NCAA Tournament Day One Notebook: Seton Hall presser and open practice

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Wednesday in Denver officially kicked off a March Madness ride the Pirates have been without for the last decade.

Guards Isaiah Whitehead and Derrick Gordon, plus forward Angel Delgado and eventually, head coach Kevin Willard were made available to media before hitting the court for a 45 minute open practice session in the Pepsi Center.

The three Pirates who have helped propel this young team to the Big Dance sat on stage in front of national media with a look of elation slapped across their faces.

Four Thoughts

Will Whitehead’s hot streak continue? The sophomore sensation has been playing on an otherworldly level as of late. He was the main reason the Pirates won their first Big East Tournament since 1993. Over the past seven games Whitehead’s numbers resemble a line Dwyane Wade used to throw up in his prime – 25.3 points per game, 5.8 assists, and 5.4 rebounds. I dare you to find me a hotter player in college basketball right now. Look for the Brooklyn boy to continue his rip.

Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis are really good.. But so are Ismael Sanogo and Angel Delgado. The Gonzaga big men dictate the success of the Bulldogs on the court. Wiltjer is a 6’10” forward with range – he’s hit at a 42% clip from deep this season. And Sabonis is a legitimate NBA block talent, averaging 17.4 points and 11.6 boards a game. Sanogo will be locked on Wiltjer, most likely following him around the court draped on him like a blanket. If Delgado can avoid foul trouble to neutralize Sabonis the Pirates have the chance to put this game away early. But, if Delgado and Sanogo find themselves with some quick whistles, the Pirates could be looking a long night.

Gonzaga’s perimeter defense looks tough to crack. The Zags defend the deep ball at a 29% clip. The Pirates shoot the three as a team at 35% for the season. More importantly, since conference play began, Whitehead is shooting from range at 42.6%. Seton Hall needs to be able to penetrate and kick to the open man from beyond the arc. They began their open practice session Wednesday night with four straight three point shooting drills.

For no tournament appearance in 10 years, these Pirates are feeling no pressure.. Seriously, for most of the kids on this team – with the exception of Gordon – nobody has any tournament experience. Yet, nobody seems to care. At the press conference, all three Pirates were laughing and smiling, continuously saying they just want to hit the court and ball. They’re here in Denver looking relaxed and ready to prove everyone wrong.. Again.

The quotes 

Isaiah Whitehead on the tournament atmosphere: “It’s been tremendous so far. But I can’t speak for all of us. I know that we just can’t wait to get out there tomorrow and compete at a high level. We worked all season for this, to just be in the position we are now. We just got to take advantage of it.”

Derrick Gordon on his postseason experience: “Just stay composed. It’s going to be up and down. That’s why they call it March Madness. Whether we go up or they go up, we got to stay composed. It’s very easy to talk to these guys and these guys listen. I’m really sure we’ll go out there and we’ll take care of business.”

Whitehead on the Sanogo/Wiltjer matchup: “He’s a tremendous defender. He’s always up for a challenge. He’s battled with some of the best players in the Big East, All-Conference, definitely non-conference of who we played. I think he’s one of the most underrated defenders in the country. He just really gets after it. I think that helped him during the season to look forward to playing against Kyle.”

Gordon on his sexuality and irrelevance it has on the game: “No, I don’t have anything to prove to nobody. The story has been out since 2014, so it shouldn’t be a story as it is. My teammates know. Everybody knows. There’s no pressure at all. It’s just me going out there and knowing what I know how to do.”

Whitehead on Gordon as a team leader: “I mean, he brings out emotion. He brings everything. He just picks us up when we’re down. We’re a real young group. He’s the lone senior on the team. He really helps us in a lot of different ways. Missing shots, getting back on defense, every little thing he helps us with. He really helped us since he got here in the summertime.”

Willard on stopping Sabonis and Wiltjer: “We’ve explained it to Angel and Mike and Ish. It’s like playing the grown unpredictable version of Ellenson and Fischer. Just because you have a redshirt senior, Sabonis is a sophomore obviously. They’re a little bit more mature. Wiltjer is a little more mature. Ellenson shoots it a little better from the outside. Sabonis is so skilled. He’s a tough guy to double because he passes the ball so quickly out of the post. Most big guys don’t do a good job of passing it. He does a great job of passing it.”

Dennis is a senior at Seton Hall and is a part of the Setonian team, you can follow him @DennisChambers_

  • Matty P

    Thank you Dennis for helping Chris out and taking part with the media out in Denver. I’m sure it was exciting being out there with the team that you’ve been following all year compared to other media members who’ve just started following. It’s nice to hear that the team is loose and ready to go. Did the guys look winded at all after the first couple mins of practice?

  • ThePirateFan

    That “no-pressure” feeling this group has is exactly what’s made being a fan so much fun this season. They’ve had success and they’ve had fun in the process, and that’s contagious to the fans, too. Can’t wait for tomorrow!

  • shufaninva

    3,654 days since our last tournament game. Set that counter back to zero!!!

  • Fishjam

    “Sabonis is so skilled. He’s a tough guy to double because he passes the ball so quickly out of the post. Most big guys don’t do a good job of passing it. He does a great job of passing it.”
    I’m glad to see Willard picked up on the same thing I did when watching video of Gonzaga. What gets them going offensively is Sabonis making some shots down low, forcing teams to try to help on him. When that happens he passes out of the post and Gonzaga swings another pass or 2 to find a wide open 3 or a cutter for an easy layup. For a 6’10 post player who averages less than 2 assists per game, so much of Gonzaga’s offense flows through him. They need to let Angel play him straight up and see if he can hold his own or if they help be ready to close out hard on the perimeter shooter. If Sabonis is eating us up, I’d rather see us try to deny him the ball by fronting him and making it a dificult pass to get it to him. That can lead to deflections and steals and transition opportunities.

    • LBP

      C’Mon Fishjam , I need all your great Karma for this one

      • Fishjam

        We won’t be denied LBP. Did you see my question to you in the other thread?

        “LBP – Sell the +1.5 points to get better odds and take the Hall straight up. BTW, what are the odds to make Final 4?”

        • LBP

          Fishjam I will send U odds on Final four — Hall holding at +2 tonite

  • hallstorm

    I like the quotes a lot. They are all mature-sounding and focused. And I think if we play our brand of game, we should be ok. The big question is whether Sonogo can avoid the Wiltjer head fakes and stay away from fouling on the jump shot. I know Gonzaga screens a lot, so help defense and rotation is a must.

    With all that being said, I don’t expect to pull away–it’ll be close with a lot of fouls whistled on us. Ultimately, we should win; we are a better team

    • LBP

      Don’t underestimate Nzei– On this Board , everyone knows I love Sanogo but our ” next up” is not chopped liver hallstorm. –I do think we pull away

  • PadrePirate

    Good to see Butler advance. Wouldn’t it be something if all BE went deep, like sweet 16 or beyond? That would shut up the “nouveau BE” critiques we’ve heard this year.

    • Matty P

      Would love to see the BE teams go deep in the tournament. I’m also happy to see teams like Baylor and Purdue lose in the first round against smaller schools.

    • LBP

      PadrePirate — betting the Big East and having fun so far — Creighton great bet

      • PadrePirate

        Creighton?

        • Matty P

          They played in the NIT the other night and won against Alabama.

          • LBP

            Yes NIT

  • Matty P

    Why on God’s green earth did the NCAA not build in any buffer time between the 1st and 2nd session in Denver? Makes absolutely no sense because now the last 2 games are going to be delayed even later.

  • PadrePirate

    Neither Fresno nor Utah look very impressive.