our non-conference schedule, so I wasn’t quite sure — when they changed to the NET, it kind of threw me for a loop because home losses really hurt you. The amount scored hurts you. I did a non-conference schedule because I looked at the league and I knew the league was going to be really good, but I thought it was going to be exactly the way it was this year. I thought it was going to be extremely balanced top to bottom. I didn’t think we were going to have Nova 1 seed, Xavier 1 seed, Butler — last year was, I mean, we were packed at the top. And so when I looked at the league in the non-conference, I really thought we needed to play some teams that were going to be from leagues that were going to really help our RPI, and that’s kind of — the way I looked at the non-conference schedule was I had a young team that I wanted to test, and I wanted to be Big East ready, and I thought that we needed help through the RPI with our non-conference schedule, strength of schedule, and that would be — that would help get us to this point.

I still think it did. I think our non-conference schedule was phenomenal, and I think it helped grow this team and make them not only ready for this right now, but most importantly, for the future. I look at this team going forward, and I’m excited, just as excited about that as I am being here right now.

Q. Do you know if you’ll play Kentucky in future years?
KEVIN WILLARD: I don’t — I really don’t want to play Kentucky again. (Laughter).

No, I’m changing our non-conference schedule. I think just looking at what seeds happen, where people ended up, it didn’t seem like league schedule mattered as much as some of your losses at home or some of your point spreads. So I think I’m definitely going back right now and I’m looking at my schedule to see where I can balance it out a little bit more. I’m still trying to get a feel for — because seeding is everything in this tournament. I mean, we’re a 10 and Wofford is a 7, and I think they’re — they should be a 5 or a 4, looking at their schedule and who they’ve played and how they’ve played.

So I’m looking at it more or less — I’m dissecting it. It will not be as difficult as it was last year. It’ll be much more balanced hopefully.