Seton Hall’s 2014-15 non-conference schedule a slight upgrade

A look at how Seton Hall’s 2014-15 non-conference schedule panned out and a brief look toward next season.

Way back at the beginning of last October, I previewed Seton Hall’s non-conference schedule and took a shot at predicting how each team would slot into a few RPI brackets that I use to judge non-league scheduling.

In the aftermath of Seton Hall’s poor 2013-14 season that saw the team post an inflated record before entering the Big East, I published a post-mortem look at the Hall’s incredibly weak non-conference, a trend that has taken a turn for the better under Kevin Willard; his team’s faced non-conference slates that ranked 254th, 318th, and 344th by KenPom between the 2011-12 and 2013-14 seasons (I wrote more on this here). Also recall that Willard judged the Bobby Gonzalez inherited 2010-11 non-conference schedule that was rated 81st by KenPom as too strong for his liking.

As projected, Seton Hall’s non-league lineup this season was an improvement over the last few years, but not by a ton. It finished 230th in KenPom and 188th in RPI. Undoubtedly, things out of Willard’s control affected their numbers, most notably facing Gardner-Webb (146th in RPI) and Illinois State (62) at the Paradise Jam instead of Clemson (106) and LSU (57) or Old Dominion (46). Still, this was always going to be a decent-but-not-great schedule that hinged on a few key tests.

Now a look back at how I thought Seton Hall’s opponents would finish RPI-wise:

RPI 1-50 (Great schedule): @ Wichita State, @ Georgia
RPI 51-100 (Good schedule): vs. Clemson, George Washington (-), vs. LSU (-)
RPI 101-200 (Neutral): vs. Nevada, Saint Peter’s, Illinois State (+), Rutgers (-)
RPI 201-250 (Bad): vs. Gardner-Webb, Mount St. Mary’s (-), Mercer, @ South Florida
RPI 251+ (RPI killer): Maine

At the top, Wichita State, Georgia, Clemson, GW, and LSU all finished as I expected, while Nevada really underperformed (their head coach was fired as a result) at 306th. Illinois State (62nd), one of my pre-season darkhorse teams, nearly earned an NCAA bid but lost in the Missouri Valley tournament final after playing well this season despite injuries.

Moving closer to the bottom of my brackets, Rutgers finished toward the lower end of the 100-200 range, Gardner-Webb (146) was a slight RPI surprise and Saint Peter’s (233) disappointed. Mount St. Mary’s (188) finished just above the tier I slotted them in and the trio of Mercer, South Florida and Maine all finished sub-200.

Altogether, I wasn’t really too surprised with how any of these schools panned out tier-wise, even Nevada, who needed a ton of production from junior college players to replace lost talent. Seton Hall didn’t wind up playing them, but I underrated LSU a bit pre-season.

Unlike past seasons, I thought this schedule fit Seton Hall’s young team well. The opponents grew gradually tougher from the onset, culminating in a tough test against Illinois State at the Paradise Jam, which was followed by another solid hurdle in George Washington at home. The two biggest barometers in the Hall’s non-conference schedule, road trips to Georgia and Wichita State, proved to be accurate gauges as to how this team would perform in the Big East, at both a micro- and macro-level.

Offensive ineptitude did the Pirates in, more noticeably in their contest against Georgia as the Hall didn’t really show up, finishing with a dismal .68 points per possession. I’m not sure how much playing poor teams in Rutgers and South Florida just prior to big games should factor in since the team did well against St. John’s after playing a horrible Maine club.

Further, let’s not forget that Willard regretted how he had the team prepare for the game against Georgia; they stayed in Tampa for an extra day and saw the Orlando Magic play instead of immediately traveling to Athens.

Looking toward next season (yes, already!), Seton Hall will face a lot of familiar teams in Georgia, South Florida, Wichita State in return home-and-home series games, while they travel to Rutgers and a Kethan Savage-less George Washington. The home game against the Shockers adds a marquee home contest that hasn’t been seen in Prudential Center or Continental Airlines Arena since the Louis Orr days (2001-02 Illinois, 2002-03 Louisville, 2004-05 Texas).

To kick off the season, the Pirates may compete in the Gavitt Games (Big Ten-Big East series), which will be announced late-spring, and will head to Charleston, S.C. for the Charleston Classic. Bradley, George Mason, Long Beach State, Oklahoma State, Ole Miss, Towson and Virginia compose a pretty solid field. I’d expect a few local schools to be added to complete the 2015-16 schedule.