The 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor will see Seton Hall commemorate a pivotable time in world history as they participate in FOX Sports’ 2016 Pearl Harbor Invitational.
A pair of West Coast schools are on tap for the Pirates when they take on Hawaii late Tuesday night and California on Wednesday.
Both opponents not only made it to the NCAA tournament last season but also met in the first round with the Rainbow Warriors upsetting Cal, though Hawaii returns little from last year’s team.
Seton Hall flew out to the Aloha State on a 6 a.m. flight the morning after pummeling Columbia, leaving about three days of prep prior to Tuesday night’s game. The Pirates must then return home on another brutal 12-hour flight before taking on a ranked South Carolina next Monday night at Madison Square Garden.
All of this travel comes less than a week after returning from a road game at Iowa and then a flight to the AdvoCare Invitational, which has left Kevin Willard commenting on the lack of practice time, but also in awe of the great opportunity that his team has before it.
“My only negative with Hawaii — and there’s only two negatives — the main negative is that we’re not going to get home after the Florida trip and have six or seven-straight days of practice, we’re right back on a 12-hour plane ride at 6 a.m. tomorrow,” he said post-Columbia.
— Seton Hall MBB (@SetonHallMBB) December 5, 2016
The team, which spent Sunday touring the site of the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941, must overcome the abnormal travel and unique opportunity to beat one rebuilding team and another that will threaten for an at-large bid come March.
In what will be a venue unlike any other, historic Bloch Arena will be used as the site for this year’s games once again. Built months prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, Bloch is an octagonal open-air gym with bleacher seating and a hardwood that reminds you of the Boston Celtics. Located within sight of the USS Arizona’s final resting place, Bloch has played host to Elvis and the recreation of countless servicemen and women over the years (read more here; pictures here and here).
— Dave Popkin (@DavePopkin) December 5, 2016
First up for Seton Hall will be Eran Ganot’s Hawaii (4-3), who rank 304th in experience after losing all but one player who saw NCAA tournament minutes last campaign.
Swedish point guard Sheriff Drammeh (12.3 ppg, 3.7 apg) is the only Warrior to return with forward Mike Thomas using a medical redshirt this season, though Ganot has received help on the interior from the transfer market.
Former UCLA forward Noah Allen (16.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg) is leading the team in scoring after seeing just 6 mpg for the Bruins last year, ex-Auburn stretch forward Jake Purchase (11.3 ppg, 4 rpg) fills in alongside him, and junior college forward Gibson Johnson (10.9 ppg, 5.6 rpg) is the fourth guy to average double figures for Hawaii.
Unsurprisingly, Hawaii has struggled this season after losing so much firepower, dropping games to SIU-Edwardsville (298th) and Troy (248th) at home while also losing to UNC by just 15 on the same court; Hawaii has yet to beat a top-200 KenPom opponent.
If all goes according to plan, Seton Hall has a relatively easy opening game although the occasion and semi-away venue play a factor in what is a 10-point game according to Vegas and KenPom.
Seton Hall last played Hawaii in a 96-88 away loss during George Blaney’s first season (1994-95); the Pirates won all three meetings prior to that.
The second game will take place on the actual anniversary of Pearl Harbor and looks to be a potential résumé win for the Hall.
Ranked 54th in KenPom, Cuonzo Martin’s Cal is currently playing shorthanded but has all the pieces to make a late-season push into the NCAA tournament.
After starting two of the Golden Bears’ first four games, center Kameron Rooks is out for a few more weeks with a knee injury while starting guard Jabari Bird is questionable after missing every game with a back injury since opening night — he has made the trip to Hawaii.
Even without two starters, Cal is plenty potent but will only go about two-deep on their bench. Pre-season All-American big man Ivan Rabb (19.8 ppg, 10.2 rpg) has lived up to the hype and will be Angel Delgado’s toughest test yet, while Columba graduate transfer Grant Mullins (10.2 ppg, 4 rpg) and freshman point man Charlie Moore (18.1 ppg, 3 apg) will man the backcourt; Moore was a one-time Seton Hall target and scored 38 in his second collegiate game.
Cal is a bit thin up front with Rooks out, but Rabb and English forward Kingsley Okoroh (5.3 ppg, 6.7 rpg) will be the main competition with former Georgetown forward Stephen Domingo (3.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg) filling in off the bench.
Cuonzo Martin’s team is 6-1 but they haven’t beaten a top-100 KenPom school, having lost to San Diego State by 12 in their only attempt. Like Stanford, their defense (25th adjD) has been a calling card and a 6th-ranked defensive rebounding percentage will put Mike Nzei, Desi Rodriguez and Angel Delgado to the test.
Seton Hall did not fare well against the Cardinal’s two interior trees, so we will see just how much Kevin Willard and his team has learned from that experience. Elsewhere on the KenPom spectrum, Cal is 5th nationally opponent’s effective field goal percentage.
Seton Hall may benefit here with Cal being injury-ridden and playing a tougher opponent than Hawaii (Princeton) on Tuesday night, while the Golden Bears appear likely to climb in RPI as the season goes on.
Coupled with a ranked South Carolina looming over the horizon, Seton Hall has a few opportunities to add to their NCAA tournament résumé over the next week.
But for Kevin Willard, the trip is about more than basketball, résumés and losing practice time.
“It’s a phenomenal opportunity — I’m a little bit of a history buff — for this generation to understand the sacrifices of the past generations, what an honor it is to play in this country, what an honor it is when the anthem plays to sit there and understand how many soldiers have lost their lives, how many people have gave up their lives so we can play this great game.
“There’s only two negatives: it’s December 2nd and we have a 12-hour flight and we have to come back and play South Carolina, but when you have an opportunity to educate younger generations on the greatness of past generations, I don’t think you can pass it up.”