“I’m super proud”: Putting the Hall’s consecutive empty NCAA trips in perspective

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Greenville, S.C. — Thirteen years removed, Andre Barrett, Kelly Whitney and that band of Pirates still remain as the last Seton Hall group to have won an NCAA tournament game.

But that grim reality shouldn’t take away from the unprecedented success that Kevin Willard and the 2014 recruiting class has brought to South Orange.

Remember: While Louis Orr did bring his teams to two NCAA tournaments, including a win, but consecutive at-large bids and a Big East title to boot hasn’t been achieved since 1993-94.

On a smaller scale, this team was an unknown commodity in the wake of Isaiah Whitehead’s departure and an NCAA appearance was seen as a best-case scenario.

Well, despite the overwhelming disappointment, that feel-good scenario actually came true.

Given the current state of affairs, seems hard to believe, right?

“It’s always going to end. It’s always difficult when it ends,” said an emotional Kevin Willard just minutes after his team’s 77-71 loss to Arkansas.

“I think this group of guys, this team, a lot of people doubted what this team could do, what they can get, especially when Z went to the draft. I think every one of these kids stepped up, improved their game.”

“A lot of people thought we were going to win 14, 15 games,” reflected Khadeen Carrington.

“That’s all I can think about. We had 21 wins, a lot of people didn’t think we were going to make it this far. That was all motivation for us, we used it as fuel.”

Now, consecutive trips to the Dance may have altered the barometer of success in South Orange from simply making it, to the expectation of advancing.

Thinking back to the late Bobby Gonzalez and early Willard era, it was hard to even grasp making the NCAA tournament let alone winning a game there or making it in two consecutive seasons.

Now, anything less than an NCAA bid seems a bit empty.

That change in expectations will maintain a level of disappointment among Seton Hall fans — always changing expectations is a constant among fan bases — but digging deep to remember the darker years and inserting this new-found plateau of success into the bigger picture should be key to maintaining a positive outlook.

“It’s always difficult when it ends. But, man, I’m super proud of where these guys have brought this program and getting back to the tournament, back-to-back, for the first time since ’93 and ’94,” said Willard, before closing his final press conference of the season.

“I like the direction that these guys are going, and we’ll learn from this and we’ll bounce back. That’s kind of what we’ve always done.”

Featured photo is courtesy of Joey Khan/The Setonian 

  • Matt

    Just ask yourself one question. Are you proud of the direction and what is currently happening in the program? Well I certainly am.

  • Andrew Herbst

    I am proud of what we achieved this year. We overcame a 3-6 start in BE play and still managed to make the tourney for a second consecutive year. It’s a great achievement. These are nice stepping stones to build on. Brighter times are ahead. I can’t wait for next year. GO PIRATES

  • Matty P

    First, thank you Chris for everything you’ve done this season. Before this site, and your time at South Orange Juice, there were places few and far between to go and connect with other SHU fans and get quality articles and information.

    Taking a step back as you mentioned, I starting following SHU as a freshman in 2006 (was on campus for a visit the day of the tournament game against Wichita State). Prior to these past two years success had been hard to come by since I started watching. We’ve had some good players come through (Lang, Hazell, Edwin, etc.), but weren’t able to get over the hump to the tournament. While it’s taken Willard some time, he’s come in and taken a program that was getting headlines for all the wrong reasons to bringing in good kids and putting SHU on a positive track by making the tournament two years in a row.

    I also want to give some credit to Lyons, he could’ve made the easy decision to let Willard go after five years of average to below average success. But instead he stuck with the coach and it’s starting to pay dividends. Overall I’m proud of the team and the direction that the program is heading. Hoping that Delgado returns and we fill one of our open scholarships with a PG so that Carrington, Powell, and Cale can focus more on scoring instead of facilitating.

    • Pete Jankowski

      Totally agree

    • Thank you Matty. I really appreciate that. Filling the “blog” void between the Rivals message board and the 3 or 4 local papers at the time was always my goal. So many other programs have not one but several major “blogs” that cover their team — Seton Hall had none except for SOJ, which is why I joined up there.

      I’ll agree with your other sentiments, too. The breaking point, obviously, were the weeks after the 2014-15 collapse. Willard took a few gambles with Tiny Morton/Whitehead and he needed Lyons to back him up — less cozy ADs would have justifiably canned Willard at that juncture.

      Outside of the legacy of 2014 class, on a whole, the program is several rungs up from the Gonzo era nightmares and about equal with Orr’s success (he won a tournament game), though the foundation is infinitely more solid than Orr, I would argue.

  • hallstorm

    One thing I’d like to hear on this board is credit to Williard. This team played really well this season amid a lot of turmoil again. I think a good number of these losses are on the players inability to execute. Williard’s done a hell of a job scouting other teams and getting this team to rebound (!!!!!) with authority with no one over 6’8″.

  • Joe J

    I may be in the minority but am I the only one who feels that this group of talented juniors have underachieved? 0 NCAA tourney wins so far in their college careers is very disappointing considering their talent.

    • Matty P

      I would say I somewhat agree with you that they’ve underachieved. I think their freshman year they underachieved, sophomore year you could argue they underachieved based on the NCAA tournament or that they hit expectations by making the tournament and winning the BE tournament, and this year I think they hit right around expectations without Whitehead. I do agree that the 0 tournament wins is disappointing since they certainly had chances based on the fact they completely collapsed their freshman year, the talent last year, and the 50/50 opportunity this year based on seeding.

    • z06

      I agreed,Desi should have just grab the guy instead of a push or a shove, but they lost this with the 15 turnovers just like the nova game that they should have Won.the game is over and we have to wait until next year and see what happens garuntee they wil be couple bench players leaving

      • Matty P

        Hard to say a couple when there’s not much of a bench. Realistically there’s only 3 bench players who would leave. Soffer who has been stuck to the bench and realistically will only be a 3 pt specialist, Gordon who will be behind a crowd at SG next year and would have the best chance at playing time if he can prove to be an average backup PG, and Anthony which depending on Delgado might have plenty of playing time coming his way.

        • ThePirateFan

          I hate to say it because Rashed seems like a great kid, but the thought of him getting major minutes is not a good sign for the program. His lack of athleticism is a barrier to him even getting rebounds, nevermind defending without fouling.

          • z06

            I agreed,Rasheed not going to do that much in the near future

        • z06

          Softer is a waste ,not a BigEast player in my book,Anthony just fouls all day not going score,they going to need more help next year,this league gets more harder to win every year.
          Good Luck

      • ThePirateFan

        Turnovers kill this team. KC has always been handling the rock more than should be asked of him, and despite that he’s done really well this season considering he’s a guard that heavily favors his left. Sometimes this team got away with weak ball handlers at the 2 and 3 (Desi similarly heavily favors his left), sometimes they didn’t.

    • RonD

      Underachieved?! Are you serious. Two NCAAs and a BET championship and they have underachieved? They done this with no core players as seniors.

      • Joe J

        Louis Orr made 2 NCAA tourneys and actually won a game with less talent and he got fired. If you believe just making the tournament is a success than this team was successful. Seton hall is not FDU or RIder and just happy to be there. If you want top recruits to sign and compete with the big boys you must win in the NCAA tournament which this talented group so far has not done. It may be cruel but it’s the truth.

        • DougFlynn

          I was going to reply to Chris’ article, but this comment makes the same point. There is another difference between the Orr teams that made 2 NCAAs and won a game and this team. The BE that Orr’s teams competed in was a much tougher league than the 2017 BE. And the BE that Carlesimo coached in was the best of all – look at the list of pros who came out of that nine team league.

          I can’t say this group has underachieved as they have made us relevant in the league, a top 5 team in the league and they have made the NCAA two times, likely three if they stay intact. And they have done this without a real PG. Even last year, Whitehead was certainly not a PG, he played the position to get the ball in his hands more and he did well, but certainly was not very comfortable in the PG role. He was recruited as a 2, and played there his freshman year. Coach Willard must get a PG who can come in and play next year – otherwise, this group might just leave with that BE tournament win as their achievement. I am not discounting it, but with just the one addition, it could have been much more. We do need to remember though that being in the NCAAs is a long, long way from the days when Sina was our only recruit.

          • ThePirateFan

            Those big East conference years had more top teams, but more gimmes too. This season the big East sent 70% of the conference dancing, you’re not going to any conferences send a much greater proportion than that.

        • RonD

          Sure it’s disappointing we didn’t beat Arkansas. But let’s look at the big picture: two BET semi finals, one BET championship, two consecutive NCAA appearances since the formation of he new BE. A lot of BE teams would die for that. We need consistency most of all at this point. Keep knocking on the door and the break through will come.

    • ThePirateFan

      Freshman year they underachieved, but it was chalked up to them being freshman. If there’s one thing that get overlooked in recent history it’s how good Gibbs was. The frosh underachieved that year and he got lost in the mix because of how much attention the frosh got. He was a conference POY candidate that transferred before his senior season last year. Let that sink in. As much as they accomplished last year, they did it without a POY candidate. Last year’s team with Gibbs would’ve been a force. That’s a solid recruiting grab that Willard really doesn’t get credit for, either.

      Aside from that, idk if we can say the class has underachieved as a whole. One year blown because frosh were frosh, one year a BET championship and a shit draw in the dance, then they lose IW and they rally beyond expectation to make it back to the tournament. I’d say par for expectation at this point.

      Had they narrowly beaten Nova instead of narrowly losing we might be talking about back to back BET champions, a more favorable dance match up and a second round appearance. It all flips just like that.

  • hallstorm

    By the way–Seth Davis is a dickhead. He only goes on air to validate his “picks” and he’s a lapdog that supports his alma mater and conference for his own personal ego. I understand his allegiance to his conference and his disdain for the Big East (especially since it was a superior conference in his time). He is not a knowledgable source and just agrees with the other commentators in his “opinions”. He desperately needs originality, honesty and insight. Seton Hall lost the game. Arkansas didn’t do a thing to “win” it.

    • ThePirateFan

      This team’s identity is toughness, the bully. It flies in the big east, it doesn’t on national stage games. Not an explanation for anything, just an observation.

    • Does anyone like Seth Davis? Makes some really stupid comments on Twitter too.

  • Chris, love this site, it is just great! The last two years have been fun, especially after the 2014 debacle. But these guys are going to be seniors next year and I worry that our recruiting, which since the class of 2014, has been hit or miss, and several good recruits have chosen to go elsewhere, like Taurean Thompson, Jose Alvarez and Nojel Eastern. Is there any real reason for recruiting optimism? I don’t see Duval picking us, which means we will need another point guard transfer. What do you think Chris?

    • Thank you Matt!

      The staff went hard on Eastern, but it’s always tough to recruit a top-100 kid from out of the area to Seton Hall. Face it — the program does not have national pull right now. Jose Alvarado was not made a priority in 2017, and therefore that hurt SH in the end. FWIW, he was about option 3 or 4 as far as 2017 PGs go.

      Thompson’s recruitment was a mess. W/O getting into details, lot of shady stuff going on and I’m pretty sure the staff said forget it. Like Chris Silva (bigger miss), he would have been a key forward piece, but perhaps a headcase; I’m not saying Silva is a headcase.

      • Thanks for the insights Chris. So who plays PG next season?

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  • 1968_bills_fan

    Here is what I saw in the game.
    [1] We do not have a valid point guard and that hurt us. Carrington is a shooting/penetration guard and Jones is a combo guard who is not a top 20 team point guard. Khadeen got doubled a few times at the end of the game and couldn’t break or pass free.

    [2] We have very little depth, whereas the hogs played 8 or 9. Slower heavy legs showed the last ten minutes, whereas the hogs were still twitchy fresh. It also hurt that Rodriguez had to play and couldn’t sit out for 5 minutes to reset his head and restart his game. Our team did not help bail out Carrington, at the end of the game.

    [3] Ish is the glue of the defense and just screws up the opponent’s game. Even against ‘Nova, you could see good things happen on defense when he was in there. He played sparingly and Nzei did show improved play- but is not Ismael. We lost some turnovers there. Idmael’s ankle must have been quite limited- perhaps he really couldn’t push off in a direction and was put out there just to stand and not be exposed.

    [4] I hope there are two JC or senior transfers out there. Has anybody heard?

    • [2] — Did Desi HAVE to play? Myles made a big impact in first half, but was silent down the stretch and that wasn’t his fault.

      [3] — It looked like Willard yanked Ish after he missed a few lay-ups in first half. The team also needed buckets over last 8-10 minutes of game and not necessarily defense, which Nzei brings. I don’t think it was his ankle, but don’t know for sure. He definitely had a rough last month to the season. Not many minutes and banged up. He’s as tough as they come, but that will get to a non-dominant player.

      [4] — That will come in the week or two after the Final Four. ESPN releases a transfer list (which I will comb). Unsure about JuCos. SH had looked into Paterson native Shakur Juiston of Hutchinson C.C. a few months ago, but not sure if anything has materialized. He’s more of a Brandon Mobley stretch-four type with more motor/rebounding ability.

      • hallstorm

        Justin’s current final list (of 9 schools) doesn’t include us, which I found a little surprising. There was another 6’7″ PF/SF we were kicking the tires on also. I think Williard even offered him. I can’t remember his name though.

  • Jersey Jerry

    OK, it all makes sense now … if U look at this week’s issue of Sports Illustrated you’ll see that Desi Rodriguez is on the cover in the upper right hand corner. Yep, it’s the ‘Dreaded Curse of being on the Cover of SI’; that’s what did ‘da Hall in … only way to make sense of how the game ended vs Arkansas! https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/7263d27afa0bb6e555e82942cccd3df17dc9c4b07419d02ac56f6f500f42a59d.jpg

    • hallstorm

      Yeah I saw this issue just before the game yesterday and took a hard swallow on that one….

      • Coach Mike

        Jerry – you are right!

  • Andrew Herbst

    Just read that Angel is meeting with Coach Willard on Tuesday to talk about his decison

    • Saw that, from Denis Chambers. Don’t think there is anything breakthrough in that story except for that bit. Not really shocking either… coaches routinely have post-season “exit interviews” of sorts with the players.

      • Andrew Herbst

        Yep that’s true

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