No. 19 Seton Hall’s comfortable win over VCU product of protecting what’s earned

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NEWARK — The last two times a Kevin Willard-led team dropped out of the AP Top 25, they wouldn’t return for the rest of the season. This rendition looks here to stay.

You should remember — from your nightmares — the group spearheaded by Herb Pope and Jordan Theodore that raced out to a 15-2 start before dropping six straight and ultimately failing to make the NCAA tournament.

And of course the 2014-15 team in Isaiah Whitehead — and the current senior class’s — freshman season which started 13-3 before losing their spot in the top 25 prior to a dismal February and March.

This time around, Willard’s Seton Hall is of course more talented, but they look to have taken to heart the one-point loss to Rhode Island that knocked them from the land of the ranked.

Just ask Vanderbilt, Texas Tech, Louisville, and now VCU — when was the last time Seton Hall has strung together four wins as good as these in non-league play. That’s not a rhetorical question.

“Losing to Rhode Island, at No. 20 in the country, we knew how that felt, and we didn’t want to have that feeling again,” said Desi Rodriguez (17p, 7r, 4a) bluntly.

I believe the senior small forward, who has averaged 24 ppg and 7 boards since the Hall’s lone loss in Brooklyn.

Following their loss to Rhode Island in which Willard admitted that his team was not emotionally in it for the only time this season, Desi, and the rest of his guys, have been on a tear, seemingly hell-bent on Top 25 redemption.

Kevin Willard’s fatherly-like take on rankings was far from the politically correct “I don’t care”, including a humorous perspective on why Seton Hall will see their highest spot in the national landscrape since 2000-01 come Monday’s fresh AP Top 25, as well as a sincere look into a mentality he has instilled in his team.

“When we got ranked, we talked about protecting it and how much it’s important, and I talked to them yesterday for about an hour about things given and things earned,” said Willard.

“In life, you’re really going to appreciate things that are earned more than things that are given. What I talked to them about was that they’ve earned this ranking. It wasn’t given to them. We’ve played a tough schedule, had some big wins, we’ve earned the right to get ranked. And when you earn something, you want to take care of it.”

“I always try to teach my guys in life, people are going to give you stuff, and you’re going to take that and chuck it in the back of your closet; but the things that you’ve earned with your paycheck, that you go out and buy, you’re going to appreciate. And I think these guys have really appreciated the fact that they’ve worked very hard, they’ve sacrificed a lot to get this, and they don’t want to give it away.”

Despite a topsy-turvy first half, this is the most in control Seton Hall has been in a game for some time, relative to the opponent’s strength.

I’ll remind you that VCU was within a possession in the last five minutes of their losses to Marquette, Virginia, Texas, and Michigan.

Looking ahead, while it won’t be as easy as it appears on paper, Seton Hall has the potential to crack the top-15 and will more likely than not sport a 12-1 record heading into their Big East opener against Creighton just before the new year.

The road back to a ranking not seen in 17 years has been long and filled with more potholes than your average Jersey road in late February; Willard’s take on it touches on all facets.

“Someone just asked me that question, and I have to be honest: I was part of the problem for a while,” said Willard of why the Hall hasn’t reached such national heights since 2000-01.

“I’ve been here eight years. I’ve got to take some ownership of the fact that my first three or four years here were not the greatest. We were ranked my second year, but then year three was a disaster, year four, we were okay and year five, we should have been good.

“It hasn’t been easy getting here, and I’ve got to take some [blame] — everyday I wake up and I remind myself it’s taken us a long time to get here. It drives me to come to work every day, but I still was part of the problem. I’m not taking any credit for it.”

Willard would then go on a long tangent about how this teams’ upperclassmen haven’t gone home for summers so that they can work on their game — facts that are remarkable, but becoming ordinary for those that know what this team is all about.

And that’s the thing.

We — fans and media who have had their ears to the South Orange Ave. pavement — know what is deep within the engine of this team, driving it forward.

Hard work, of course raw talent, and a senior synergy which has produced as balanced team as any in the country.

Now opposing teams and the nation as a whole are starting to find out what Seton Hall is really about.

  • Andrew Herbst

    I think our loss against Rhode Island might have been the best thing for us in the long run. I don’t see us getting knocked out of the rankings again. This team is too experienced and has been through a lot.

    • PadrePirate

      Was thinking the same thing about the RI loss and hope that they won’t get lazy over the next 4. The BE has some strong teams this year.

      • Andrew Herbst

        Sure does. We need to win these next four. BE will be tough this year as always

        • VinBick

          My humble prediction for the OOC record was 12-1 with the one loss to Louisville. The posts here talking about the Rhode Island loss as a wake up call appear to be spot on with this band of Pirates.

          The Big East forecast looked like a 12-6 record before the season started, but I will amend that to 13-5 now. The battles in the Big East will not be easy for any team in the conference. There are a lot of good teams who will be gunning for the talented Hall.

          A 25-6 record heading into the BE Tournament at the Garden is realistic. Deep runs in both March tournaments will be fun for Pirate Nation.

          • Andrew Herbst

            I would sign up for that record in a heartbeat. March will be fun.

  • LBP

    Game today truly looked like Varsity v JV– Have not seen such comfortable difference in a very long time.And–this was not the Hall’s finished product.

  • Louie Dee

    Very nicely written Chris.

  • Louie Dee

    Down goes Minnesota and Cincinnati! We should crack the top 15?

  • PadrePirate

    Thanks, Chris. KW can deflect all the credit and own the down years, but he rarely gets praise on this board. I’m grateful for what he’s built with these guys, not only winning teams, but no good, hard-working kids with no off-court drama.
    The key to a successful NCAA program is sustained success. String together a few NCAA bids, then the media attention and the top recruits will follow. Proud of the Hall.

    • The Other Powell

      Well said, Padre. I’ll admit that I was not the biggest advocate of Willard a few years back, but I’m now happy to admit that I was wrong about him. He’s assemabled a group of not only good ball players, but good people. This game is the closest I’ve seen to them putting it all together. I can’t help but to be beyond cautiously optimistic at this point. Looking forward to the start of BE play. Very well written article, Chris.

      • VinBick

        OP and PP are two wise posters; like OP, I was not a fan of Coach Willard for far too long. I just took a bite out of the appropriate humble pie for being so wrong. And dear Father, our coach does not get the love he deserves here. Our emotional ties to the program, often mean we miss the big picture required to evaluate the growth of the program and the leadership the head coach is providing to build a national power at a very small, private university. Thank you for making Seton Hall strong once again.

        Coach Willard is a gem and the future looks so bright with him at the helm of our Pirate ship!

    • Bob Murphy

      Agree. Coach Willard is getting better, and serves as a real leader to these kids. I still don’t love his offensive sets, but they certainly are more effective as the kids that run them are better players than what he had here years ago. The coach is a credit to the school now. Hopefully he stays here a long time. He has the program in a place where it seems sustainable.

  • Hallbuster

    Not only has this team evolved into a mature bunch of hungry, talented, winners who genuinely like each other and are easy to root for, but Willard has evolved as well from his early days as just good enough not to be an embarrassment to a truly great coach who clearly is a key part of this team’s success. He also has become a much better X’s and O’s Coach. We are lucky to have him. The sky is the limit for this team. It’s a fun time to be a pirate fan

  • SHU95

    The bottom line is in the big picture, SHU basketball is in a much better place than it was Pre-Willard. We have a much higher caliber Athlete, Student, and people that represent this University. The program was down for so many years which is at least part of the reason Willard struggled for the fist few seasons. In many ways, he is a prime example of the point of his speech about success that is earned.

  • LBP

    Wanted to note that I truly appreciated the amount of “TV”/Playing time Coach Willard allowed Shavar Reynolds yesterday. Allowed his Father and Family to share a special experience. Coach Willard is a Class-act from the word Go.

    • Hallbuster

      He always has been a class act. Even when his Xs and Os were not as good. From day 1 he brought class to the program but now not only has he brought class but he too has developed into a top coach and is bringing winning and national recognition back like it was in the PJ era

  • PadrePirate

    Since our FTs have been a frequent subject of ire around here, I thought the 83% effort was like magic shell on top of a nice W.

    • Hallbuster

      When they shoot free throws like that the games aren’t even close

  • Mike Walsh

    We played a great game and Willard made great substitutions. Food for thought: 1. We missed a hand full of easy layups early in the game, imagine if the easy stuff was falling. 2. Mamu, Cale, Gordon and Walker will make substantial progress during the season, the Hall should be in very good shape come Tournament time going 9 deep without skipping a beat.

  • Ardy

    I think the Hall will go much farther than previous years because they are starting to mesh together and now they have 3pt shooters that they didn’t have in previous years and a back up point guard which they didn’t have in previous years and points off the bench. KW built a powerful team that other teams are going to have to take seriously. I’m getting more excited each game. I hope they play St.Peters seriously.

    • VinBick

      The backup center–MuMu–is getting a lot of court time to help keep Angel fresh. The kid is a doing better and better with each game. Like having Ish and Mike on the court at the same time during games, too. Oh, and how about the three guard look we saw on Saturday? The coach is mixing up some nice combos which confuses opponents. Go Pirates!

      • Ardy

        Yes KW is looking like Bobby Fisher.The 3 guard look was interesting. Once Mamu gets comfortable/confident it will be more points, blocks and rebounds. I’m expecting JW to contribute big also, GO PIRATES

      • The Other Powell

        VB, I agree with your assessment on Sandro. I’ll take him as an inexperienced frosh over the likes of a Rashed Anthony any day. The game just needs to slow down for him a bit, and it will. I see him doing more then just spelling Angel for a few minutes here and there before this season is through.

        • VinBick

          The backup players are key to this team continually doing well as the grind of the BE portion of the schedule will be taxing for the starters. The Pirates were only seven deep for the past few years. When there are real contributors coming into games, it takes a lot of pressure off of the first five guys.

          Looking forward to being Walsh in Gym tonight for the game against St. Peter’s and their Coach Dunne. He is a former Seton Hall assistant coach and a gentleman of the first order.

  • Matty P

    The team looked good yesterday. They did a nice job of breaking the full court pressure and taking advantage of it a couple times. That was one of my concerns coming into the season with having Carrington at PG, but Willard and Halloway have done a nice job and he seems to be getting better with each game.

    Also I see a lot of positive comments for Willard which are well deserved, but we should also throw some credit to Lyons for not listening to the growing pressure and sticking with his guy. A lot of other AD’s would have folded under the pressure and looked for another coach after 5 seasons without making the tournament.

  • Louie Dee

    Rutgers should not be taken lightly. They were only down by 2 points with 5mins left against Michigan State. We need Pirate Nation at this game! Lets not forget what they did to us in 2012! We lost an NCAA bid because of them!

  • kjs2009

    Love KW’s message here. He has really improved with how he engages with the press, and his inspirational messages seem to really hit home (thinking of this message & also the BET final pre-game talk). I think it what is next for this season: defending their ranking & try to climb even higher. If they slip, the ranking will disappear quickly.

    It would really be great to win the remainder of the OOC, but the next two games could be more challenging than we expect.