Beginning with Long Beach State in the opening round of the Charleston Classic, the next five games could strongly influence the overall outcome of Seton Hall’s season.
As stressed in my pre-season preview of the 49ers, the Hall’s all-important opening round game on Thursday night in South Carolina will be an upgrade from Dartmouth and Wagner and will greatly affect how their overall performance in Charleston is judged.
Sporting a balanced squad and ranked 237th in KenPom, Long Beach State is 2-0 after beating both BYU-Hawaii and No. 58 BYU on their home court in Long Beach.
Post-Wagner, Kevin Willard deflected the notion that the coming games would be a tougher test for his team, stating how this early in the season no team is easy and they all provide a different challenge, but I’ll personally assure you that Long Beach State is no slouch.
“Obviously, Virginia is an extremely good basketball team. Long Beach State had five guys sitting out [last year]. Everyone we play gives us a different challenge, especially earlier in the season,” said Willard in the bowels of the Richie Regan Rec Center on Sunday. “Later in the season as we get better it’ll be different, but early in the season, college basketball this time of the year… you better bring your “A” game or you’re going to get beat.”
As for the progress of his 2-0 team?
“I think we’re getting better. Defensively and in the half court, I’ve been very happy over the first two games; I thought we made good strides with that,” said Willard while media kicked back in the lavish new athletics film room post-Wagner. “We have to make strides in the transition game both offensively and defensively, especially offensively because again it’s taking away opportunities for us. Two games in a row now we’ve had chances to go on 12-, 13-, 14-point runs and we’re turning the ball over and giving lay-ups away. We’ve made good strides in the halfcourt defense and now we’ve got to tune up the transition game.”
Willard was referring to the combined 43 times his team has fumbled away the rock so far this season. The most obvious flaw of this Pirate team has resulted in the 314th-best turnover percentage in the nation.
The bad news for Seton Hall? While slightly inflated due to playing a non-Division I team, Long Beach State is sixth in the country in defensive turnover percentage after forcing BYU to cough the rock up 24 times.
Dispatching the 49ers will surely mean that Seton Hall advances to play No. 6 Virginia, who were upset on the road 73-68 at future non-conference opponent George Washington on Monday night. The alternative of losing and taking on a poor Bradley team and then George Mason or Towson (unless Ole Miss/Oklahoma State are upset) in the losers bracket is not pretty.
A defensive juggernaut and methodical offensive team, the Cavaliers and Malcolm Brogdon (16.5 ppg) will likely look to slow down a Pirate team that has tried to run at every opportunity – to a fault at times – so far this season.
While winning the Charleston Classic is the best case scenario, beating Long Beach State will most likely pit the Hall against a top-10 team and another top-50 school regardless of the outcome against Virginia. For fan support and most importantly team morale, a direct route to the losers bracket could be damaging to the team’s psyche and should be avoided at all costs; I’d tell my team to play the opening round like an elimination game.
“Staying together. That’s the main thing, we’re at a point right now we can’t go off and do our own thing,” said fifth-year senior Derrick Gordon post-Wagner of what the team has to do to build momentum. “We’ve got to stay together, that’s the only way we’re going to win. We all know that the offense will take care of itself but that we’ve got to stay focused on the defensive end.”
After admitting he already can’t stop thinking about taking on No. 9 Wichita State, Gordon’s level-headed response was directly equivalent to his calm, commanding demeanor on the court that has some fans already curious about the role he can play as backup point guard to Isaiah Whitehead.
With a youthful smile on his face, Gordon’s demeanor heading to the Charleston Classic was contrasted by a certain young, energetic, budding Pirate forward named Angel Delgado when asked about his outlook on the early season tournament.
“I’m looking to win every game.”