Season-ending notebook: Kevin Willard, Ismael Sanogo and more

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More unused quotes from Kevin Willard and Ish Sanogo, my thoughts on the experience at the Pepsi Center last night and more tidbits in a season finale notebook.

The thoughts

Kevin Willard had quite a few interesting things to say last night. I didn’t tweet them because I didn’t feel it was appropriate, but he had an open dialogue with the TV monitor official (a Big East ref, I forget his name) that sits on the sideline; I was directly behind the official.

Minutes after Isaiah Whitehead’s flagrant one in the first half, Willard asked him “Was that a flagrant?” as if he didn’t trust the main guys. He just nodded his acknowledgement after the ref answered (not sure if he said yes/no).

A few minutes before Willard’s technical in the second half he randomly made a comment to the official about how it’s Seton Hall and three teams from the west that were put together in Denver.

After he received his technical, Willard was really close to picking up a second and was warned by the on-court refs about coming onto the court. Then a minute or two later he said to monitor ref: “That was my first technical of the season. Bad refs.” I believe it was actually his second T, perhaps I misheard.

Gonzaga was way better than I thought. Just a sophomore, Domantas Sabonis is going to be a big name in the league next season and beyond. His one-two punch with Kyle Wiltjer was something that Seton Hall hasn’t seen before this year and not something you can really prepare for. But the Bulldogs’ guards are the unsung heroes, especially defensively. I thought the refs could have called a few more fouls on their guards for dogging Whitehead & Co. in the first half, but you’ve got to respect how physical they were.

Sitting right in front of them, Seton Hall’s fans we’re great. The team didn’t give the two full sections (including the lobsters) much ammo, but they made the most of it. “Let’s Go Hall” chants during media timeouts to try and activate a run, Marcus Toney-El going absolutely crazy before the game — starting a chant on his own — and never-ending heckling of the officials. It’s a shame they couldn’t see at least one win.

Derrick Gordon will be sorely missed. As a teammate, as a player for Kevin Willard, as a great candid interviewee. It hurt seeing him in so much agony as the clock expired last night. He was a life preserver for this young group of guys this year, not to mention the “biggest blessing” in Willard’s life. With the Madison Square Garden net around his neck and the Big East Tournament trophy between his legs, this will be my favorite quote from DG.

The Pepsi Center experience was incredible. Easy to get to from large portions of downtown Denver (20~ minute walk) and despite being built in 1999 it absolutely blows the Rock out of the water. I’m not sure how it would look if the NCAAs weren’t in town, but the layout was great; it felt like a brand new arena in all aspects.

The quotes

Kevin Willard

On the approach he took regarding Isaiah Whitehead’s shot selection: “You can answer that question. You think you’re going to get him to defer? He’s been our guy all year. You can’t take the reins off because again, I have so much confidence in him I thought the next one was going to go in. When you have that confidence in your players, you’re not going to sit there and say ‘OK, stop shooting because you’re not feeling it.’ I had the confidence he was going to make his next shot, it wasn’t like he was missing bad, he was in and out. He had a tough night.

Regarding Ish Sanogo’s dislocated shoulder: “Ish popped his shoulder out again. It’s the third time this year. He’s fine. We popped it back in. He’ll get an MRI tomorrow, hopefully tomorrow night.”

I openly questioned whether Seton Hall should be doubling Domantas Sabonis last night after they didn’t for much of the game. When asked if Sabonis is the toughest match-up Seton Hall has faced: “I’ll say he’s the toughest match-up we’ve had this year just because of how good [Kyle] Wiltjer’s been playing and how he shoots it. It makes doubling him really hard, I mean really hard.”

Ish Sanogo:

On how tough Gonzaga is: “I expected more, honestly. They were tough, they were good but… they’re not that much better than us.”

When asked if experience was a difference in the game: “It was a huge difference. A couple calls went their way, couldn’t do nothing about that. They weren’t really rattled [by our run/anything].”

On the emotional hangover of the Big East Tournament and if it was still in their minds heading into the NCAAs: “It definitely was. We accomplished something that hasn’t been done in a really long time and that high doesn’t go away, it just lingered.

“No it wasn’t hard to reset, we knew that Gonzaga was going to be a really good team and we’d have to be on our A-game to beat them.”

  • JJer

    Fans who don’t follow you on Twitter are missing out on some of your gems. (Sorry, my memory is weak for examples, though I recall especially admiring two during the Villanova game, one involved Jenkins and another even wittier one earlier, but I forget the subject.)

    So when you take those flavors of observations and put them in a column/post, it’s fabulous reading.

  • shufaninva

    Who would play PG if Whitehead went pro?

    • As reported by Jerry Carino, Jevon Thomas is suspended indefinitely:

      • Matty P

        If Thomas doesn’t come back due to his incident earlier in the year and Whitehead decides to stay in the NBA draft this team is going to be in big trouble. It would leave them with only 3 guards on the roster (Carrington, Soffer, and incoming freshman Powell). While Carrington can handle some of the responsibilities he certainly isn’t suited for the PG role and neither Soffer or Powell would be suited for the PG role. I would imagine they would have to go down the JUCO route to find a PG since it’s unlikely that there would be someone from HS that could come in and be ready to take over and get major minutes.

        • As sad as it sounds, there probably won’t be a decision on JT until Whitehead makes his.

          Either way, Carrington will need to improve his distribution skills this off-season and Sha’ will be a major part of that.

          • Matty P

            Agreed, it wouldn’t be bad for him to improve in that area. Never can have too many guys that can handle the ball and make plays. Just very tough on the team if they don’t find out on decisions until late bc it limits opportunities to fill the voids.

          • fouline

            I can’t imagine that JT will ever point for the team… After the great year we had. next year we will have to match what we did this year or this year will be written off as a fluke. So I suspect WIllard&Co. are hunting down a JUCCO player as we speculate.

          • Not knowing what the JuCo crop is this late in the game (though there are other creative options like graduate transfers), I can’t imagine there are that many other choices that would be better than JT

          • fouline

            Chris… what has he done besides get into trouble?

          • Didn’t watch him at K-State, but he’s a consensus explosive, natural pass-first PG. Logged a ton of minutes as a sophomore in a Big 12 season, which is more exp. than any JuCo can boast.

          • PadrePirate

            I don’t know how much weight to give to those temper explosion incidents, but there were two of them, right? If a guy csnt handle a little heckling, could he not blow up at a ref, cause locker room strife or off court embarrassments?

            I don’t think you can build a program on bad apples, and we’ve had plenty. I’d had to see them hold on to JT just because IW goes. If we keep him, it should be for the right reasons, that he’s a good kid who can play hard and keep out of trouble.

          • Right, there were two. The first of which is more he-say: KState student tweeted about him “punching some kid in the face” because of a call at Rec center. Fast forward a year or two and he basically does the same thing at Seton Hall, only adding the credibility of the first incident.

          • fouline

            Chris, I believe what you say about JT. Surprised but … Ok. The only problem is team turmoil. Last year Gibbs and Sina left and team turmoil disappeared. It seems for the first time in years a Willard team wasn’t distracted and focused on playing bball. My problem with JT is “trouble” And will the team be going backwards in terms of chemistry. Or would it be better to find somebody else.

    • PadrePirate

      Do you really think he will get drafted?

      Granted, IW made strides this year, but he still has progress to make. Holes remain in his game, mostly mental.

      I’m sure there are other factors we don’t see, like family finances, but I really don’t think it’s in his best interest.

      If he does go, Chris and Matty are right, were in big trouble

  • Craig Steel

    Great coverage as always Chris. Thanks for all that you do with this site.
    Donation made!

    • I already messaged you on Twitter, but thank you Craig!! The support has been overwhelming, especially considering everyone’s donation is essentially anonymous.

  • Little off-topic, but here’s a pretty good Q&A with Bill Raftery from the USGA site (Brendan Prunty linked me the article):

  • Matty P

    Just saw an article that mentioned the idea of Kevin Willard possibly being a candidate for the Pittsburgh job:

    Willard is a former Pitt point guard who just led Seton Hall to its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006. His father, Ralph, coached Pitt in the 1990s. So Willard checks the box if the box is “coach coming off of a nice season with ties to the university.

    It’s an interesting take and shows the turnaround he’s had in one year where he was possibly out the door or looking for positions at a small college.

    • PadrePirate

      Don’t know how I would take that… Would be happy to see KW land a contract in a solid program, but we just turned a corner this season, and it would be a shame to start over from scratch. I don’t think SHU has deep enough pockets to land a proven D1 winner, so it would probably another bump up promotion for a mid/low major like Iona. KW definitely has his limits, and I think we could do better, but it’d be a safer bet to keep him and hope he can keep the program moving forward.

      Was this just a one season fluke, do to an exceptional recruiting class, or is this just the beginning of the Halls return as a perennial top 40 tourney team?

      • fouline

        Willard is on a number of lists for the Pitt job. In fact some of the bigger names have begged off. I think he’ll be interviewed. It’ll be hard to turn down a salary of over 2 mil per at a school where it’s easier to recruit.

        • Matty P

          I’d argue the recruiting would possibly be more difficult just because Willard doesn’t have many ties to the areas that Pitt typically recruits (west PA). His biggest play would be trying to convince people that they would be playing in a major conference with plenty of opportunities to be seen on tv.

      • Matty P

        If Willard did leave I think you could argue that if the players do decide to stay together that a new coach would be taking over a top 25 team with a lot of talent. I would imagine that would open a lot of coaches eyes and would make this a much different coaching search. They could arguably go after someone like Hurley because he could come back to NJ, still have a top 25 team, and move into a bigger conference where recruiting would actually be easier then at a place like Rhode Island. All in all though in the end it’s probably better to keep Willard rather than roll the dice and keep this talented team together.

    • Outside of $$, I think it would be silly for both Pitt and Kevin. Maybe has a 3rd/4th choice for Pitt, but surely they can get someone who has done more than Kevin has in 8~ seasons.

      For Kevin, he has two young boys that are about to enter a really good school system (Westfield, NJ), he’s working under a boss that would put his job on the line for him and has finally achieved success.

      I’d argue that the Willard name plug is lazy, but maybe I’m biased. That’s my contrary argument.

      • Matty P

        Agreed I don’t think it would be the best hire for Pitt

      • fouline

        Right on, Chris. Willard gets credit for this year. But the credit is tenuous. He has to do it again next year. The problem today for schools looking for a coach is what Rutgers went through. RU is a national program with money. Yet the best Hobbs could do was Pikiel? Smaller schools are more competitive salary-wise with big programs and signing longer contracts. Look, the best coach in the metro area is Tim Cluess. But he re-upped with Iona for a lot more money. If I was Willard and offered Pitt, I’d take it and run. Our 10 year deal with him was about money not talent. At the end of his contract in 2020 he might not even make 2 mil. He might still be a losing coach but it won’t cost the school very much to lose.