Five Thoughts, Five Quotes: Willard opens up about Sanogo, Powell drama

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NEWARK, N.J. — No. 23 Seton Hall made quick work of Manhattan to close out their non-conference schedule 11-2, but it was an ejection and a suspension that have Pirates fans on edge.

It has become a bit of a habit for Kevin Willard to defer the first post-game question to Jerry Carino of the Asbury Park Press.

After his team’s 74-62 win over Manhattan today which included an in-game skirmish which left Myles Powell ejected but not suspended for any future games, Willard semi-seriously began his time at the podium by saying he was only taking questions about the game.

A few minutes later, the future status of suspended senior forward Ish Sanogo came up, but Willard cleared the air on that situation and went in-depth about what he thought of the in-game scrap.

Now updated with quotes from Steve Masiello and some of my own thoughts…

Five Quotes (bonus quotes from Steve Masiello):

Willard on Ish Sanogo’s status: “I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know when he’ll be back that’s the honest truth. I’m going to evaluate the situation after Christmas. I’ll evaluate on the 26th. Right now, I’m in no rush. You have to act a certain way at this University, you have to respect the program, the University, you have to respect your teammates. When you don’t do all three, that’s a huge issue with me. He’s a senior. If you don’t get it, then I don’t know. The timetable is nothing- it’s not like he’s back tomorrow, that ain’t happening. [Asked if off-court issue] It was definitely off the court. Nothing on the court. Not academics.”

On how this week has gone: “It was a tough week. I’ll put it this way, I’m not a happy camper. You put time, effort, and energy, and you hope you’re guiding men the right way, and when it goes off the rails, it’s like getting stabbed in the heart a little bit to be honest with you. It hasn’t been a good week, but it’s been a good week basketball-wise because the team showed they’re focus and took care of business heading into the Big East. I’m disappointed, I’m sad, I don’t think I’m going to have a very merry Christmas to be honest with you … It’s disappointing. It’s never smooth sailing, these are college kids, they’re trying to figure it out.”

On the in-game skirmish, specifically if he was concerned about how Myles Powell nearly got suspended for a big game: “But he didn’t. I love my team, because my team will always have each others back, plain and simple. I’d be a little more disappointed if he sat there and didn’t go.

[“You didn’t have an issue with it?”] No, not at all. I thought both teams played hard, both teams were playing aggressive, sometimes when both teams play hard and aggressive there are going to be situations where there is a little dust-up. I look at it like: the refs handled it great, the teams handled it great — they got back and played basketball. When you’re playing physical and you’re playing hard, you’re going to have situations where boys will be boys.”

On Taurean Thompson not being on the bench: “Taurean is dealing with a family issue. There was no reason for him to come. Come to a game and then shuffle back and forth.”

When asked if going up against Steve Masiello — a fellow Pitino disciple — was cool: “It was. We talked about this for a couple years, about trying to play each other. I think we may try to start a long term series where maybe we go there. I respect the job he does, I love the way his teams play, they play hard and aggressive, defensively they’re always phenomenal.”

Steve Masiello on Seton Hall’s potential to make a deep NCAA run:Without a doubt. I’ve watched every game they’ve played, and I can’t tell one weakness they have … I guess free-throw shooting, but they have good shooters, they’ll get better … They don’t have a weakness, that’s a team that’s very-very dangerous come March.”

Masiello on why it got chippy: “How many New York City kids do you have on that court? As long as its under control, and I thought it was, it’s kids competing, playing for pride. It’s kids playing for bragging rights … When you have competitors competing, sometimes things like that happen. But no harm, it seemed like everything got cleaned up pretty quickly. I’m OK with it.”

Masiello on going up against Willard: “Coach Pitino taught me so much about this game and this business, but Kevin Willard mentored me for two years about how to scout, how to prepare, how to study personnel. A lot of my basketball foundation has to do with Kevin Willard.”

My Thoughts:

Off the court, the proverbial Pirate ship has entered choppy water. First the Jordan Walker transfer scare, then a likely multi-game suspension for a senior starter who has embodied being a model teammate, all capped off with an ugly back-and-forth on the court today. While there may be nothing to Taurean Thompson also missing from the bench today — I’m very skeptical — there is good reason to be worried this Christmas. My take: Sanogo will miss out on at least the Creighton game, and perhaps one or two after that.

On the court, there are hardly any negatives to harp on. Ball movement has reached prior watermarks over the past two games, the team’s scoring is very balanced right now, and since the Brooklyn NIT games, Seton Hall has generally have looked like a top-15 team outside of the hard-fought Rutgers loss.

I was about 20 feet from the “fight” — it was intense. I still have not seen a replay (anyone? Bueller?), but Angel Delgado and Zane Waterman appeared to get it all started when coming down for a loose rebound, and Angel became fully engaged in the shoving match but it looks like an official intervened at an opportune time. On the opposite end of the mosh pit, it sounds like Myles Powell came from behind a Manhattan player with a forearm to the head area, but I missed most of that. Just a couple seconds into the scrap and I had a primal “how far can this escalate??” fear.

The crowd was good — despite my earlier tweet. While late-arriving, the crowd likely exceeded 4,000 actual, which is good given the holidays and the opponent. They were loud when they had to, which wasn’t often; decibels may have peaked with Sandro Mamukelashvili’s behind the back pass.

Willard is right to be looking into establishing a series with Manhattan — he pulled all the right strings against Masiello. At least in the first half, Seton Hall looked like they knew exactly what strings to pull in order to unravel their opponent’s distinct pressing system. Their full court spacing, when coupled with spot-on quarterback-like passes, is very hard to defend against as VCU and the Jaspers have figured out the hard way.